Homing Pigeons vs. Carrier Pigeons: Are They the Same?

Homing pigeons are often mistakenly called carrier pigeons, probably because the word “carrier” evokes the vision of a pigeon carrying something.  In fact, they are two different breeds of pigeons. Both the homing pigeon and the carrier pigeon are the result of many years of selective breeding, starting long ago with the rock pigeon, a wild pigeon with a talent for returning unerringly to its home. The carrier pigeon was bred for its beauty and the homing pigeon, for its speed and ability to always return home. The “English Carrier” pigeon was originally, and still is, bred for show.  It is believed to have all the attributes of the perfect pigeon. They lead pampered, boring lives.  

Blue Bar English Carrier

The earliest evidence of trained homing pigeons shows that they were used for sport over 3,000 years ago. Genghis Khan used them to communicate across his vast empire. The “Racing Homer” is the official breed name for the homing pigeon. Today the homing pigeon is primarily used for sport and as a hobby. But pigeon races are still held around the world.

In May of 2013, Bolt, the world’s fastest racing pigeon was sold to a Chinese businessman by a Belgium breeder for $453,000.  Flying in long distance pigeon races, pigeons can reach speeds of up to 100 mph. And the Chinese military still trains and keeps homing pigeons, just in case all their high-tech gear goes dark in a war. It seems like a wise decision.

The homing pigeon has an amazing history.

The homing pigeon. By Ruth Swan , Shutter Stock

Homing pigeons have been used by militaries throughout history. They can provide relatively secure communication on the battlefield. Unlike radio communication, which requires electrical power of some kind, the homing pigeon only needs food and water.  In October of 1918 a U.S. battalion of around 200 men was trapped behind German lines and under heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire. They were also under misdirected fire from their own forces. Cut off and with no way to communicate with their headquarters, they turned to Cher Ami.

Cher Ami: A World War I Homing Pigeon and Hero Preserved in the Smithsonian Institute

Cher Ami was their last homing pigeon. They wrote a message asking their forces to cease-fire before they were wiped out by the friendly fire. Cher Ami took off with the desperate message. But the Germans shot him out of the sky. Though he was severely wounded, he managed to take off again and fly the 25 miles back to headquarters. He had lost a leg and an eye and was shot through the breast. Subsequently, he was awarded Croix de Guerre by the French army.  

If you want to read more about pigeons like Cher Ami go to:


There you can read about G.I. Joe, Mocker, William of Orange, and seven other pigeons that played vital roles in several wars.

Have you ever wondered how homing pigeons find their way home?  Research has shown that homing pigeons probably use the position and angle of the Sun along with landmarks to navigate.  In addition, some scientists believe that homing pigeons use a method of navigation called magneto-reception. Magnetoreception is the ability to detect and use the Earth’s magnetic field for navigation. Homing pigeons have a concentration of iron particles in their beaks. These iron particles don’t seem to serve any other useful purpose. They might be used to detect the Earth’s magnetic field.

Another theory proposes that homing pigeons use low-frequency infrasound, coming from the earth and oceans, to find home. It could be that they use all three methods.  Regardless, it would seem that homing pigeons must have a very good memory. How else would they be able to recognize their way home?

By Tim Shively, February 5, 2019

Food for Thought
Let’s say we take a homing pigeon and isolate it in a dark metal box, blocking out all sound, light, and magnetic fields. If we took it out a hundred miles and let it go would it return home? If so, how? Next, we might isolate the pigeon from each of the three possibilities one at a time and see what happens.  Has such a test ever been done? If so, what were the results?
Many earthquake survivors have claimed animals seem to get excited just before the earthquake happened, particularly the birds. This is probably an old wives tale but if true, maybe the birds are reacting to a change in the local infrasound. We could place infrasound recorders and video cameras in earthquake prone places. Computer analysis might show a correlation between the birds, the infrasound, and the earthquakes. Has this been done? If so, what were the results?Google it yourself.

Many experiments have shown that birds are a lot smarter than we think.  Crows in particular are able to solve complex mechanical puzzles just to get a little piece of food. In this video a crow named double-o-seven solves a puzzle that requires eight different steps to get to the food.


The follow sources were used for this article. Check them out.  


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