Before the digital revolution over 5,000 years ago, pigeons had an extensive history of affiliation with humans – domesticated and used for food and entertainment.
The pigeon’s ancestors originated from Europe and were introduced into North America in the early 1600s.
Pigeons have been associated with messaging mechanisms for a long.
During world war I and II, 32 pigeons were honored with “The Dickin Medal ” for their service in delivering secret messages across enemy lines, the highest decoration can be given to animals.
Their history of military communication is widely known.
There have been many questions revolving around homing pigeons and their survival means. These birds are easy to breed, and take care of.
Their Neurons are wired in such a way that they can sense even the smallest changes in the geographical elements.
What is a homing pigeon?
The homing pigeon is a distinctive breed of domesticated pigeon descended from wild rock pigeons. The homing pigeons have an intrinsic ability to find their way back home, even flight over far cry at high speed.
Wild rock pigeons also possess the homing ability and can return to their own nest and mate during flights. Because of their ability, ancient Egyptians consider homing pigeons as valuable messengers to carry a secret mission and mail during wartime.
Extreme care and concern were given to breeding this gentle species.
The messages were written in thin cigarette papers and were rolled into a small bottle attached to the pigeon leg. Messages were encrypted to avoid reaching the wrong hands.
This pigeon mail only works when the transmitter holds the receiver pigeon- the pigeon returns to their mentally marked home(recover place).
Homing pigeons are capable of a flight 1,100 miles away from their nest, and they travel at the average speed of 50 -90 miles per hour with a sudden outburst.
In today’s world, people train and raise selectively bred homing pigeons for enhanced home instinct and speed, and are referred to as racing homers and racing pigeons.
The carefully selected and breaded homing pigeons are used in Release Dove ceremonies at events such as sports, weddings, and funerals.
Related Read: How Much is a Homing Pigeon Worth?
How do homing pigeons find their way back to the home?
Homing pigeons do not need a home address or personal identification to drop off messages even for a distance of 1,000 miles.
Their ability to return to their home without advanced technologies like google Maps or GPS is astounding.
Over these years, scientists and experts believe and documented several theories to prove how they navigate to their own nest across far cry.
Some theories experts found at least match with pigeon home instinct to navigate their home:
Mapping and compass mechanisms
- A homing pigeon’s compass mechanism counts upon the rising sun to fly in the right direction. They employ the angle and position of the sun to locate their home direction for flight.
- The mapping mechanism aids them to recognize and compare their current location with the destination (home), but this mechanism is being a mystery to the experts and others.
Detecting Earth magnetic field
Homing pigeons utilize magnetoreception which encompasses the earth’s magnetic field for navigation.
Scientists figured out that homing pigeon beaks carry a congregation of iron particles that allow them to detect magnetic fields.
Using low-frequency sounds
They rely on low-frequency infrasounds – inaudible to human ears for guidance to find their way, which is created by every single object in the earth including the trees, oceans, and earth crust.
They will listen to the infrasounds until they find their home roost signature sounds.
Like humans, once they get close to their nest, their familiar buildings and landmarks guide them to reach their destination (home).
How to train a homing pigeon?
Homing pigeons are peaceful and docile birds, and they do not bite, scratch, or bark towards other pets in the house. Their lifespan is about 10 t0 20 years and will become the best companion for humans.
Still, people love to train rock pigeons to deliver messages in the military mission when the situations limit digital and physical communication and race.
Training your companion birds is a simple process that requires a lot of time, proper care, and dedication.
Set the base location and start to care for your homing pigeons
Build the home loft for your homing pigeon, which can be a base point to deliver messages between locations.
The loft should be located in an area free from aerial observations and with excellent ventilation – birds spend a majority of their time in this space for food and water.
Design the loft so that the trapdoor is confusing for birds so that they cannot leave or enter it with ease. The trapdoors restrict the bird’s exit at will, and they will need your help to get out of the loft.
Start your training program when they cross 6 weeks old. At first, train them to figure out the solution to exit from the trapdoor and to become familiar with the surroundings of the base locations.
Training requires your patience, dedication, and consistent program schedules on each day to aid them to carry messages between two locations.
Practice at regular intervals
For a week, practice them to enter and exit the trapdoor on their own. Every day during the second week, remove the pigeons from the loft and use a carrier to carry them to the other location a mile away from the base point.
Release them and watch, if they return to the loft and do this session several times a week. Providing adequate facilities such as rich food and luxury lodgings/ safe and comfortable loft and being treated with loyalty is what makes your birds have the incentive to return home.
Each week expand your distance by 5 miles from home and release them, and every time go in different directions acclimate them at variable distances.
If your bird is having trouble returning, stop expanding the distance and continue to practice on the same distance until they succeed.
Gradually expand distances up to 50 miles away from home, and ensure your birds gain confidence and endurance to take long flights.
Food and water incentives
Training includes high-quality food and water incentives. They can be trained either in one or two geographic locations.
- For a single route, you use either base loft or create a route between two trained locations.
- For a two-way route, remove the food and water from the loft and carry your pigeon to the desired location and feed them. Automatically, after feeding, they will return to the base.
Repeat this session, until they become familiar and migrate themselves independently to the other locations.
Now remove the food from the base and attach a message on their feet. Now release your hungry birds and test whether they reach the second location to feed and deliver the mail.
How do you catch the lost bird?
Homing pigeons are naturally efficient navigators, but sometimes they get lost while out on a long flight. They will join hands with another flock of pigeons or will be sitting on the buildings or other disoriented places.
Most homing pigeons have tags with home addresses that lend a hand to finding your bird. The birds lost due to their illness or become weak, dehydrated, and hungry, need time to replenish their lost energy.
When you find an ill bird, gently pick them up and bring them to an isolated area to feed them.
If you note the signs like a hunched-up appearance, ruffled feathers, not drinking and eating for hours, then you need immediate doctor attention.
Wait patiently for the bird to recover, then bring them to the reorientation area and let them go free to reach the base on their own.
Differences between a carrier pigeon and a homing pigeon? Are they the same?
Homing pigeons are not carrier pigeons, and both are different types of breeds. Homing pigeons are sometimes called “carrier pigeons” mistakenly, probably the word – carrier evolved from their mailing skills.
Both carrier pigeons and homing pigeons are selective breeding of rock pigeons for many years.
Carrier pigeons are always known for their beauty, while homing pigeons for their intact homing ability and their speed.
The carrier pigeons have all the attributes of the perfect pigeon and live a boring and monotonous life.
Still many countries’ military keep and train homing pigeons, just in case high-tech gear crashes in wartime and it might seem a good alternative to working with pigeons.
Homing pigeons fly across thousands of miles away to provide relatively secure communication on the battlefield where digital and radar communication is limited.
In recent history, homing pigeons are used for emergency communication to rescue people when the entire internet and digital network gets shut down due to natural disasters. In urban areas, people breed them as a hobby and often use them in racing.
While they are not heavily used for communication purposes today, homing pigeons have become pet companions in many families.