What Is A Homing Pigeon

Have you ever heard of a homing pigeon? These incredible birds have been used for centuries to deliver messages across long distances. But what exactly is a homing pigeon and how do they navigate their way back home?

Homing pigeons are a specific breed of domestic pigeons that have been bred for their aptitude in returning to their home from extended distances. They have a remarkable sense of direction and are able to navigate using a variety of cues, including the Earth’s magnetic field, the position of the sun, and the landscape around them.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at homing pigeons and explore how they are able to find their way home, as well as their fascinating history and current uses today.

What Is A Homing Pigeon

What Is A Homing Pigeon

Homing pigeons are a domestic breed that has been selectively bred for their ability to navigate back to their home from long distances, making them a fascinating topic of study. These birds have an incredible sense of direction and can navigate using a variety of cues, such as the Earth’s magnetic field, the position of the sun, and the landscape around them.

The ability of homing pigeons to navigate their way home has been studied extensively by scientists, who have found that these birds have a highly developed sense of spatial awareness. They are able to use a range of different cues to determine their position and direction, including the position of the sun, the Earth’s magnetic field, and even the smell of their home loft.

Homing pigeons have a long and fascinating history, having been used for centuries to deliver messages across long distances. During the First and Second World Wars, homing pigeons were used extensively as a means of communication, with thousands of birds being trained and deployed by military forces around the world.

Today, homing pigeons are still used for a variety of purposes, including racing, scientific research, and even as a hobby. These birds are truly remarkable creatures, with their incredible sense of direction and their ability to navigate their way home from hundreds of miles away.


Pigeons have been used for communication purposes for thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, homing pigeons were used for pigeon posts, delivering messages tied to their legs. The sport of flying messenger pigeons was well-established as early as 3000 years ago, and they were used to proclaim the winner of the Ancient Olympics.

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Messenger pigeons were employed for communication purposes in Baghdad circa 1150 and were also utilized by Genghis Khan in a subsequent period. In the 19th century, homing pigeons were extensively used for military communications, and Paul Reuter used them to deliver news and stock prices between Brussels and Aachen. Pigeons were utilized for mail delivery between the besieged city of Paris and the unoccupied territory of France during the Franco-Prussian War.

Historically, pigeons carried messages only one way, but they have been trained to fly back and forth up to twice a day reliably, covering round-trip flights up to 160 km. They were occasionally used on mail routes, such as the Great Barrier Pigeongram Service established in New Zealand in 1897, possibly the first regular airmail service in the world.

Homing pigeons have been used for various purposes, including competitions and emergency communication services after natural disasters. In Odisha state, India, remote police departments utilized the Police Pigeon Service messenger system for communication. However, due to the increased use of the Internet, the system was retired in 2002.

The use and possession of homing pigeons have been prohibited by the Taliban in Afghanistan. This ban has likely impacted the ability of individuals and organizations to utilize homing pigeons for communication and other purposes in the region.


Scientists have been studying pigeons to understand how they navigate back to their homes from unfamiliar places. The prevailing theory is that they have a “map and compass” system, with the compass allowing them to orient themselves and the map helping them determine their location. While the compass mechanism depends on the sun, the mapping mechanism is still a topic of debate.

The theory that birds use the Earth’s magnetic field for mapping has been disproven. Some researchers believe that pigeons use visual landmarks, such as roads and other man-made features, to navigate. They make sharp turns and follow habitual routes, much like humans. Understanding how pigeons navigate can give us insight into how animals use different senses and mechanisms to find their way home.

Additionally, it has been suggested that pigeons use low-frequency infrasound to navigate and that different breeds of homing pigeons rely on different cues to different extents. Overall, the mechanisms behind pigeon homing ability are complex and multifaceted, involving various sensory cues such as the sun, magnetic fields, visual landmarks, and atmospheric odors. Further research is needed to fully understand this fascinating phenomenon.

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How To Raise Homing Pigeons

Homing pigeons played a crucial role in carrying messages across enemy lines during World War I and II, earning them recognition for their bravery. It should be noted that 32 of these birds have received The Dickin Medal, which is the most prestigious award for bravery given to animals.

Today, homing pigeons are commonly known as “racing pigeons” or “racing homers.” In the United States, there are clubs dedicated to raising and breeding racing homers for their enhanced speed and homing instincts.

The birds undergo training and conditioning by club members for racing distances between 100 to 600 miles. Upon their return, the birds are timed and judged based on their speed and accuracy in finding their way back home.

Through the continued breeding and training of racing homers, these birds have become a beloved and respected part of the racing community. Their impressive abilities and loyalty have made them a symbol of determination and perseverance, both on and off the battlefield.

How Homing Pigeons Find Their Way Home

The article discusses the navigational abilities of birds and the environmental cues they use to navigate. Birds have internal compasses that can determine directions from the sun’s position during the day, star patterns at night, and Earth’s magnetic field. To function as a map, an environmental cue must be present in a gradient form, so birds can differentiate between levels or amounts in different areas.

Two environmental cues have been proposed as bases of a navigational map for birds: olfaction and infrasound. Olfaction utilizes the detection of odors from volatile hydrocarbon gases in the atmosphere, while infrasound is generated by minute vibrations caused by deep ocean waves and can be propagated thousands of kilometers through Earth’s surface and the atmosphere.

The article discusses the research of Floriano Papi and his colleagues, who released homing pigeons and found that those with functional olfactory nerves returned to their home loft, while those with inoperative nerves did not. Papi proposed that pigeons learn the odors of volatile atmospheric gases under different wind directions at their home lofts and compare the local odors and wind direction with patterns they know from home when displaced.

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Infrasound was suggested as the basis of a navigational map by Jonathan T. Hagstrum, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in California. He proposed that pigeons listen for the low-frequency rumble from their loft area and that under certain topographic and atmospheric conditions, infrasound can be shifted and might not be available to the birds.

Overall, the article highlights the fascinating navigational abilities of birds and the ongoing research to understand the environmental cues they use to navigate.

Homing Pigeon Characteristics, Origin & Uses

Homing pigeons are a breed of domesticated pigeons known for their innate homing ability. These birds can find their way back to their nest using magnetoreception and have been selectively bred for their ability to find their home over extremely long distances.

Competitive pigeon racing has recorded flights as long as 1,100 miles by these birds, and they can fly at an average speed of 50 mph over moderate distances. Top racers have been observed to fly at speeds of up to 90 mph for short distances.

Homing pigeons were historically used as messenger pigeons, often referred to as “pigeon post” or “war pigeons” during times of war. They are an ancient breed of domesticated pigeons and were even used to proclaim the winner of the Olympics over 3,000 years ago.

Today, homing pigeons are still entered into competitions and can vary in size, color, body type, and weight depending on the type of bird. However, their use as messenger pigeons has declined due to the expansion of the internet, and they are now mainly used for recreational purposes.

Breed NameHoming
Other NameNone
Breed PurposeCan vary depending on the variety
Special NotesBeautiful birds, strong and hardy
Breed ClassVary
WeightDepends on the variety
Climate ToleranceAll climates
Flying AbilityExcellent
As PetsGood
ColorMany, depend on the variety
Country/Place of OriginDepends on the variety


Homing pigeons are truly remarkable creatures that have been used for centuries for their incredible ability to navigate and find their way home. Whether you’re a pigeon enthusiast or just fascinated by these winged wonders, there’s no denying that homing pigeons is a true testament to the incredible power of nature.

So, the next time you see a pigeon flying by, take a moment to appreciate the incredible journey they’re on and the amazing skills they possess.

Kathy Gonzales

I'm an author of pigeonsmatter.com. 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.