How do pigeons return to the same place after long journeys?

Pigeons use several navigational tools for orientation and for taking their flight back home. However, this topic has been an interesting one and no one truly knows what specifically a bird uses. There are several hypotheses that try to conclude the question, but in reality, the ability of pigeons and other birds have puzzled scientists. Several hypotheses that have been put forward include:


Pigeons can interpret the position of the sun and can subsequently gauge the direction in which they need to fly. In this way, they use the sun as one of the navigational tools when they are flying on long journeys. This is the reason, that pigeons have been used in battlefields and by kings to ferry messages across the enemy lines quickly.

However, all pigeons are not equipped with such sense. Only a few species of pigeons are able to fly long distances and use various navigational tools such as the sun as their guiding force. Pigeons can also sense ultraviolet rays penetrating the cloud that is generally invisible to the human eye. The pigeons use the direction of sun rays and the position of sunrise and sunset as their compass.


Many pigeons, when trained can even fly during the night. The homing pigeons were extensively used during the World War II to carry messages across the allied and the enemy lines. These pigeons were the special homing pigeons, who could return back on their own after they had delivered the all important messages.

Magnetic field of the Earth

The magnetic field of the earth is maintained by the polar direction. The northern magnetic-field points to the geographical north and it’s the same for the southern positions. The pigeon brain has a small zone consisting of magnetic material (magnetite) which acts like a compass and makes the bird turn in the right directions.

Some scientists suggest that this magnetic material is present in the eyes of the pigeons.

Knowledge of landscapes

Birds have remarkable memory for landscapes and important landmarks. The landmarks may include rivers, high peaks, roads or anything that can be recognized from the height at which they fly. Migratory birds have am imprint of the route that they take to reach their winter nesting places. This is the reason that migratory birds will return every year to the same location.

Sense of smell

Some scientists even suggest that birds smell their way home. But this theory has no backbone as the dominant odor changes from time to time at a certain place. Moreover, migrating birds that return after six months to the same place, where they had nested before cannot possibly link a place with its smell.

Following the flock

Pigeons often fly in flocks and each one follows the other in the group when confused about which direction to take. Thus, it may seem that they work in a group to reach their destination. They are numerable species of pigeons. Many pigeons also like to fly alone rather than a part of the group.

Getting lost

It has been found that some birds do get lost when something unusual occurs. Solar eclipses, storms, earthquakes and other natural factors can sometimes alter the path of the bird’s flight. Sometimes you may find a bird flying into your room as it gets dark. This is indicative that the bird was not able to find its way on time and is uncomfortable staying in dark and unfamiliar territories. This generally happens with smaller birds, e.g., humming birds.

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