Passenger pigeons: an amazing species




Over two millennia of history

A carrier pigeon is a breed of bird belonging to the species of rock pigeon (Columba livia) that has been specially selected for travelling. One of its characteristics is that it can travel hundreds of kilometres (with a maximum weight of about 250gr) without getting lost and always return to the same place. The instinct and willpower that drive pigeons to return to their starting point have been known and used since the earliest days of civilisation. The Egyptians, the Persians, the Chinese and the Greeks all used carrier pigeons as messengers for political and commercial reasons or for war campaigns.

Aurélien, a pigeon fancier at Terra Botanica, tells us that in the Middle Ages, large towers were built especially for these birds. It is said that they could contain up to 5,000 pigeons. The larger the number, the richer and more powerful the owner.


Did you know that?

"During the Second World War, more than 16,000 English pigeons were parachuted into France to join the Allied command on enemy lines. The Germans had trained falcons to attack them in flight. And this is just one example among many.


Special abilities, but how do they do it?

Aurélien tells us that various hypotheses have been put forward to try to explain how these pigeons were spotted.

At first it was thought that they referred to the sun as bees do. Experiments have shown that pigeons raised in rooms without lights never acquire a sense of orientation.

Then a second hypothesis was added to the first. Like sea turtles, bees, ants and migratory butterflies, homing pigeons are sensitive to the earth's magnetic field and use it to orient themselves. This is the main reason for their highly developed sense of orientation.

Other experiments show that homing pigeons use the updrafts over heated roads in summer and are sensitive to infrasound from the loft.

In order to train them, you have to start with small runs. Like humans, carrier pigeons need training and repetition before they can perform well.

See them on the park from 8 April 2017!



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