FACTS ABOUT PIGEONS
Welcome to some facts about a very smart bird.
There are many theories about how pigeons manage to return ‘home’ when released 100s of miles from their loft. A champion racing pigeon can be released 400-600 miles away from its home and still return within the day. This amazing feat does not just apply to ‘racing’ or ‘homing’ pigeons; all pigeons have the ability to return to their roost. A 10-year study carried out by Oxford University concluded that pigeons use roads and motorways to navigate, in some cases even changing direction at motorway junctions. Other theories include navigation by use of the earth’s magnetic field, visual clues such as landmarks, the sun and even infrasounds (low frequency seismic waves).
Whatever the truth, this unique ability makes the pigeon a very special bird.
We normally think of the pigeon as being an unwelcome guest in our towns and cities, but most of us are unaware that racing pigeons can be worth huge sums of money. One racing pigeon recently sold for a staggering $132,517.00!
The 3-year old bird was a champion racer, beating 21,000 other pigeons in one long distance race. For this reason he was bought by a British company that breeds racing pigeons for ‘stud’. One very happy pigeon! The previous record price for a racing pigeon was $73, 800.00.
The pigeon has side-mounted eyes, unlike humans and owls which have forward facing eyes. As pigeons have monocular vision rather than binocular vision they bob their heads for depth of perception. The pigeon’s eyes function much better with stationary images and therefore as the pigeon takes a step forward the head is temporarily left behind. The next step jerks the head forward again and so on. This allows the bird to correctly orient itself.
During the First World War a pigeon named Cher Ami (dear friend) saved the lives of many French soldiers by carrying a message across enemy lines in the heat of battle. Cher Ami was shot in the chest and the leg, losing most of the leg to which the message was attached, but continued the 25-minute flight avoiding shrapnel and poison gas to get the message home. Cher Ami was awarded the French ‘Croix de Guerre’ medal for heroic service.
The earliest large-scale communication network using pigeons as messengers was established in Syria and Persia around the 5th century BC. Much later, in the 12th century AD, the city of Baghdad and all the main towns and cities in Syria and Egypt were linked by messages carried by pigeons. This was the sole source of communication.
In Roman times the pigeon was used to carry results of sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, and this is why white doves are released at the start of the Olympic Games today. In England, prior to the days of telegraphs, pigeons were often taken to football matches and released to carry home the result of the game. Their use as a messenger in wartime resulted in many pigeons being awarded honours by both the British and French Governments.
Incredibly, the last ‘pigeon post’ service was abandoned in India in 2004 with the birds being retired to live out the rest of their days in peace.
Clancy's comment: My brother and I had pigeons as kids, and we enjoyed taking them miles away, letting them go and then riding our bikes home to try and beat them. We never did.