The low-down on sleeping down low: pigeons shift to lighter forms of sleep when sleeping near the ground Academic Article uri icon


  • Sleep in birds is composed of two distinct sub-states, remarkably similar to mammalian slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. However, it is unclear whether all aspects of mammalian sleep are present in birds. We examined whether birds suppress REM sleep in response to changes in sleeping conditions that presumably evoke an increase in perceived predation risk, as observed previously in rodents. Although pigeons sometimes sleep on the ground, they prefer to sleep on elevated perches at night, probably to avoid nocturnal mammalian ground predators. Few studies to date have investigated how roosting sites affect sleep architecture. We compared sleep in captive pigeons on days with and without access to high perches. On the first (baseline) day, low and high perches were available; on the second day, the high perches were removed; and on the third (recovery) day, the high perches were returned. The total time spent sleeping did not vary significantly between conditions; however, the time spent in REM sleep declined on the low-perch night and increased above baseline when the pigeons slept on the high perch during the recovery night. Although the amount of SWS did not vary significantly between conditions, SWS intensity was lower on the low-perch night, particularly early in the night. The similarity of these responses between birds and mammals suggests that REM sleep is influenced by at least some ecological factors in a similar manner in both groups of animals.


publication date

  • 2018