How Do Carrier Pigeons Work: A Comprehensive Guide

Before the invention of the internet and smartphones, people had to rely on other means of communication. One of the most fascinating methods was using carrier pigeons to send messages. But how exactly did these birds manage to deliver messages from one place to another?

Believe it or not, carrier pigeons have been used for communication purposes for thousands of years. They were used in ancient civilizations like Egypt and Rome and even played a crucial role in both World War I and II. But how did they work?

In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating world of carrier pigeons and how they were able to deliver messages across great distances. From their remarkable navigation abilities to their impressive speed, we’ll delve into the science behind these feathered messengers.

How Do Carrier Pigeons Work A Comprehensive Guide

Carrier pigeons

Carrier pigeons have been utilized as a means of delivering messages over long distances throughout history. They are a type of homing pigeon that is known for their fascinating abilities.

Their exceptional sense of direction and ability to fly at speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour in good winds make them ideal for messenger duty.

Although carrier pigeons are no longer commonly used, their impressive navigational skills have been documented. A pigeon that was released in France in 1931 managed to travel 7,200 miles and returned to its home in French Indochina after 24 days.

Messenger pigeons have been used for communication purposes since ancient Greece, specifically for sharing important news such as the Olympic Games, and continue to be used in modern-day warfare. During both World Wars, hundreds of carrier pigeons were employed by military forces worldwide to provide critical updates on battle progress.

Carrier pigeons have played a crucial role in communication throughout history, and their remarkable abilities continue to inspire and fascinate people today.

Reasons Why Pigeons Became Important Mail Carriers

Historically, couriers who relied on horseback or foot transportation were known to be unreliable, prone to mishaps, delays, and lacking in confidentiality. A more dependable and faster system was needed, leading to the rise of pigeon delivery.

Pigeons were preferred for their docility, ease of capture, quick reproduction, and reliability. Homing pigeons were created through the selective breeding of rock pigeons, resulting in superior navigational abilities.

Above all else, pigeons have a well-deserved reputation for being exceptional navigators, making them the ideal choice for speedy and efficient deliveries.

How Exactly Do Carrier Pigeons Work?

Despite their reputation as a nuisance, carrier pigeons are fascinating birds with unique abilities.

Carrier pigeons are trained to find their way home and deliver messages, making them useful to civilians, military officials, and even spies throughout history.

These birds have impressive navigational abilities, allowing them to find their way back to their home coop from great distances. Additionally, carrier pigeons are able to lift messages due to their strong flight muscles and light body weight.

Thanks to new research, we can better understand and appreciate the important role that carrier pigeons have played in communication throughout the ages.

Pigeons Are The Best Bird For The Task

Pigeons were the favored bird for delivering messages for several reasons. They are known for being relatively calm and easy to handle, making them ideal for training. Additionally, they are typically easy to catch, making it simple to transport them to different locations.

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However, the most significant reason for their popularity is their exceptional sense of direction. Pigeons are renowned for their ability to navigate back to their home location from unfamiliar territories, which made them valuable for delivering messages over long distances.

They Carry Small Messages

Carrier pigeons have been used for centuries to safely deliver sensitive material. Messages are written on small pieces of paper and secured to the pigeon’s neck or legs. Once released, the pigeon instinctively flies back to its home, often resulting in the timely and undisturbed delivery of messages.

This method of communication has been used for its reliability and security, as it is difficult for others to intercept the message during delivery. Carrier pigeons were especially useful during times of war or when other forms of communication were unavailable or unreliable. Despite the advancements in technology, carrier pigeons remain a viable option for secure message delivery in certain situations.

They Must Be Carefully Trained

Training pigeons for message-carrying is a gradual and systematic process that requires patience and dedication.

The first step is to take the pigeons away from their nest or loft and release them to fly back. This helps the pigeons to get accustomed to their surroundings and to develop a sense of direction.

As the pigeons become more proficient, the trainer gradually increases the distance between the release sites and the pigeons’ homes. This helps the birds to build up their stamina and to navigate their way back from impressive distances.

The training process requires consistency and repetition, as well as careful observation of the pigeons’ behavior and progress. With time and practice, the pigeons will become skilled messengers that can reliably carry messages over long distances.

They Follow Roads

Pigeons have a variety of methods for finding their way home, including following landmarks and manmade roads. Over short distances, they may rely solely on these methods. Researchers have observed that pigeons tend to follow roads and highways, even if it means taking a longer route.

They are so committed to this method that they will even fly around roundabouts to ensure they take the correct out-road to lead them home. Understanding how pigeons navigate can help us better appreciate their remarkable abilities.

They Use Their Noses

Research has shown that pigeons use their sense of smell in navigation. In an experiment where the nasal nerves of pigeons were snipped, the birds were unable to find their way home, indicating that smell plays a crucial role in their navigation.

However, it’s unlikely that pigeons solely rely on their sense of smell to navigate. Instead, it’s believed that they learn the scents of their home area through wind patterns and use that information to travel within unfamiliar territory.

Overall, these findings demonstrate the impressive abilities of pigeons in navigating their environment and adapting to new situations.

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They Possess Internal Compasses

Pigeons have an innate ability to navigate using their internal magnetic “compasses.” These compasses are believed to be located around the nose and eyes and help the pigeon calculate the Earth’s magnetic fields. Other animals, such as rainbow trout and chickens, also possess similar compasses to aid in navigation.

By using their magnetic compasses, pigeons can orient themselves and map out routes home. This ability is crucial for their survival and allows them to travel long distances with precision. Understanding how these compasses work can help us better understand animal navigation and behavior.

They Have Superior Magnetoreception Skills

Pigeons are known for their remarkable magnetoreception skills, which allow them to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic fields. This ability is known as magnetoreception and is believed to work in conjunction with their internal compasses.

There is ample evidence to support this theory. Large losses of pigeons often coincide with solar storms that can disrupt the Earth’s magnetic field, suggesting that the birds rely on this field for navigation.

Pigeons’ magnetoreception skills are truly impressive and are just one of the many fascinating aspects of these birds.

They Make Mental Maps With Sound Waves

Pigeons have incredible hearing abilities that allow them to navigate their surroundings with precision. They can detect low-frequency waves that emanate from the Earth, which is thought to aid in their ability to create mental maps of their surroundings.

Experts believe that pigeons use these mental maps to guide them when they are flying, helping them find their way home. This theory suggests that pigeons rely on their hearing to navigate, which is why they are so successful at finding their way even when they are far from home.

Overall, the remarkable hearing abilities of pigeons are a crucial part of their navigation and survival strategies. By using sound waves to create mental maps, pigeons can navigate even the most complex environments with ease.

They Aren’t Always Successful

Despite their impressive navigational abilities, pigeons can still become lost for a variety of reasons. Predators and unfavorable weather conditions can disrupt their flight path, while even supersonic jets can interfere with the sound waves that they use for guidance. It’s important to be aware of these potential factors and take steps to minimize their impact on pigeons’ ability to navigate.

They Appear Throughout History

Although carrier pigeons are not commonly used today, their impact on history is significant. This concept dates back to ancient Greece, where pigeons were released to announce important events. Genghis Khan implemented a communication system using pigeons to disseminate messages across his empire.

During World War I and World War II, carrier pigeons were used on raid planes, and many birds received medals of honor for their bravery in delivering messages that saved lives. The legacy of carrier pigeons is a testament to their intelligence and ability to serve as an effective means of communication.

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They Can Be Used For Sport

Although no longer used for their original purpose, carrier pigeons are still valued for their abilities in the modern world.

Today, pigeons are bred and trained for sport, specifically pigeon racing. This involves releasing birds from lofts and timing their flights back home. The distance flown and time taken are recorded, and the average speed of each bird is calculated upon their return. Winners are determined based on the compiled data.

Pigeon racing is a popular and competitive pastime that keeps the skills of carrier pigeons alive and appreciated in today’s world.

Using their Perception

Pigeons have a remarkable ability to navigate and find their way home from short distances. They rely on their keen eyesight and other cues to pinpoint their familiar setting. Landmarks and man-made roadways are often used as a guide to lead them back to their home.

Top Tips For Managing Your Carrier Pigeons

Carrier pigeons played a crucial role in transmitting messages during the First World War, particularly in situations where other means of communication were unavailable.

These birds were used on land, sea, and air and could travel up to 100 miles to deliver crucial messages back to headquarters and bases.

Training and caring for pigeons were challenging tasks, and the British Expeditionary Force provided guidelines for the men working in the Carrier Pigeon Service. Here are some of the top tips from the ‘Carrier Pigeons in War’ pamphlet issued in March 1918:

Care for Your Pigeons:

It’s essential to provide your pigeons with the best possible care, including clean water, good food, and a comfortable living environment. Keep their loft clean and free from pests to promote their health and well-being.

Train Your Pigeons:

Training your pigeons is essential to ensure they can deliver messages quickly and efficiently. Start with short distances and gradually increase the distance as they become more experienced.

Use Proper Equipment:

Make sure you have the right equipment, including pigeon carriers and message tubes, to ensure your pigeons can deliver messages safely and securely.

Keep Records:

Keeping records of your pigeons’ health, training, and message deliveries is crucial to their success. It will also help you identify any issues that need to be addressed.

Be Prepared:

Always be prepared for any situation, including bad weather or unexpected delays. Have backup pigeons available in case of emergencies, and ensure they are trained and ready to deliver messages when needed.

By following these guidelines, carrier pigeon service men could ensure that their feathered messengers were well taken care of and ready to deliver important messages during times of war.


Carrier pigeons may seem like a thing of the past, but their ability to navigate and deliver messages with incredible accuracy is still something to marvel at. From their keen sense of direction to their impressive homing abilities, carrier pigeons have been an important part of human communication for centuries. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll even see them make a comeback in the age of technology.

Kathy Gonzales

I'm an author of I have kept pigeons as pets for over 20 years and have written several articles. Here in this blog, I cover topics such as how to care for pigeons, what to feed them, and how to keep them healthy.