Not a flying rat: 11 facts about the pigeon

by Juliana Keeping Modified: June 30, 2014 at 10:04 am •  Published: June 30, 2014
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5. Homing pigeons can fly hundreds of miles without stopping for McDonald's or taking gas station rest breaks.

Weighing just a pound, pigeons can fly 500 to 800 miles a day at more than 60 mph. In ancient times, homing pigeons could fly only about 100 miles a day. The increase in the modern bird's distance capabilities is due to selective breeding aimed at pigeon race glory, bragging rights and prize money.

6. It's still not entirely understood how homing pigeons find their way home from hundreds of miles away.

Science has yet to put a finger on how, exactly, the pigeon navigational system works. It's thought pigeons rely on directional aids, like the sun's position, and that they have an internal clock and compass to help them judge their precise location in relation to the sun. But, since a blindfolded pigeon can still find its way home, there is an additional navigation ingredient, widely thought to be the bird's ability to read the Earth's magnetic field. The heads of pigeons contain minute bits of magnetic iron ore. Visual and olfactory clues near the pigeons' homes are also thought to play a role.

7. There is a low pigeon divorce rate.

Pigeons mate for life and don't tend to stray from a partner unless the partner dies.

8. To the envy of breastfeeding women everywhere, both the male and female pigeon produce milk.

Produced from neck glands, infant pigeons look to both mom and dad for sustenance in the first few weeks of life.

9. Pigeons have been domesticated since the dawn of man.

Every major historical superpower has utilized the birds. A pigeon delivered the results of the first Olympics in 776 B.C., for example.

10. Pigeon racing is an international sport that counts among its enthusiasts the Queen of England.

Winning birds can fetch anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars in races. The best racers may sell for tens of thousands at auction.

11. Pigeons, whether living in luxury in the Queen of England's racing lofts or picking at pizza crust on an urban street, all descend from Columba livia, the rock dove.

Loosely translated, the Latin name means a “leaden-colored bird that bobs its head.” Other members of this family include the turtle dove, mourning dove and the wood pigeon.

Sources: “Pigeons: the fascinating saga of the world's most revered and reviled bird,” by Andrew D. Blechman; The American Pigeon Museum and Library; National Audubon Society; Revive & Restore; Smithsonian.

To learn more

The American Pigeon Museum and Library is at 2300 NE 63 in Oklahoma City. For more information, call 478-5155 or go to www.theamericanpigeonmuseum.org.


by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com. Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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