During wars and conflicts, there had been a lot of experiments and studies that involved the use of animals to help soldiers accomplish their missions and tasks. There had been trusty dogs, attempts to establish a Camel Corps and more uncommon ones like mice and bottlenose dolphins. There were also pigeons. These intelligent birds were trusted enough during the Second World War in an operation rarely talked about: Operation Columba.

Pigeons Finding Their Way Home

Their names suggest that homing pigeons are birds known for their excellent navigational abilities. In the past, they were commonly used as the primitive and not-so-instant messaging version of the apps we have today for long-distance communication. They were also used in international races.

Pigeons could find their way homes up to 1,000 miles away, which is impressive. For years, scientists studied and had theories on how these birds could manage to do it. One idea is to use the sun’s position and angle to identify their flight’s direction correctly. Two main theories are that the birds use their senses of smell to find their way back home or that maybe they follow the Earth’s magnetic field lines.

Canadian PO (A) S Jess, wireless operator of an Avro Lancaster bomber operating from Waddington, Lincolnshire, carries two pigeon boxes. Homing pigeons served as a means of communication during a crash, ditching, or radio failure. (Royal Air Force official photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Jon Hagstrum, a geophysicist who grew fascinated with homing pigeons, conducted some experiments and found out that what pigeons used as their map “probably depends on where they’re raised. In some places it may be infrasound, and in other places [a sense of smell] may be the way to go,” as said Bowling Green State’s Mora, explaining about Hagstrum’s discovery.