Pigeons amaze me. Often disparaged and maligned, referred to as flying rats, thought to be carriers of disease, it is in truth, all of this and none of it.
Pigeons have so well adapted to humans and civilizations that they can be found everywhere – a plague in large cities and rural farms across the globe. They are the inveterate prey, hunted by hawks, falcons, wolves, coyotes, and all manner of other predators. In ancient times, they provided meat, feathers, fertilizer, an ingredient required in gunpowder, and they warned people of approaching dangers.
However, I admit, until I was introduced to the idea of racing pigeons three and a half decades ago, I never gave pigeons a second thought.
Our pigeons today, for the most part, all have a common ancestor, the Rock Dove pigeon. All pigeons have some natural ability for homing, but homing pigeons, used in the sport of racing pigeons, are bred for their speed and their navigation abilities. Typical race speeds run between 40 and 60 miles per hours. Birds released 400, 500 and even 600 miles from home can make it back to their lofts in one day. Their navigation skills are legendary, but how they navigate is controversial. Some say they navigate by sight, or using earth’s magnetic forces, or smell, or low frequency seismic waves, or using the sun to guide them. Most likely, it is a combination of all these factors.
Pigeons have been used to carry messages for over 5000 years, and are still used today by some nations. Think about it. Five THOUSAND years. This goes back to ancient Greece. The dove Noah released was most likely a pigeon.
Other interesting facts about pigeons: They recognize their reflection in a mirror. They can fly straight up (rare for a bird their size). They mate for life. They bob their heads when they walk to help with their depth perception. Advanced studies at the University of Montana concluded that “Pound for pound, the pigeon is one of the smartest, most physically adept creatures in the animal kingdom.”