Facts About Pigeons

Most people in the mainstream don’t think of pigeons as particularly exciting animals since they’re so common in both cities and rural areas. However, there’s a lot more to pigeons than meets the eye.

Some amazing facts about pigeons

Every animal has its own amazing secrets and surprises. Here are some of the pigeons.

Navigation and homing ability

There are a few theories when it comes to the homing pigeon’s ability to find it’s way home. Some say that they can see the stars during the day, while others claim that its due to their remarkable ability to sense magnetic fields.

Another theory is that they use something called “Olfactory navigation“, which, put simply, is the ability to use odours, even over long distances, to navigate.

Some biologists believe that their uncanny homing abilities may be down to a combination of different systems. Whatever the case may be, these birds’ ability to find their way home is unparalleled by most animal species.

Flight speeds and altitudes

Pigeons can reach a stunning altitude of over 6,000 feet. They can also fly extremely fast, averaging about 77.6 mph. The fastest pigeon ever recorded set the flight speed record at a whopping 92.5 mph!

They’re surprisingly long-lived

In the wild, the average pigeon lives around six years, which is quite a long time for such a small bird. Even more surprising, however, is that pigeons that live in captivity, such as racing pigeons, can live up to fifteen years.

Pigeons are on par with primates in numerical competence

Until recently, humans assumed that the only other animals capable of understanding abstract numerical concepts were primates. However, in a study published at PubMed.gov, it was discovered that pigeons performed just as well as monkeys when it came to understanding numerical values! 

They can tell one person from another

While the average person might have difficulty distinguishing individual pigeons apart, pigeons are great at recognizing different humans.

Studies have shown that untrained pigeons can recognize different humans, even after a change of clothing.

While we still don’t know for sure exactly how they can recognize individuals, they are likely able to memorize facial features. This ability to tell people apart becomes obvious when strangers visit the loft and the birds sometimes appear spooked.

They are competent problem solvers that can make intelligent choices

This study published on Springer revealed that pigeons are capable of solving complex problems as well as understanding patterns.

When they were given a choice between two strings, only one of which was attached to a reward, the pigeons in the study were able to consistently recognize which string would result in a treat, and they pulled it nearly every time. 

They can categorize objects

Humans are famous for their ability to categorize everything we see into neat little boxes. According to The University of Iowa, however, humans aren’t the only ones that can do this.

Pigeons can use selective attention to determine which objects are important versus which objects are not, and they can also place everyday objects into distinct categories.

Pigeons may be able to decipher medical images

A study published on NCBI found that it was possible to train pigeons to recognize certain medical images.

A series of tests revealed that these pigeons were capable of recognizing signs of cancer, specifically cancer-relevant microcalcifications, on mammogram images.

They “co-parent”

Baby pigeons, called squabs, are parented by the male and female pigeon both of which work together to feed their babies by secreting a special kind of protein-rich milk from their crops. This “pigeon milk” allows a squab to reach full size in a matter of weeks.

Powerful poop

Any fancier will tell you the state of a pigeon’s health can be seen in the droppings. That aside, pigeon poop makes excellent fertilizer and was even used as a key ingredient in gunpowder.

Frequently asked questions about pigeons

Why are racing pigeons so expensive?

Racing pigeons, particularly performance pigeons, that is, pigeons that have proven themselves in races, are expensive because of their ability to win races. These pigeons are quite literally one in ten, twenty, thirty thousand etc.

What’s more, if a performance pigeon has produced winners, showing it’s capacity as a stock bird, the price can double or even triple. The prices that you see pigeons sell for these days are bolstered by the sheer number of cash-rich buyers in Asia, China especially.

What is the difference between a pigeon and a dove?

Technically there is no difference between a pigeon and a dove, both are descendants of the rock dove (Columba livia) which is part of the Columbidae family of birds.

The white colour associated with doves comes from selective breeding. In fact, the wild rock dove is actually pale grey with two black bars on each wing.

How do pigeons sleep?

Pigeons sleep standing up with their head tucked behind their wing and will usually find an elevated position or perch to sleep on.

Why do pigeons symbolize love?

In Greek mythology the dove is associated with Aphrodite the goddess of love, or Venus in Roman mythology. Additionally, pigeons naturally mate for life, staying with the same partner during mating season, making them an omen of good luck when it comes to monogamy and long-lasting relationships.

Why do city/feral pigeons have deformed feet?

Pigeons in the city face many dangers, including spikes installed specifically to deter pigeons from landing, as well as predators, litter and even human hair becoming tangled around the foot. All of these things can cause injury and deformations in pigeon feet.

More pigeons facts in a visual format

This awesome infographic created by Andrew Moliski does a fantastic job of illustrating some of the above facts in addition to a few more.

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