Apr 27 2012

GPS for Pigeons

Pigeons have an uncanny ability to navigate accurately over long distances. This has been clearly established and exploited for centuries. Yet scientists are still uncertain about the underlying biological basis for this ability. There are four basic mechanisms that pigeons appear to use in returning to their home loft from an unfamiliar location. They use the position of the sun, the magnetic field of the earth, visual cues, and the dispersal of odors in the environment.

Pigeons, therefore, may get a general direction and orientation so that they know which direction to head in. Once they get to familiar territory they then can use visual and olfactory information to zero in on their home. There has been robust research and at times fierce debate about all of these mechanisms. The one that seems to get the most attention in the press is the orientation to the earth’s magnetic field, which is the subject of a new interesting study.

Researchers looking at the brains of pigeons have found 53 neurons that appear to fire in response to the presence, strength, and orientation of an external magnetic field. If true this would point to an important component of the pigeons “gps” system for sensing not only their directional orientation, but perhaps even their general location. The neurons also seemed to have a maximal response to the approximate field strength of the earth’s magnetic field.

This is all very cool, and could add significantly to our growing model of how pigeons and perhaps other birds sense the earth’s magnetic field and use it for direction. But now let’s consider some important caveats.

First, this is a single study. It needs to be independently replicated with more subjects and better controls. At this point we cannot assume the phenomenon is even real. Many initial findings of this sort do not hold up to replication. If it does hold up, then we will also need to learn more about how these neurons are actually working together to create a positional sense, and see how their function correlates to pigeon behavior.

Further, this study is looking at the “neural correlate” of the pigeons magnetic sense. We still need to discover what the sensing organ is – what organ is actually sensing the magnetic field and sending that information to this cluster of neurons? There have been several hypotheses, but none have been proven. Recently one hypothesis, that the sensing organ was a certain group of iron-containing cells in the pigeons beak, was disproved. It turns out the cells in question were macrophages - cells of the immune system. But it is still possible there are other cells in the beak, or there may be a sensing organ in the inner ear or even in the eyes of pigeons. We simply don’t know.

This is a great example of science at work. We have a phenomenon that is well-established – the ability of pigeons to sense and partly navigate according to the earth’s magnetic field. Scientists have been trying to explain this phenomenon in reductionist terms for decades. The pigeon must have some sensing organ that is capable of responding to the magnetic field, and the pigeon brain must respond to this sensory input in a meaningful way that correlates with direction and/or position. Various hypotheses are being explored and sometimes rejected. Different lines of evidence are also being compared to see if they correlate or conflict.

This is all leading to the goal of developing one coherent model of navigation by magnetic field sensing that explains the phenomenon from beginning to end and not only is consistent with but actually explains every aspect of the phenomenon. It taking time as it’s turning out to be a tricky problem to solve, but I have no doubt that scientists will eventually solve this puzzle.

For those of us who deal with fringe science often it’s easy to forget that regular science is happening all the time, without any paranormal or pseudoscientific controversy. No one is complaining about hyper-reductionist pigeon science, or how “Big Homing Pigeon” is distorting the science.  There are no “Western” or “Eastern” approaches to homing pigeons. There’s probably some crank out there claiming that pigeons use their favorite form a magic to navigate, but if so it’s obscure enough to comfortably ignore.

It is helpful to see how real science operates. It is also helpful to see how the press reports such genuine and ongoing scientific controversies. Typically each study is presented with little context as if it is a definitive blow for one side or one theory. In reality, each study is a baby step adding to the overall endeavor, and only has meaning when put into the proper context of all the other research. That takes good science journalism, however, which is often lacking.

This new study is interesting but it needs to be replicated, at the very least. Then we can see how it fits into the bigger picture of pigeon navigation. It is a fascinating scientific question, one that I have followed for years. I will probably have to follow it for many years to come before a consensus solution emerges. Real science takes time.

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59 responses so far

59 Responses to “GPS for Pigeons”

  1. Cow_Cookieon 27 Apr 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Dumb question: Do we even have a good idea of how humans navigate (short of actual GPS)?

    My personal experience is that I get to a new area and start off thinking in terms of linear directions — go straight, turn left, etc. When I’ve done this enough, the individual routes will suddenly click into a mental map of the area. However, that mental map is only connected to other areas via a linear path. So while I may have good mental maps of the area around my home and the area around my work, the route I travel between them is really the only thing that connects them in my mind. It’s only after I’ve had reason to venture off that route several times that I form one meta-map of the metropolitan area I’m in—again, with a feeling that the disparate connections suddenly click into a larger whole.

    What is the brain doing differently when it is following rote directions versus carrying a mental map that it can dynamically adapt to for its own purposes? What allows it to make the transition from directions to mental map? Do people who are “bad with directions” actually have some cognitive deficiency that allows them to make this jump?

  2. norrisLon 27 Apr 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I have travelled extensively through my home country, Australia, and I “feel” that you could drop me anywhere in Australia and I would quickly be able to determine roughly where north is.
    In 1990 I went to work in the UK for 16 months. On my first day at work I was asked to examine a horse. The owner of the veterinary practice gave me directions: “Go across the big bridge just near the surgery, then head north.” So I duly crossed the bridge and turned south!
    It took me several weeks to adjust myself to living in the northern hemisphere. I suspect my problem may have been due to the fact that for me, living at 27 degrees SOUTH of the equator, the sun has always been to my north. Perhaps my difficulty was due to being totally unfamiliar with the very different geography in which I was working.
    Or, was my problem caused by iron containing macrophages in my beak?

  3. uncle_steveon 27 Apr 2012 at 4:26 pm

    I wonder if this unique magnetic/GPS ability among pigeons could be related to the alleged ability of many animal species to “feel” an earthquake before it happens?

  4. cwfongon 27 Apr 2012 at 5:12 pm

    “There’s probably some crank out there claiming that pigeons use their favorite form a magic to navigate, but if so it’s obscure enough to comfortably ignore.”
    Which is good reason, I suppose to continue to ignore such as James A. Shapiro.

  5. Dirk Steeleon 27 Apr 2012 at 6:59 pm

    @cwfong.

    No no no! You are doing this all wrong. You are never going to get Steven Novella to respond to you personally with a blog entry about James A Shapiro and Cwfong. You must buy my current book… Dirk Steele’s Seven Essential Strategies for Successful Trolling. Using these methods has been shown to have a 110% success rate. I even offer a money back guarantee if it does not work. Providing you can prove you followed the intructions to the letter. I know it may appear to be very expensive for such a little book but I can assure you it is well worth it. You will not regret it. Available from Amazon and all reputable bookshops.

  6. ccbowerson 27 Apr 2012 at 10:56 pm

    A common way that such questions (re: pigeons magnetic sensing organ) get answered is through diseases or damage/lesions that turn out to interfere with that sense. I wonder what information is known about this… it is beyond the science I typically keep up with.

    I wonder if placing a very small magnetic field in various locations on these animals could help determine the location of relevant area(s). If placed close to the sensing organ, the small magnetic field would interfere with their ability to react to a larger, more diffuse magnetic field. Just a thought

  7. Dirk Steeleon 28 Apr 2012 at 12:33 am

    @ccbowers

    ‘Just a thought’

    It is a good thought. Not so long ago I watched a documentary series on the BBC that attempted exactly this kind of experiment on pigeons.. It tested out all sorts of hypothosis but was not conclusive in its results. I think. I am an old man so my memories are faulty. But i will try get the link/citation if you are interested.

  8. BillyJoe7on 28 Apr 2012 at 2:56 am

    Dirk,

    “No no no! You are doing this all wrong. You are never going to get Steven Novella to respond to you personally with a blog entry about James A Shapiro and Cwfong. You must buy my current book… Dirk Steele’s Seven Essential Strategies for Successful Trolling. ”

    I see you have him down pat. Not hard, hey.
    Interesting, also, that cwright has identified Shapiro as promoting a fringe science safe enough to ignore!

    Still, a post by Steven Novella on “adaptive mutation” would be interesting.
    (Though I suppose he would simply be repeating what I have already said on the subject)

    Just to add…Shapiro is very good on molecular biology…read his book for those details…but ignore the theory fo adaptive mutation…it’s a crock!

  9. BillyJoe7on 28 Apr 2012 at 3:09 am

    Cow-cookie,

    I live near a mountain range which has numerous criss-crossing tracks. When I first started walking along these trails seven years ago, I decided to use no maps and just walk and find my own way. I always started out early on Sunday mornings so I always had plenty of time to return home by nightfall in case I got lost. Indeed one two hour walk turned into a nine and a half hour slog and had my anxious family out looking for me.

    I now know all these tracks by heart and, once a year I retrace that long walk. Of course, I walk much faster now and run the downhills so I have reduced the time over the past seven years down to about six and a half hours.

    It just so happens that this year is the inaugural “roller-coaster run” through those hills and runners/walkers are expected to take 7 hours to cover 46 km. My six and a half hour distance is just over 50 km so I could have done it easily. Unfortunately I work on Saturdays and could not participate.

  10. BillyJoe7on 28 Apr 2012 at 3:11 am

    ..oops, I meant that roller-coster run is on “this morning”, not “this year”.

  11. cwfongon 28 Apr 2012 at 4:08 am

    “Still, a post by Steven Novella on “adaptive mutation” would be interesting.
    (Though I suppose he would simply be repeating what I have already said on the subject)
    Just to add…Shapiro is very good on molecular biology…read his book for those details…but ignore the theory fo adaptive mutation…it’s a crock!”

    I’d love to see Dr. Novella repeating what Billyjotistic said about Shapiro.

  12. Jared Olsenon 28 Apr 2012 at 4:37 am

    “Big Homing Pigeon”. Nice

  13. Dirk Steeleon 28 Apr 2012 at 5:20 am

    Billyjoe7,

    ‘Still, a post by Steven Novella on “adaptive mutation” would be interesting.
    (Though I suppose he would simply be repeating what I have already said on the subject)’

    Just for today, for you only, I am offering you a once in a lifetime, never to be repeated offer of a massive 5% discount of my book “Dirk Steele’s Seven Essential Strategies for Successful Trolling. ” As endorsed by such renowned luminaries as Dr Steven Novella ‘This book changed my life!’ and Dr Thomas Szasz ‘Mildly interesting but not for the reasons propounded by the author’. Act Now! You will only regret in life that which you never did!

    By the way… most days I wake up in the morning wondering how the hell I got back home! Even more mysterious is that I do not even recollect where I got back home from! Amazing. I have often wondered to my self whether it was to do with the ’53 neurons that appear to fire in response to the presence, strength, and orientation of an external magnetic field.’ But then again, I do not have that many neurons so maybe this is just another case of idle speculation.

  14. NewRonon 28 Apr 2012 at 6:12 am

    It will really be impressive when ‘science’ comes up with the answer to what it is like to be a pigeon.

  15. Dirk Steeleon 28 Apr 2012 at 8:13 am

    Dr Novella.

    ‘Researchers looking at the brains of pigeons have found 53 neurons that appear to fire in response to the presence, strength, and orientation of an external magnetic field.’

    Wow More pseudoscience from the ‘soul’ doctors. How about this for a much simpler and credible explanation….

    “Pigeons navigate ‘by following roads’

    They are known as the great natural navigators of the sky, using an in-built compass to find their way home across hundreds of miles.

    Taking their bearings from the sun and stars, pigeons have become famous as messengers with an unerring sense of direction.

    But a ten-year study has found a rather more down-to-earth explanation for their astonishing skill.

    They are simply following roads and major junctions.

    Researchers at Oxford University were taken aback to find that the pigeons ignored their in-built compass wherever possible, choosing instead to follow the main roads beneath them.

    Using tiny transmitters strapped to the birds’ backs, they were repeatedly tracked flying down motorways before circling round city ring roads and even turning right and left at main junctions – often adding miles to their journey.

    Tim Guilford, a professor of zoology at Oxford, said pigeons are rather like humans when it comes to finding their way: they prefer to follow main roads rather than go cross-country, simply because it is easier.

    “It really has knocked our research team sideways to find that, after a decade-long international study, pigeons appear to ignore their in-built directional instincts and follow the road system,” said Professor Guilford.

    “For long-distance navigation and for birds doing a journey for the first time, they will use their in-built compasses and take sun and star bearings.

    “But once homing pigeons have flown a journey more than once, they appear to ignore the traditional forms of navigation and depend more and more on the roads that they remember being on the route the first time they flew it.”

  16. BillyJoe7on 28 Apr 2012 at 8:38 am

    Dirk,

    I have decided I like you.
    As wrong as you are about everything :D

    I am not a troll of course.
    There is an idiot here who likes to promote fringe science as progressive mainstream. I have decided that I’m not going to let him get away with it. That’s all. Also – and I may be letting a cat out of the bag here – I get a great deal of fun watching this idiot tie himself into a whole tangleof linguistic knots as he struggles to extricate himself from the whole damn mess he has created for himself.

    regards,
    BillyJoe

  17. Dirk Steeleon 28 Apr 2012 at 9:02 am

    BillyJoe7

    Wow! Does that mean I have got one friend?

    ‘I get a great deal of fun watching this idiot tie himself into a whole tangleof linguistic knots as he struggles to extricate himself from the whole damn mess he has created for himself.’

    I think I have the same relationship with Dr Steven regarding psychiatry! ;-) Not been as successful as you so far but what the heck. It is early days…

  18. SteveAon 28 Apr 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Dirk Steele: “Wow More pseudoscience from the ‘soul’ doctors. How about this for a much simpler and credible explanation….”

    The point of the article you quoted (I assume it was an article) is that pigeons do have an inbuilt compass but often ignore it in favour of geographic markers. It didn’t say they don’t have one.

  19. cwfongon 28 Apr 2012 at 1:04 pm

    BillyJoetistic sits up for hours trying to come up with excuses as to why he has not made serious comprehension errors in his reading of scientific papers. All of which are reports of new developmental studies, as they don’t write papers about finding nothing, or do they?

    He thinks of course that Krauss wrote a book about nothing, and that fit in quite well with the lack of content in his head. Even when the book’s author told Dr. Novella that the book did not proclaim that something came from absolutely nothing, BJ told Novella that the book’s author must have been wrong about what he said was in the book. (These world renowned authors are a caution, aren’t they.)

    He says he’s having fun with this but every time you present him with actual facts and logic of a matter, he starts swearing at you. I guess that’s fun for a mental midget, but hardly a good way to learn. This is supposed to be a place to learn new things, or isn’t it? Or it used to be in any case.

    However, instead of trying, as many did, to teach him something directly, I’ve found the better way is to use him as a foil. Show others where he’s wrong instead of him. Everyone else then learns while he unknowingly plays simplicio.

    “I am not a troll of course,” says he. No, he’s clearly more like the local stooge.

    Note that there have been people here for years trying to get the newer findings of evolutionary scientists discussed. Dr. Novella would hardly give them lip service, and further discussion of the subject would soon die off. BJ and erstwhile cronies did their best to help the killing of it.

    But now that’s he’s been made to play simplicio, things have changed and discussions in some depth have come about. It’s not near to a perfect system, but much improved.

  20. Marshallon 28 Apr 2012 at 1:10 pm

    What about the possibility that they simply use external cues–for example, inferring the direction from the position of the sun?

  21. Dirk Steeleon 28 Apr 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Marshall,

    Read earlier comment for the answer.

  22. Steven Novellaon 28 Apr 2012 at 2:53 pm

    As I said in the post (and linked to a reference), the research suggests that pigeons use four different methods of navigation – the position of the sun, visual cues, olfactory cues, and magnetic sense. They use all of them at various times and in combination as the situation dictates. So studies showing that they use one method in certain circumstances does not mean they do not use others also.

    When pigeons are in familiar territory they use visual landmarks and odors to find their way. Following roads is not surprising. This could simply be an extension of the strategy of following rivers, for example.

    Pigeons, however, can be dropped in completely unfamiliar territory and still manage to orient themselves.

    There is lots of independent evidence that magnetic fields are important to pigeon navigation. For example, fluctuations in the geomagnetic field affect pigeon homing: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21451981

  23. Dirk Steeleon 28 Apr 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Steven.

    Interesting paper cited… especially this point

    ‘We found the best correlations with the index quantifying the average amplitude of the magnetic disturbance, and with an index that quantifies the average variability of the magnetic field on the day of release’

    Do you have access to the raw data that allowed this supposition? Where can I read it?

  24. Nick Stuarton 28 Apr 2012 at 3:56 pm

    do penguins have GPS?

  25. Dirk Steeleon 28 Apr 2012 at 5:38 pm

    SteveA

    ‘The point of the article you quoted (I assume it was an article) is that pigeons do have an inbuilt compass but often ignore it in favour of geographic markers. It didn’t say they don’t have one.’

    Pigeons mark their location using the sun and stars which they will ignore if it is easier to follow geographical signs. There is no evidence that any magnetic sense is used although it is possible. As Steven points out there is no known organ that receives the signal

    But to make the claim that

    ‘We have a phenomenon that is well-established – the ability of pigeons to sense and partly navigate according to the earth’s magnetic field.’

    is not true…

    Then to state it could be due to 53 neurons…. well my own neurons start to shut down. I am too skeptical I suppose.

    Facinating topic though. Just today I was trying to understand how foxes can communicate to each other the specific location of known available food sources. I think it must be via chemical communication (lots of piss signals) but I dunno yet.

  26. BillyJoe7on 28 Apr 2012 at 7:11 pm

    cwfog:

    “BJ told Novella that the book’s author must have been wrong about what he said was in the book.”

    Nope.
    I said Steven Novella must have gotten Krauss out of context.
    Perhaps he spoke to him after the video in 2009 and before he wrote his book in 2012 where he expands on his notion of “nothing”

    “Note that there have been people here for years trying to get the newer findings of evolutionary scientists discussed. Dr. Novella would hardly give them lip service, and further discussion of the subject would soon die off. BJ and erstwhile cronies did their best to help the killing of it.”

    I object to idiots like you passing a fringe science off as progressive mainstream.
    I would actually love Steven Novella to write an article on adaptive mutation, even if his view is different from mine. But it has so little credence amongst the vast majority of evolutionary biologist that he probably can’t be bothered. Also I’m not sure that he could stand the sight of you sitting there on your soapbox with fingers in ears, hands across eyes, and brains falling out through a still open fontanelle.

  27. cwfongon 28 Apr 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Krauss talked to Dr. Novella after the video and the book came out, as well as having given many interviews to others AFTER the controversy engendered by the book, In every instance he has said that he was not saying that something came from absolutely nothing. BillyJoetistic is slyly trying to shift his story, now arguing that he was talking about a quantum vacuum as empty space and not about no space whatsoever. The bottom line is that a quantum vacuum, if such a thing exists, is not existing in no space whatsoever. And further, it is NOT at all a form of nothing.
    From Wiki: “In quantum field theory, the vacuum state (also called the vacuum) is the quantum state with the lowest possible energy. Generally, it contains no physical particles. Zero-point field is sometimes used as a synonym for the vacuum state of an individual quantized field.
    According to present-day understanding of what is called the vacuum state or the quantum vacuum, it is “by no means a simple empty space”,[1] and again: “it is a mistake to think of any physical vacuum as some absolutely empty void.”[2] According to quantum mechanics, the vacuum state is not truly empty but instead contains fleeting electromagnetic waves and particles that pop into and out of existence.[3][4][5]”
    As I said, Krauss’ nothing was nothing but mysterious energy. Watch how BJ7 now works to get out of this one. He simply cannot understand what he reads at some level of complexity, and especially at a scientific level. He can’t even take Krauss at his own word as to that complex meaning.
    And I predict that he will never ever ever concede that.

  28. cwfongon 28 Apr 2012 at 7:39 pm

    “I would actually love Steven Novella to write an article on adaptive mutation, even if his view is different from mine.”
    Be careful what you wish for, billyjawtistic.

  29. BillyJoe7on 28 Apr 2012 at 9:31 pm

    cwfog,

    Your last post is so dense I don’t know where to start.
    But let’s end here:

    Krauss:
    “When I talk about empty space, I am talking about a quantum vacuum….
    ….but when I’m talking about no space whatsoever, I don’t see how you can call it a quantum vacuum.”

    In the book he talked about three types of nothing:
    1) empty space giving rise via Heisenberg Uncertainty to quantum fluctuations.
    2) quantum gravity giving rise to space and time (spacetime).
    3) laws of physics evolving in a multiverse.

    He ends by saying that philosophers are left arguing that there must not even be a potential for something in the concept of nothing.
    In which case they somehow think they’ve proven that we are not actually here!

  30. cwfongon 28 Apr 2012 at 10:05 pm

    What’s your point, billyjawtistic? Were you wrong that he was saying something came from absolutely nothing or not?
    Because you keep admitting that Steven disagreed with you on that very point. What a weak sister you are – can’t even admit that you were flat out wrong. Have to pussy foot around with something about philosophers proving we aren’t actually here.

    Are you trying to retain some modicum of credibility with that spacetime jabber?

    Remember this:
    olsonjs444
    “Summarizing, Einstein’s theory of general relativity links matter and time. It turns out that time progresses more slowly near a massive object. Furthermore, it can be demonstrated (using math & physics alone) that one billion years and one day represent the same period of time — it only depends on one’s inertial frame of reference.”

    BJ7
    “it can be demonstrated…that one billion years and one day represent the same period of time”
    I think you meant the same “distance” in spacetime.
But what is your actual point? That the theory of relativity supports young earth creationism?
    One billion years and one day DO NOT represent the same period of time (because, clearly, one billion years is 365 billion times longer than one day). What IS objectively the same is the “distance” in spacetime between the two events on either side of those two subjective time frames.

    olsenjs444 has not posted here again.
    And everyone but you knows you were wrong.

  31. BillyJoe7on 29 Apr 2012 at 1:44 am

    You just go on believing you are right little fella.
    In the meantime the distance in spacetime between two events is, indeed, invariant as Einstein said.

  32. cwfongon 29 Apr 2012 at 2:13 am

    Does that have anything to do with demonstrating (using math & physics alone) that one billion years and one day represent the same period of time? No, of course not.

    I guess the philosophers can prove that you aren’t really here – considering that your nothing has been able to comes from your something,

    And by the way, everyone but you knows you were wrong.

  33. BillyJoe7on 29 Apr 2012 at 3:01 am

    Yes it does.

    If the time between two events is one billion years in one frame of reference, and the time between the same two events is one day in another frame of reference, then the distance in spacetime between those two events is the same in both frames of reference.

    It’s called special relativity and the invariance of distances in spacetime.

    I even proved and calculated it for you in the other thread (using one second and two seconds to make it easier to follow). But you have given no indication that you have even read my proof and my calculation. After asking for it for days, when I finally got time to write it down, you comletely ignored it.

    You simply state that I’m wrong, but somehow you never get around to demonstrating why.
    And when I explain why I am correct, you simply ignore the explanation.

  34. cwfongon 29 Apr 2012 at 3:32 am

    Nobody cares what the distance was, olsenjs44 was talking about the different TIME between the same two events. The distance is irrelevant and since you couldn’t explain why olsen was supposedly wrong, you changed the question, AND changed the time. Keep on lying. Everyone but you knows you were wrong.

  35. BillyJoe7on 29 Apr 2012 at 5:41 am

    Nope. I asked him a question. He hasn’t answered.

  36. cwfongon 29 Apr 2012 at 1:11 pm

    You asked a stupid and insulting question. He knew immediately your question did not deserve an answer. Like numerous others, he likely won’t post here any longer. They don’t need to be stupidly insulted by a liar.

  37. BillyJoe7on 29 Apr 2012 at 5:44 pm

    ON the other hand, he could have simply come back and confirmed that he meant spacetime instead of time. That would have made sense. We will never know will we.

  38. cwfongon 29 Apr 2012 at 6:53 pm

    He meant what he said and you’ve said is bullshit.

  39. Dirk Steeleon 29 Apr 2012 at 11:39 pm

    @cwfong
    @Billyjoe7

    As much as I am fascinated by your arguments, although maybe not for the reasons you think, I would prefer now to follow the grand theatre and subtle intricacies of your debate in my morning newspaper where it will be given the depth of attention and detail that it actually deserves.

  40. Dirk Steeleon 30 Apr 2012 at 12:14 am

    @NewRon

    ‘It will really be impressive when ‘science’ comes up with the answer to what it is like to be a pigeon.’

    That was totally proved in the year 1916. Nowadays scientists are working on the more critical topic of what it is like to be a ‘stool pigeon’. We are tantalizingly close to the definitive answer which is obviously a combination of quantum loop gravity and string theory. The discovery of the Higg’s Boson along with the Steele’s Fermion will result in the condition of ‘never having to say ‘what the fcuk?’ again.’ Sorry. :-(

  41. BillyJoe7on 30 Apr 2012 at 12:33 am

    And then there is what it is like to be a bit batty…

  42. cwfongon 30 Apr 2012 at 12:55 am

    Tell us some more lies for bedtime, BillyBullshit..

  43. Dirk Steeleon 30 Apr 2012 at 1:15 am

    @cwfong
    @BillyJoe7

    There are those who claim that Shakespeare is actually Bacon or even Marlowe. I have spent a few years considering these arguments by the systematic analysis of their use of language. I have come to the metaphorical conclusion that Dirk Steele is William and that you two are piggy wiggys. Please excuse the proper use of the English language here….

  44. NewRonon 30 Apr 2012 at 3:45 am

    Dirk Steele
    One of the very few statements you have made with which I disagree is that you are William. I have it on good anonymous athority that the English pinched William (along with many of our other authors) from the Irish. A first folio of the Scottish Play has been found that is signed Bill O’Reilly – sorry, O’Shakespeare.

  45. Dirk Steeleon 30 Apr 2012 at 4:50 am

    @NewRon

    I am William Henry of Apple!The scourge of the Ipod! Even though others think I am a different fruit case altogether….. You are just another moaning scot trying to claim superiority. Another Mel Gibson in disguise. Very brave but heartless.

  46. NewRonon 30 Apr 2012 at 5:10 am

    Steven O’Vella has been trying hard to hide his true ancestry since learning that Bishop Usher was from Armagh.

  47. Dirk Steeleon 30 Apr 2012 at 5:14 am

    @NewRon

    sorry I posted on the wrong thread there….. so let me start again from the end..

    Oi! You chavs stole James the First of Joyce from the mad English. If not for him you would not a even have the first foundations of the art of QED, or even the distinct flavour of quarks… that essential aspect of science that allowed us, the English to intricately communicate with only two fingers with the little frogs across the pond… I think. Therefore….. something or other. I forget now. Too much St Jameson’s can ‘addle the bollocks from whence I speak.’ That was a quote from O’Reilly or was it actually Burns in disguise?

  48. Dirk Steeleon 30 Apr 2012 at 5:35 am

    NewRon,

    ‘Bishop Usher was from Armagh’

    You can’t be propounding that hoary old chestnut again. I thought it had been proved by Dr Eugene Newman M.D. that he could not even tell the difference between a date and a pineapple. Let alone know where he lived. It is a well known but often faked mental illness.

  49. BillyJoe7on 30 Apr 2012 at 6:47 am

    Well, one comes in our resident batty’s mouth and the other….

  50. NewRonon 30 Apr 2012 at 6:54 am

    Usher proved that O’shakespeare was one of ours. His very name was an anagram from McHamlet – ‘To be shure or not to be shure’. And some waste their time on pigeons when there are real questions to be answered. You can have that American upstart Thomas Stearns Ellio … what’s his name. Just give us back Cormac McCarthy. As Beckett would have it while waiting for that entity whose name cannot be mentioned (at least on this blog) RAD.

  51. SteveAon 30 Apr 2012 at 7:23 am

    Dirk Steele: “But to make the claim that

    ‘We have a phenomenon that is well-established – the ability of pigeons to sense and partly navigate according to the earth’s magnetic field.’

    is not true…”

    What is this basis for your dismissal of this statement?

    Dirk Steele: “Then to state it could be due to 53 neurons…. well my own neurons start to shut down. I am too skeptical I suppose.”

    This is an argument from personal incredulity.

  52. Dirk Steeleon 30 Apr 2012 at 9:08 am

    @NewRon

    Ha! Thanks for that! It is rare for an old grumps like me to laugh before midday!

    @SteveA

    ‘This is an argument from personal incredulity.’

    That is because of my incredulous personality! (Well I think that is what she told me… but she was Irish.) It is more the result of asking why evolutionary biology is bothering to evolve a complex adaptation when it has been proven that vision can already do the job nicely thank you. (I imagine that is what she said to me as she turned her back and flounced off into the distance…. Each to their own I said in a non racist mutter as I sniffed back the last of my chosen drink in order to raise my now lowly spirit.)

  53. SteveAon 30 Apr 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Dirk Steele: “It is more the result of asking why evolutionary biology is bothering to evolve a complex adaptation when it has been proven that vision can already do the job nicely thank you.”

    And what happens in poor visibility, or where fog or late snowfall obscures the ground, or where wide-scale flooding does the same, or when you’re traveling across vast grasslands or forests where it’s all pretty much identical in every direction? And how much flying is done at night or dusk?…I could go on. Having a navigation system that does not rely solely on reading the ground would confer significant evolutionary benefits.

  54. Dirk Steeleon 02 May 2012 at 12:39 am

    @SteveA

    ‘And what happens in poor visibility, ‘

    This is an argument from personal incredulity. A TEN year study by a team from Oxford showed that pigeons followed the roads even if it took them miles away…

    Good question Steve. I guess the researchers never even asked themselves that one. Why don’t you write to them (and tell them about the 53 neurons too).

  55. Mlemaon 02 May 2012 at 2:36 am

    Dirk, they may prefer to use landmarks, but they seem to use other means to find their way home from a location many miles away and completely unfamiliar to them. They were used in world war 2 to send messages from downed planes in Europe.

    It’s interesting how this post overlaps with the next post in this way: it seems that cell phone towers are messing with homing pigeons. Not just their navigation, but they seem to show signs of stess having to navigate around them (or maybe that would go along with having your navigation messed up) Maybe human health isn’t the only health we have to worry about with increased cell phone use.

  56. Dirk Steeleon 02 May 2012 at 6:42 am

    @SteveA
    @Mlema

    Yep, having read the literature now, I think I was misled by the article I quoted, and I now accept I am wrong. Again! But for no longer! Thanks. Pigeons are interesting little chaps….

  57. Dirk Steeleon 02 May 2012 at 7:12 am

    @DrN
    @SteveA

    For my penance, a squeaky sorry is not sufficient, so a full grovel is proffered….

  58. locutusbrgon 02 May 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Really guy’s, why are you feeding the cat(troll) it will just keep hanging around. You might as well sit there and debate with a cat. You will get less articulate answer but they will make more sense.

  59. Dirk Steeleon 03 May 2012 at 3:53 am

    @locutusbrg

    ‘Really guy’s’ ‘You will get less articulate answer.

    You need to work on the English Language mate.

    Tim Guilford’s 10 year study demonstrated that a sun compass and an internal clock plus a great visual memory was all that was required to fly home. Pigeons can see infrared light so clouds present no problem and they do not fly in the dark. It has also been shown that if their sense of smell is inhibited then their homing instincts are completely disrupted. Although I do not rule it out, their ability to use the earth’s electomagnetic field is still pure speculation. I happen to agree with the Karl Popper school of science that states that, once a hypothesis is formulated, it is the duty of the scientist to disprove it, and not to just try prove it. Hence I remain a skeptic. You, on the other hand are just a naughty little boy/girl.

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