Homing Pigeons

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Homing Pigeons are a type of domesticated pigeon whose "role as a messenger has a long history" (Encyclopaedia Britannica). They look very much like the common street pigeon, though they are more narrow-bodied, and have larger eyes and beaks.

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Homing pigeons being released from a cage (Able 595).

Origins: 4,000 Years of Release and Return

Homing pigeons belong to a larger group of domesticated pigeons, which have been in existence for over four thousand years. There are mixed claims regarding exactly when and where homing pigeons were first domesticated and subsequently utilized as a medium. Peter James and Nick Thorpe in Ancient Inventions state that pigeons were first domesticated in Sumer (southern Iraq) around 2000 B.C.: “Most likely it was the Sumerians who discovered that a pigeon or dove will unerringly return to its nest, however far and for however long it is separated from its home” (Peter and Thorpe 526). But the “first actual records of their use as carrier birds come from Egypt,” although the authors here do not specify when this occurred (Peter and Thorpe 526). Another account in The Early History of Data Networks holds that “in the days of the Pharaohs the Egyptians announced the arrival of important visitors by releasing pigeons from incoming ships,” which may have been prevalent as early as 2900 B.C. (Holzmann and Pehrson 6). Elsewhere, centuries later, it is said that “the outcomes of the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, around 776 B.C., were sent to Athens by pigeons” (Holzmann and Pehrson 6). Thus, one can infer that in ancient times, people quickly realized the potential that existed in a homing pigeon’s ability to be released at one spot and return to another – their ability as a medium. Beneath their wings was the only option of fast, easy communication that would present itself for millennia, and the state and the public alike took advantage of this intriguing form of airmail.

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"Pigeon Post," Woodcut from A.D. 1481 (Holzmann and Pehrson 7).

Various Uses

War and Warning

Pleasure and Play



Works Cited

  • Able, Kenneth P. "Orientation and Navigation: A Perspective on Fifty Years of Research." The Condor, Vol. 97, No. 2. (May, 1995), pp. 592-604.
  • Holzmann, Gerard J. and Björn Pehrson. The Early History of Data Networks. California: IEEE Computer Society Press, 1995.
  • James, Peter and Nick Thorpe. Ancient Inventions. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994.
  • Jones, R.V. Most Secret War. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1978.