PNG images: Pigeon

The domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica) is a pigeon that was derived from the rock pigeon. The rock pigeon is the world's oldest domesticated bird. Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets mention the domestication of pigeons more than 5,000 years ago, as do Egyptian hieroglyphics. Research suggests that domestication of pigeons occurred as early as 10,000 years ago.

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Pigeons have made contributions of considerable importance to humanity, especially in times of war. In war the homing ability of pigeons has been put to use by making them messengers. So-called war pigeons have carried many vital messages and some have been decorated for their services. Medals such as the Croix de guerre, awarded to Cher Ami, and the Dickin Medal awarded to the pigeons G.I. Joe and Paddy, amongst 32 others, have been awarded to pigeons for their services in saving human lives.

Domestic pigeons reproduce in a similar way to the wild rock pigeon. Generally humans will select breeding partners. Crop milk produced by parent birds may occasionally be replaced with artificial substitutes. Pigeons are extremely protective of their eggs, and in some cases will go to severe lengths to protect their productive eggs and have been known to seek revenge on those who interfere with their productive process. Baby pigeons are called squeakers or squabs.

Trained domestic pigeons are able to return to the home loft if released at a location that they have never visited before and that may be up to 1000 km away. A special breed, called homing pigeons has been developed through selective breeding to carry messages and members of this variety of pigeon are still being used in the sport of pigeon racing and the white release dove ceremony at weddings and funerals.

The ability a pigeon has to return home from a strange location necessitates two sorts of information. The first, called "map sense" is their geographic location. The second, "compass sense" is the bearing they need to fly from their new location in order to reach their home. Both of these senses, however, respond to a number of different cues in different situations. The most popular conception of how pigeons are able to do this is that they are able to sense the Earth's magnetic field with tiny magnetic tissues in their head (magnetoception). This is all the more surprising as they are not a migratory species, which is a fact used by some ornithologists to dispute this theory. Another theory is that pigeons have compass sense, which uses the position of the sun, along with an internal clock, to work out direction. However, studies have shown that if magnetic disruption or clock changes disrupt these senses, the pigeon can still manage to get home. The variability in the effects of manipulations to these sense of the pigeons indicates that there is more than one cue on which navigation is based and that map sense appears to rely on a comparison of available cues

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