What’s faster than a cheetah, more agile than a great white shark, and more muscular than a gorilla?
If you’re wondering how on earth that description could possibly fit a pigeon (comparatively speaking, of course) I don’t blame you. I was also shocked to learn that there was so much more to this common bird than meets the eye.
Pigeons are one of those things in nature that we see everywhere we go, and yet, rarely pay any attention to.
When I do notice a pigeon, it’s usually because it’s scared me, flying out of a garbage bin or popping out from behind a bench that looked like a good place to sit and rest. We all know the feeling of running through a flock of pigeons on a city street, hoping we don’t end up an unlucky target. Arms shielding the chaos of flapping wings and feathers flying in all directions, it’s easy to see pigeons as nothing more than a nuisance.
And I might have continued to view them in this way had I never come across a National Geographic Kids show called Awesome Animals.
In an episode called “Pigeon Genius,” narrator Jake Cuddemi refers to the pigeon as “an ordinary bird with surprising superpowers.”
So, what are these superpowers, you ask? Well, remember those attributes listed above—fast, agile, and muscular? These have something to do with it. Their body structure and composition give them the extraordinary ability to fly more than six hundred miles in a single day! And they aren’t just long-distance fliers, either; they’re also fast! Their average flying speed is fifty miles per hour.
Other physical features help them as well. They have super senses like specialized eyes that can detect ultraviolet light from the sun and ultrasensitive hearing.
But there’s something even more remarkable about these birds: they’re expert way finders. They have the ability to navigate home from anywhere they’re released, even if they’ve never been there before, and even if the location is hundreds or thousands of miles away from their “home.”
As National Geographic says:
Pigeons have a homing ability that’s hard to beat. One reason: they don’t rely on just one way to get home. They have many navigational tools. Pigeons use the sun like a compass. They memorize landmarks like highways and buildings. They memorize scent landmarks, too (the smell of the ocean, a forest, or a city. They can navigate long distances just by the strength of these smells. And scientists believe that, like many migratory species, pigeons can sense magnetic fields.
If you put all of these strengths and features together, you get an unmatched flying machine!
Pigeons have such incredible abilities that people have been racing them for centuries, and according to National Geographic, prize money for races can be up to $1 million!
The American Racing Pigeon Union is based in Oklahoma City. Its website lists upcoming events and races, as well as a detailed history of pigeon racing in the United States.
Everything about this world of pigeon racing surprised me. I had no idea that pigeon racing even existed, but after learning about it, I have to say it’s fascinating.
I don’t think I’ll ever look at a pigeon the same way again!