Why Do Pigeons Bob Their Heads?

livescience.com | 10/20/2019 | Emma Bryce - Live Science Contributor
Cayley1561Cayley1561 (Posted by) Level 3
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In 1978, a group of researchers in a laboratory at Queen's University in Canada clustered around a plexiglass box enclosing a treadmill … with a pigeon walking on it. The purpose behind this comical scene was to try and answer an age-old question: Why do pigeons bob their heads?

Head-bobbing is as much a feature of pigeons' identity as is their tendency to swarm us at the slightest suggestion that we might be harboring a snack. Bopping their heads as they stalk about pecking the ground for crumbs, these birds seem to be grooving to some secret beat, as if they're all attending a silent disco in the town square.

Purpose - Motion

But what's the real purpose behind this seemingly ridiculous motion?

Related: Why Are There So Many Pigeons?

Far - Human - Eye - See

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How Far Can the Human Eye See?

Treadmill - Experiment - Insights - Question - Study

The 1978 treadmill experiment gave us the first crucial insights into that question. And the study overturned one major assumption in the process: Pigeons aren't actually bobbing their heads. Instead, they're pushing them forward.

When the researchers in that study reviewed slow-motion footage, they found that there were actually two main parts to a pigeon's head movement, which the scientists called a "thrust" and a "hold" phase.

'thrust - Phase - Head - Body - Centimeters

"In the 'thrust' phase, the head is pushed forward, relative to the body by about 5 centimeters [2 inches]," explained Michael Land, a biologist at Sussex University in the United Kingdom who has studied eye movements in animals and humans. "This is followed by a 'hold' phase, during which the head is kept still in space, which means that it moves backwards relative to the forward-moving body."

What we see as a "bob" is actually the head sliding smoothly forward and then waiting for the body to catch up. We perceive it as a bob because the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: livescience.com
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