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Pigeons and doves have a long history with the Olympics. From 700 BC to 300 AD homing pigeons were used in the Olympic games. In fact, the quickest way to share the results were by homing pigeon.

Doves were released as a symbol of peace after the cauldron was lit at the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games in 1986. This became a tradition from 1920. At the 1988 Seoul Games the order was reversed and many doves were inadvertently burnt alive, causing an outcry from animal welfare charities, resulting in the end of the tradition.

At the London 2012 Olympic Games the message of peace was symbolised by the ‘release’ of the Dove bikes: 75 riders who rode around the stadium ring wearing large dove wings:

For more information please visit: Opening Ceremony: The secrets behind the ‘dove bikes’

Very interesting story. It’s amazing that this pigeon kept trying to return to her hatch-home despite all the signs that she wasn’t wanted. Poor dear! Thankfully now the owner realises that he shouldn’t try to give her away anymore, otherwise she’d be making the journey again and again.

Boomerang the racing pigeon returns to the owner who gave her away TEN years ago

By David Wilkes
Last updated on 19th June 2008

She is no spring chicken, and appears to have spent a few years roosting rough. But Boomerang the pigeon has lost neither her homing instinct  -  nor her sense of occasion. After ten years away, she suddenly turned up at the home of the man who raised her. And on Father’s Day, no less.

Loft and found: After ten years of cooing and fro-ing, Boomerang flies back

Loft and found: After ten years of cooing and fro-ing, Boomerang flies back

At first, Dino Reardon thought the bedraggled bird running towards him at his home in Skipton, North Yorkshire, was a stray.

‘I checked the tag and nearly collapsed when I saw who it was,’ he said. ‘I just couldn’t believe it. She could barely stand up and couldn’t even make it into the aviary, she was just exhausted. I spent all Sunday feeding her glucose and honey to try and get her energy back from the journey.’

Her return was not completely unexpected, however  -  as her name suggests. Boomerang’s homing instinct is the stuff of legend among pigeon fanciers.

The 13-year-old bird first made headlines back in 1998, when Mr Reardon gave her to a friend in Algeciras, southern Spain, after retiring from breeding racing pigeons. Boomerang promptly flew the 1,200 miles back home.

Boomerang the pigeon

Home to roost: Boomerang is the daughter of famous racing pigeon Bluey

Mr Reardon immediately gave her to another breeder in Filey, North Yorkshire  -  but she returned to his pigeon loft again. Finally, still in the same year, Mr Reardon gave her to his friend Alf Pennington in Lancashire. Mr Reardon had not seen her since… until Sunday.

It is not known exactly where she had flown from, as Mr Pennington is thought to have died five years ago.

‘I don’t have a clue were she’s been since Alf died but I’m glad she’s home,’ said Mr Reardon. Boomerang’s feats are all the more remarkable because she is not a racing bird. The daughter of Bluey Champion, a winner of 17 national titles, she was kept for breeding.

She must have inherited her homing skills from her father, who was once ‘birdnapped’ and had his wings clipped by thieves, but escaped and walked 60 miles back to Mr Reardon’s home. Pigeons have a lifespan of three to five years in the wild, but live to around 15 in captivity.

Boomerang’s return has attracted interest from breeders as far afield as South Africa, who have been phoning constantly since her reappearance. But yesterday Mr Reardon – whose pigeons come from stock which have been in his Italian family for 200 years – said that she will be staying put.

‘She will be going nowhere from now on,’ he added. ‘She is staying here and will be looked after for the rest of her life. She has already paired up and if she lays any eggs they will be staying with me.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1027484/Boomerang-racing-pigeon-returns-owner-gave-away-TEN-years-ago.html#ixzz19nyuyUHK

A few articles about pigeons and their abilities.

Pigeons reveal map-reading secret

Homing pigeons are finding their way around Britain by following roads and railways, zoologists claim.

They say the birds’ natural magnetic and solar compasses are often less important than their knowledge of human transport routes.

A 10-year Oxford University study discovered some pigeons turn off at certain motorway junctions and use landmarks to remember where they are.

The scientists behind the study were “knocked sideways” by their findings.

‘Plain to see’

The pigeons’ routes were mapped to within four yards by tiny tracking devices and global positioning system technology.

Research team member Dr Tim Guilford said the results were “plain to see”.

“They don’t follow linear lines all the time and sometimes when they’re flying at 200 or 300ft above built-up areas it’s difficult to see exactly what they are following.

“But when they do follow a road, it’s so obvious.

“We followed some which flew up the Oxford bypass and even turned off at particular junctions. It’s very human-like.”

Saving energy

Dr Guilford said pigeons’ used their ability to navigate by the Sun when they were over unfamiliar territory.

He said they did not always fly “as the crow” – making diversions to follow roads home when there were more straightforward routes.

“That’s the exciting thing, because we knew then there was something more important to them than just saving energy.”

The team believes the birds use the technique to keep their journeys as simple as possible.

(From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3460977.stm)

So it’s not just humans that like to take risks:

Pigeons’ high-risk strategies reveal why we all love a flutter

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Pigeons almost always opted for the chance of bigger rewards, a study found

A gambling experiment has shown that pigeons like a flutter as much as humans – and that taking big risks in the hope of high rewards may be a fundamental part of our biological nature.

Scientists have shown that when faced with a choice between a series of safe, small but guaranteed rewards or a single much larger reward that is less likely to happen, pigeons will almost always choose to gamble.

The findings were a surprise to researchers, because Darwinist theory would predict that the birds would be honed by natural selection to act in a way that optimises the way they behave, rather than allowing them to take unnecessary risks that are going to leave them worse off in the long term.

However, the scientists believe that if pigeons have an innate predisposition to gamble then this could be a widespread trait across the animal kingdom – and might even explain why so many people like to gamble, even though they know they are likely to be worse off over time.

The experiment on pigeons indicates that there may be a fundamental biological reason for gambling rather than explanations based on purely human-centred preferences, such as the idea that gambling is practised because it is enjoyable and entertaining, said Thomas Zentall, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

“The entertainment value of gambling shouldn’t really play a role with pigeons, yet we have found that most pigeons will choose to gamble if they are given a choice,” said Professor Zentall. “This seems to suggest that there is some fundamental behavioural system at work. If pigeons do it, it allows us to rule out other things that have been suggested to explain why people like to gamble so much, such as its entertainment value.”

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, involved giving pigeons a choice between pecking at a coloured light that always gave them access to three food pellets, or pecking at a different coloured light that gave them two pellets but the gambling opportunity of “winning” 10 pellets 20 per cent of the time, or zero pellets 80 per cent of the time.

Overall, the best strategy for optimal foraging would be to choose the three-pellet route. But eight out of 10 pigeons tested consistently chose to gamble – even though they were worse off at the end of the experiment than if they had played safe.

“The main message is that there is a behavioural, biological mechanism at work that encourages pigeons, and possibly many other organisms, to gamble even though this was a sub-optimal strategy,” said Professor Zentall.

(From: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/pigeons-highrisk-strategies-reveal-why-we-all-love-a-flutter-2104999.html)

And the perils of man-made objects:

Phone masts ‘confusing’ pigeons

Pigeons are known for their sense of direction

Which way now? Could the pigeon’s skills fall foul of new technology?

A growing number of homing pigeons are getting lost due to interference from the new “unseen enemy” of mobile phone masts, racing experts claim.

The birds’ natural instincts are being confused by radiation signals from an increasing number of transmitters, the Royal Pigeon Racing Association said.

Racers say anecdotal evidence shows poor returns over the last two years.

Pigeons are thought to find their way home using landmarks and the earth’s magnetic field.

Peter Bryant, of the RPRA, said its Stray Birds Committee had proposed attaching a GPS tracking device to pigeons to investigate the problem.

But currently the device – which would have to be strapped on like a rucksack – is too heavy for a pigeon to carry.

“It’s fine with eagles and albatross, but for the poor little pigeons it would hamper their return,” said Mr Bryant.


He said it was impossible to estimate how many pigeons were vanishing because of the transmitters.

“During the World War II, thousands of aircraft carried two pigeons in case they the plane was downed so they could send messages,” he said.

“The birds were also parachuted to the Resistance. Now they’re facing this unseen enemy in the form of mobile phone masts.”

Pigeon fancier Anne Pitkeathly, 50, from the Isle of Wight, said she was losing more and more birds.

“When I started I was told I would lose baby birds but never the big ones.

“A lot of people think it’s mobile phone masts.”

She claimed one of her pigeons had recently reacted badly after being near a mast, saying it was “stressed” and “trying to be sick”.

Previous research by German scientists in 1999 suggested that short wave radiation had an “undefined negative” impact on homing pigeons.

It was found that exposed birds took longer to get home, flew at lower levels and were reluctant to go near transmitters.

Between 50,000 to 60,000 pigeons are estimated to have gone missing last year due to problems such as bird of prey attacks and poor weather, the RPRA said.

(From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3423691.stm)

I’ve been trying to find out how many taste buds pigeons have after reading somewhere that they haven’t got many compared to humans. Well, after a lot of searching I found the original paper (Pigeon Pages by Pigeon Recovery) I had read which states that feral pigeons have only 57 taste buds compared to the 9000 humans have. Searches on the net have given me a result of 37 taste buds in feral pigeons, some stating between 27-59.

None of the pigeon books I have state how many taste buds they have, nor could I find anything scientific on the net. If anyone has a good solid reference, please share it with me. :) I will be very grateful. Thank you!

But I guess it is safe to say that pigeons haven’t got a lot of taste buds. Which makes me wonder what is it about certain foods that make Georgie go mad for them? If her taste range is so limited then popcorn and brioche must be really really delicious!! Maybe it is also the texture of these foods that she likes?

A tad bit off subject: Interestingly, pigeons suck up their water instead of the usual ‘dip, tip and gulp’ you see in other bird species. The exception is the tooth-billed pigeon (Didunculus strigirostris), which scoops up its water because of its teeth.

Pigeons have excellent eyesight and they can see all colours – including ultra-violet light (which humans cannot see). They can hear much lower frequencies than humans, as well as higher frequencies. As for their sense of smell, new research suggests that they use their sense of smell to find their way back home:

Pigeons’ homing instinct is all down to smell

Robin McKie, science editor

The Observer, Sunday 6 August 2006

Scientists have discovered the secret of pigeons’ remarkable ability to navigate perfectly over journeys of several hundred miles. They do it by smell.

Research found that pigeons create ‘odour’ maps of their neighbourhoods and use these to orient themselves. This replaces the idea that they exploited subtle variations in the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate.

‘This is important because it is the first time that magnetic sensing and smell have been tested side by side,’ said Anna Gagliardo, of the University of Pisa, who led the research.

The discovery that birds have an olfactory positioning system is the latest surprising discovery about bird migration. Birds know exactly when to binge on berries or insects to fatten themselves for long flights, and some species recognise constellations, which helps them to fly at night. Birds also travel immense distances: the average Manx shearwater travels five million miles during its life.

Research into navigation has included an experiment in which robins were released with a patch over one eye – some on the right eye, some on the left. The left-eye-patched robins navigated well, but those with right-eye patches got hopelessly lost. ‘It is a very strange finding,’ said Graham Appleton, of the British Trust for Ornithology . ‘It is clear the cues robins use to navigate are only detectable in one eye. Why that should be the case, I have no idea.’

In the Pisa experiments, Gagliardo, working with Martin Wild of the University of Auckland , followed up experiments done in 2004, which showed that pigeons could detect magnetic fields. She argued that this did not mean they actually did.

So in 24 young homing pigeons she cut the nerves that carried olfactory signals to their brains. In another 24 pigeons she cut the trigeminal nerve, which is linked to the part of the brain involved in detecting magnetic fields.

The 48 birds were released 30 miles from their loft. All but one of those deprived of their ability to detect magnetic fields were home within 24 hours, indicating that it was not an ability that helped them to navigate. But those who had been deprived of their sense of smell fluttered all over the skies of northern Italy. Only four made it home.

Gagliardo and her team conclude that pigeons read the landscape as a patchwork of odours.

Every spring, hundreds of millions of birds head north in order to exploit new resources. Gulls head to the Arctic to make use of the 24 hours of daylight prevailing there, while swallows and other birds leave Africa to exploit the British summertime.

The navigation involved in these long journeys is still a cause of considerable debate among scientists. Among the main theories are suggestions that some birds remember visual maps of the terrain they fly over; that they follow the lines of Earth’s magnetic field; and that night-time flyers remember star maps of the sky.

However, the discovery of pigeons’ prowess at exploiting smells is considered important because their navigational abilities are some of the most acute in the natural world. Pigeons excel at getting home when released in unfamiliar locations. That they achieve such accuracy using smell is all the more surprising.

(From: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2006/aug/06/theobserver.theobserversuknewspages)