How Do Homing Pigeons Fin Home

How Do Homing Pigeons Fin Home?

    Science seems to be getting closer to answering a very old mystery. Homing pigeons can be taken hundreds of miles from their homes. When they are let go to fly again, they find their way home. Because of this special ability to find home, pigeons have been used as messengers for hundreds of years.
    Today people even breed homing pigeons for racing as a sport. The birds are shipped to some chosen place a few hundred miles away. Then all of them are let go together, the winner is the bird that gets home first. A good racer can make it home from 500 miles away in a single day.
    The mystery of the homing pigeon is in how it navigates and how it finds home. It may be taken away in a covered-up sense of direction. To get home, it must fly over country that it has never seen before.
    Suppose this were to happen to you? What would you need to find your way home (besides a good pair of legs)? I think I would ask for a compass, which always points north, to help find direction. I would also want a map. If a map shows where I am and where my home is, than I can use the compass to point me in the direction toward home. What we are talking about shows the two parts of the problem of the homing pigeon. Much of the study of homing pigeons leads to the idea that pigeons need the same kinds of information. They need to know how to tell direction and they need something like a map to tell which direction is toward home.
    The first part seems to be pretty well answered, and we know of two ways that pigeons tell direction. First, they use the sun. Just getting rough directions from the sun is easy. It rises somewhere toward the east and sets somewhere toward the west. Getting accurate directions from the sun takes more care. You need to pay attention to the time of year. Then you need to watch the path of the sun closely at each hour of the day. To tell direction accurately from the sun, a person needs to know the exact time....