A few weeks ago I read for the first time the story of a war pigeon named Dear Friend. He was a carrier pigeon who served in World War I and saved 194 American lives by traveling 40 kilometers to carry a vital message despite being seriously injured by enemy fire. Carrier pigeons like Cher Ami which served during the war are descendants of the wild pigeon and are also called messenger pigeons. The story of what these pigeons did during the battle to save human lives moved me a lot and so much so that I wanted to know more about their unique return ability.
Unfortunately, scientists aren’t sure exactly how pigeons can get back to their loft and what their returning abilities actually involve. The researchers hypothesized that their unique ability involves everything from the ability to recognize the position and angle of the sun, to reliance on the Earth’s magnetic field, and even a pigeon’s potential ability to detect sounds at low frequency or infrasound to find the way back. When it comes to how to train a messenger pigeon, however, there is a specific methodology.
It starts with defining a base location. Their home base is where they will be fed, watered and kept most of the time. Their house is usually set up so that they can enter the loft on their return, but that does not allow them to leave at will. Food and water are also used as incentives to encourage the pigeon to travel from place to place.
Carrier pigeons usually start training between 6 and 12 weeks of age. They are taken a short distance into a cage – a mile, for example – and released to return to the attic. Several attempts are made at the same distance for about a week before the distance is increased to 5 miles, 10 miles, etc. Carrier pigeons are known to return home over 1,100 miles.
Despite this formidable ability to return to their home loft from great distances, this is just one of their traits that impressively define them. A courier pigeon was also used in wartime due to their exceptional ability to cover such great distances with astonishing speed. We say that the speed