Soaring in Slumber: The Fascinating Dream World of Pigeons

Have you ever wondered what pigeons dream about when they are sleeping? Well, wonder no more. A new study has found the answer, and it’s quite as wild as some of us might have hoped!

The general consensus in this recent research seems to be that when pigeons are asleep, they experience visions of flight.

flying homing pigeon

Published in Nature Communications, the interesting study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence and Ruhr University Bochum monitored the brain activation patterns of sleeping pigeons with the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging.

What was found was that most of the brain segments in the pigeons tested were highly active during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase, which is similar to the mammalian experience, including humans.

pigeon dreams

During the process of sleep, the brain goes through a number of complex phases to make sure that you wake up feeling rested and refreshed.

In humans, REM and non-REM sleep are linked to changes in brain activity, physiology and cognition.

The research undertaken in the recent study was to establish whether or not the same processes took place in birds.

Using an infrared video camera and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 15 pigeons were trained specially to sleep under experimental conditions.

The video recordings shed some light on the sleep phases of the birds.

The researchers were able to observe if the pigeons closed one or both eyes and were also able to track eye movements. Because pigeons have transparent eyelids, it was also possible to observe changes in pupil size.

At the same time, information about brain activation and the flow of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain ventricles was recorded by the fMRI.

During REM sleep, observations were made that showed strong activity in the regions of the brain that are responsible for visual processing, particularly in the areas that we already know analyze the movement of a pigeon’s surroundings when they are in flight.

It was noted that there was particular activity in the area of the brain that processes signals from the wings.

Based on those findings, the conclusion was made that the birds are visualizing flight while they dream.

The scientists also picked up on the activation of a particular area of the brain known as the amygdala. This discovery led them to suggest that if birds can experience something similar to human dreaming, then their dreams might also include emotions.

It’s an interesting thing to consider and something that we are excited to keep learning about as the research expands!

Denise Bereford

Denise Bereford is a full-time writer and researcher with a long-standing passion for pigeons.

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