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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Day 20, Pigeon II.

The ability of homing pigeons to find their way home is not so much due to instinct as to careful training. After being acquainted with their home for the first three to four months of their life, they are sent out on their first journey: carried a mile away and tossed into the air. Generally, I’ve read, circling around for a few times, as if to find their bearings, and then head off in the direction of home. Further training flights are then gradually increased with records showing the standard training stages consisting of 1, 3, 6, 12, 21, 35, 50, 75 and finally a 100 miles from home. After three years of training a pigeon may be thrown 500 miles away with a good chance of it returning, with a large number of pigeons generally lost in training. It is believed the ability to return home is due to the pigeon’s vision - at the height of 135 meters in the air it has been calculated they can see about 40 kilometres in distance - and through the ability of magnetoreception. The speed they fly depends greatly on the conditions, with modern ‘homing pigeons’ bred for pigeon racing recording speeds in excess of 100km/h for hundreds of kilometres at a time. During their height as messenger carriers in Europe they averaged about 44km/h with a record speed of 120km/h recorded in 1897, although there were strong winds behind. The greatest distance at that time had been accomplished in America and recorded at 1,770kms. The current record sits at 11,500kms, set in 1931, with a single pigeon taking over 24 days to fly from Arras, France, back to its nest in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The life of homing pigeons were rort of danger and they would usually return to their lofts with mutilated limbs, breasts rifled of feathers, and that’s if they returned at all - either being captured or dieing en route back. They were also often delayed by contrary winds or beaten back by storms. To make up for these losses, birds were usually sent in pairs or trios with the same message, so as to guarantee at least one returned.