Pigeons are incredibly complex and intelligent animals. They are one of only a small number of species to pass the ‘mirror test’ – a test of self-recognition. They can also recognise each letter of the human alphabet, differentiate between photographs, and even distinguish different humans within a photograph.
Pigeons are renowned for their outstanding navigational abilities. They can find their way back to their nest from 1300 miles away. They do this by using a range of skills, such as using the sun as a guide and an internal ‘magnetic compass’. A study at Oxford University found that they will also use landmarks as signposts and will travel along man-made roads and motorways, even changing direction at junctions.
Pigeons mate for life and tend to raise two chicks at the same time.
Both female and male pigeons share the responsibility of caring for and raising young. Both sexes take turns incubating the eggs and both feed the chicks ‘pigeon milk’ – a special secretion from the lining of the crop which both sexes produce.
Pigeons have excellent hearing abilities. They can detect sounds at far lower frequencies than humans are able to, and can thus hear distant storms and volcanoes.
Although pigeon droppings are seen by some as a problem, a few centuries ago pigeon guano (poop) was seen as extremely valuable. It was viewed as the best available fertiliser and armed guards would even stand by dovecotes (pigeon houses) to stop others from taking the droppings.
Pigeons can fly at altitudes up to and beyond 6000 feet, and at an average speed of 77.6 mph. The fastest recorded speed is 92.5 mph.