Skip to main content

5 crazy facts about pigeon training you probably don’t know

You might think wistfully back to the extinct yet still elegant passenger pigeon that once swarmed the forests of North America. Yet we still have its distant cousin the homing pigeon among us, and it has a number of unique skills. For over 5,000 years, these birds have carried messages, including wartime communications, Olympic results, and police mail. If you’re lucky enough to have one (or are just interested in pigeon sports), check out these five facts about how to train homing pigeons.

Flock of homing pigeons flying
Image used with permission by copyright holder

They make maps in their brains

Common wisdom has held that birds use magnetic fields to find their way home during migration, and these directionally smart animals may do something similar. However, sound waves and landmark recognition might play parts as well in their instincts. Regardless, pigeons have an innate sense of where home is and what is around it. Because their minds have a detailed view of routes, they can even learn multiple go-between locations, like a nest and a feeding spot. You’ll need a GPS, but your little bird will use his ancestral intuition to take him home.

Pigeons can go more than 100 miles

In fact, competitive birds in races go for hundreds of miles per day. You should start small, though. When pigeon training, you’ll want to begin with just a mile trip and work your way up to your goal. Carefully determine your location, or both locations if you’re doing a journey, and make sure they are good. You should take into account any hazards along the way and confirm your bird will be as safe as possible. For example, you wouldn’t put his nest next to an angry den of coyotes or his loft alongside a piece of barbed wire. 

This bird can carry 10% of its body weight

Or about 1.5 ounces in total. You’ll need something to fasten your letter or tiny package onto your avian, too, so take that into account when you design the setup. Many owners choose to give their pigeons little backpacks to hold on to the message. While fabric is light, it doesn’t always hold up against the elements, so you should look into metal tubes, which are popular as well. The best news: Environmentalists have been adding lightweight sensors to pigeon packs to get vital info on climate change. 

White homing pigeon being held by his owner
Image used with permission by copyright holder

You might see them at weddings

Most homing pigeons look like … well pigeons. You’ll recognize their grayish feathers with a touch of iridescent green if you’ve ever seen the street variety. However, these birds are special in that they come in many shades. You can find slate-gray, silver-striped, and amber-barred homers that each have a slightly different look. But the most attractive pigeon award has to go to the all-white variety. Because they can get back all on their own, pigeons often grace weddings. Don’t worry, they aren’t imposters: Doves and pigeons are really the same thing. Before getting your own set, think carefully about which colors you want, though that won’t make much difference in the training part. 

These guys start young

As with other animal instruction, you want to get the training on the calendar early in their lives for the most impact. Typically, you’ll begin at about 6 weeks and set up a strict schedule right away. Just like you, it’s best if your bird knows when he’ll be out in the field learning his craft. Of course, you need to give him a good reason to come home in the first place, and reward systems work best. He’ll skip breakfast in the morning as you take him out to his spot, then fly home quickly, anticipating his snack. Make sure it’s waiting there even if you aren’t and carefully hydrate your bird. You don’t want him getting too thirsty (or hungry), since that will be detrimental to his health. 

In addition to the fun part, you need to keep up your pet’s coop since he’ll spend a lot of time in there when you aren’t out training. You want a sturdy and safe loft that allows the whole flock to enter after a long trip but does not allow them to sneak out. And you definitely need to keep everything else out, too. Birds require lots of space to work out and stay in shape for the big excursions. Lastly, set up a bunch of perches along with somewhere to nest if you have a mated pair or are hoping to get one. You might even wind up with a whole new batch of homing pigeons ready to follow in their parents’ wingbeats. 

Editors' Recommendations

Rebekkah Adams
Rebekkah’s been a writer and editor for more than 10 years, both in print and digital. In addition to writing about pets…
Mini Aussie: What to know about this adorable breed
What happened to the mini Aussie? Here's exactly what happened to the breed
Mini American shepherd lying down

You likely came here looking for information on the mini Aussie. We’re sorry to disappoint you with this interesting plot twist: There’s no such thing as a mini Aussie, at least not anymore. The breed is recognized as the mini American shepherd these days — a more accurate name because the dogs were developed in the U.S. and not Down Under.

Name games aside, these affectionate dogs are some of the most loving. Though mini American shepherds have a long history as herding animals, the breed currently and most commonly takes on the role of "human’s best friend" these days. Is a mini American shepherd the right dog for you? Read on.
The history of the mini American shepherd
The history of the mini American shepherd can feel confusing, primarily because of the name. Mini American shepherds are still commonly referred to as "mini Aussies," a name they haven’t had since gaining American Kennel Club (AKC) recognition in 2015.

Read more
9 Boston terrier facts to know before you bring one into your life
Important facts about the adorable Boston terrier breed
Boston terrier on a pink leash in grass

Boston terriers are always dressed for a black-tie affair. The breed’s tuxedo coat is one of many features that have endeared. Their short muzzles, compact bodies, and oversized eyes make this terrier breed absolutely adorable. Come winter, you can find Bostons strutting their stuff in cute sweaters to keep them warm underneath their short coats.

Of course, looks aren’t everything. Boston terriers are also known for their curious and loving personalities, among other common traits. Though no two dogs are exactly alike — even ones in the same breed or litter — understanding common breed characteristics is a great launching point to researching what pup is best for your home and lifestyle. If a Boston terrier is on your list, look no further. We dog up the details on this lovable breed.

Read more
5 surprising poodle facts that will have you rethinking breed stereotypes
These 5 poodle facts prove you can't judge a pup by their build
a brown poodle sitting by the window

Poodles have something of an aristocratic and even cat-like reputation in the dog world. Part of that is due to their appearance.
There are three types of poodles: standard (over 15 inches tall), miniature (up to 15 inches tall), and toy (up to 10 inches tall). Each has curly fur and a proud posture. When they walk, it almost looks like they’re sticking their long snouts slightly upright — but maybe that’s just our imagination.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, though. There’s so much more to poodles than meets the eye, and many of them are nothing like uppity Leonard from The Secret Life of Pets. Poodles tend to be agile, intelligent, and eager to please their pet parents.
These poodle facts will have you forgetting about old stereotypes and falling tail over paw for this beautiful breed.

Are poodles aggressive? Are they mean? 
The American Kennel Club (AKC) says poodles are naturally vigilant, so they can be very protective of their humans. This quality makes the poodle an excellent watchdog. It doesn’t mean poodles are aggressive, though. Typically, they are open to strangers and adaptable.
Experts say poodles can be a bit anxious and fearful. Some may display aggressive behavior when they’re scared—just like humans. Poodles are also proud creatures, which can sometimes cause them to want to exert dominance over other pups at the dog park, or even over other people. This behavior can also come off as aggressive. Proper training and socialization can help poodles thrive in social situations. There are aggressive dogs in any breed, and help is available. A vet can give you pointers.

Read more