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December 16, 1968


JAMA. 1968;206(12):2734-2735. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03150120068021

Bird watchers include many science-oriented people seriously devoted to understanding the mechanisms by which birds travel hundreds and thousands of miles, with a precision apparently denied to man. "Bird-brain" is an uncouth derogatory attribution applied to adults who wander into the ways of children. Yet this same small brain permits the winged animals a three-dimensional ability at feats beyond the imagination of navigators, who must employ complicated instruments to achieve their aims.

The phenomenon of homing enjoys the respectability of antiquity, having been known to Egyptians, Greeks (Ovid), and Romans (Pliny). The sport of pigeon racing is old, but the recognition of wide differences in abilities of birds to return to their nesting areas has prompted an enormous inquiry, some pseudoscientific, some overly affected by enthusiasm, and some decently critical. In 1955, Geoffrey Vernon Townsend Matthews assembled the available information, digested it, and reported thereupon in his book, Bird Navigation