A homing pigeon is a domesticated Rock Pigeon which is capable of navigating extreme distances and successfully finding its way home. This remarkable trait allows homing pigeons to be used in pigeon racing and to carry messages. Numerous pigeon hobbyists around the world raise homing pigeons, and there are also a number of organizations to promote pigeon husbandry. People who are interested in learning more about raising homing pigeons can use their favorite search engine to search for a pigeon enthusiast group in their area.
Rock Pigeons (Columbia livia) are native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. However, they were widely introduced to other parts of the world, and in many areas, they are considered to be pests. Urban regions in particular struggle with feral Rock Pigeons, as they can be both messy and disruptive. When domesticated as homing pigeons, however, the pigeons are highly useful.
Many birds have an ability to find their way home from an area they have never been to. Homing pigeons have been selectively bred to exhibit this trait, and the birds have been known to cross immense distances. The homing pigeon has been used as a messenger animal since at least the 1100s, when the idea of attaching notes to the legs of pigeons first arose. In some parts of the world, homing pigeons are still an important conduit for information. Homing pigeons have played important roles in military operations, government negotiations, and in conveying information rapidly from place to place.
In most cases, a homing pigeon is handled from a very young age to accustom it to human contact. The homing pigeon will be housed in a pigeon loft, a secure space which the pigeon comes to regard as home. Once the bird reaches around six months of age, the handler will start taking it on short trips, releasing the bird and allowing it to make its own way home. Pigeons typically spend two to three years in active service, although birds as old as 10 have been used as carrier birds.
The unerring ability of a homing pigeon to make its way home also plays a role in pigeon racing. In pigeon racing, homing pigeons are taken to a central location and released simultaneously. The traveling time to the home loft is recorded, and the fastest bird is declared the winner. Pigeon racing is not an immensely popular sport, but its enthusiasts are very committed, and often delighted to showcase the sport to people who are interested.