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The Homing Ability of The Racing Pigeon
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Sometime within the month of April each year when I am in the countryside I hear the call of the
cuckoo. Now behind that call lies a mystery or phenomenon of nature and that is that that cuckoo will,
if there is a mate available mate, and in time the female will lay an egg in the already overcrowded nest
of another bird such as the thrush. After a period of I expect confusion in the mind of the incubating
bird the cuckoo's deposit will hatch and the thrush will become more confused by the appearance of a
youngster which increases in size beyond the normal while actively disposing of any competition in
the form of eggs or young by pushing the latter over the nest's rim. Now that series of actions was
experienced by the parents of that cuckoo in the past for what we are relating to is the reality of that
which is known as 'instinct'. An 'inbuilt plan' provided by mother nature in order for the specie of
cuckoo to survive.

Now considering the title of this piece the mistake is often made of referring to instinct when
describing the homing ability of racing pigeons. But our type of bird has more than instinct to help it
cross hundreds of miles as it navigates its return to its loft. Yes, it has what we call instinct for all
living species has it to an extent but that is not the key to unravel a mystery of nature pertaining to
our birds. For in the case of the above young cuckoo instinct will ensure that it will cross miles of land
and water to holiday in some part of Africa, far from where it was hatched, and unerringly return the
following year to where it was born. And barring accidents or capture by predators the young cuckoo
will return without getting lost. And in time its young will do the exact same as cuckoos have been
doing for countless generations since nature bestowed her plan which we call instinct.

The influence of instinct can be seen in the behaviour of other species such as salmon and those
heralds of summer the swallows who fail to get lost while migrating, all being normal. But perhaps the
term 'lost' is the key word which makes me conclude that our thoroughbreds are not dominated by
instinct for our pigeons can get lost as we all know! And if it was instinct similar to that of other
species which brought our birds home we would not have to train them nor would the weather prevent
the return of our racing candidates.

That which I refer to as being more than instinct underlying the homing ability of our pigeons is a
mystery although there have been a number of theories expressed in order to explain the reality.
Whether I would like science to unravel it is questionable because the history of our species outlines
that we have been abusers of knowledge. Anyway if we knew it might take the mystique out of the

Our birds upon reflection and experience possess a sense of direction and as we train and race them
whether from the north or south, etc., apparently nature has willed that they are helped by the sun. If
the latter is clear they will head for home if not then they delay their departure and may take a wrong
route. But whether the sight of the sun is the be all and the end all is questionable for I have in
experimentation released well trained and raced pigeons in a mountainous area in dense mist at
approximately 20 miles from the loft and although late in arriving there were no losses. Forty or fifty
yards of vision were clear in the mist prior to the experience of lack of human vision. Thus I am of the
opinion that pigeons have a keen or high degree of sight which far outstrips that of humans. On the
occasion of the experimentation I believe they saw further than I in the conditions.

Scientific studies also suggest that racing pigeons have tremendous memories and that this adds to
their sense of navigation. Thus a bird successfully navigating a journey will remember certain aspects
of the environment, it is believed, and use the latter when it encounters the journey again. Of course if
true the contents of memory would be of tremendous help but what of encountering hundreds of miles
never experienced before. Perhaps that is where the belief that they possess a high degree of animal
intelligence comes into play and the latter like memory and sight can be of varying degrees of quality
and as a result would account for the individuality and uniqueness of each bird. The levels of the
degrees of the latter equipment makes the difference between the champions and the also-rans as well
as those in between.

Until proven otherwise I tend towards the belief that our thoroughbreds do not return by instinct
alone but by a sophisticated strategy of homing ability which is enhanced by an appropriate regime of
training starting early in life. A programme based upon the line of flight in order to memorize initially
the home territory. But just as it is questionable if there is such a thing as an exact science the
explanation tentatively offered here could fail to account for those extraordinary examples of homing
ability that the sport has chronicled over the years and which could perhaps be considered contrary
to that which is offered in possible explanation.

Liam O Comain  -
by: Liam O Comain

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