Wednesday, February 11, 2004

As the Pigeon Flies

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

At the risk of turning into an all-animals, all-the-time blog, I pass along this story. Did you see it?

The secret of carrier pigeons' uncanny ability to find their way home has been discovered by British scientists: The feathered navigators follow the roads just like we do.

This article describes the study in a little more detail, and includes some skeptical remarks from other pigeon observers. You be the judge.

Why does the thought of pigeons following landmarks seem so revolutionary, when we’ve been willing to accept their ability to navigate via the sun and magnetic fields, which seems much more remarkable? Following landmarks is a human technique, so maybe we equate it with intelligence.

In any case, it’s amazing what Global Positioning Systems allow us to do these days. The researchers used GPS to track the paths of the pigeons, who often took abrupt turns above intersections and even flew in curves around roundabouts. Maybe we can teach pigeons to use one of these:

Garmin International manufactures a wide variety of GPS equipment for aviation, marine, cartography, and recreational use, and is based in Olathe, Kansas. Someday I'm going to get one of their rec models and go on one of those GPS scavenger hunts/orienteering expeditions I've heard about. Until then, I'll just follow the pigeons.



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