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J Exp Biol. 2013 Apr 15;216(Pt 8):1430-3. doi: 10.1242/jeb.082826. Epub 2013 Jan 10.

Back home at night or out until morning? Nycthemeral variations in homing of anosmic Cory's shearwaters in a diurnal colony.

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CEFE-CNRS, Behavioural Ecology Group, Montpellier, France.


Olfactory cues have been shown to be important to homing petrels at night, but apparently those procellariiform species that also come back to the colony during the day are not impaired by smell deprivation. However, the nycthemeral distribution of homing, i.e. whether displaced birds released at night return to their burrow by night or during daylight, has never been investigated. To explore this question, we studied the homing behaviour of Cory's shearwater (Calonectris borealis) in the only known population where these birds are active at the colony both during the day and at night. Here, we compared the nocturnal versus diurnal homing schedule of birds treated with zinc sulphate (to induce a reversible but complete anosmia) with that of controls. Our results show that anosmic shearwaters were unable to home in the dark and were constrained to wait for the daylight to find their burrow again. Our results confirm that olfaction is the basic sensory input for homing by night even in a petrel species that is diurnally active at the colony.

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