Pigeon Homing

Hello and welcome back for another week of prevarications and pretending, here at Factually Deficient! Some weeks ago, Factually Deficient explained the role of photoshop in sending messages by carrier pigeon. Pigeons are a hot topic here at Factually Deficient, however; that was not the only question asked about them. For our pigeon encore, I will answer a question posed by my friend Beetle. Beetle asked:

People keep lots of racing birds here but how do pigeons always know where to go in races?

This is a particularly wise question for a Beetle to ask, considering that she no doubt wishes to know how to avoid these predatory birds, who often stop to snack on local insects when they are wearying in the iddle of a race.

Obviously, in a race situation, it would be unethical to use the photoshop method discussed previously. After all, it is hardly a sporting competition if all the birds can teleport equally to the finish line.

However, Beetle’s question stands: despite the proliferation of pigeon races, one never sees a pigeon consulting a map, as so many other birds do, in order to figure out how to reach its destination. How, then, do they know where to go?

The fact is, pigeon racing is something of a misnomer. After all, who would bother to race the flightless birds, when for any practical purposes, teleportation with the aid of photoshop is far more expedient? Pigeon racing does not in fact use actual pigeons, or birds at all, but rather carefully hand-crafted robotic “pigeons” designed to look, sound, and behave in every way just like the real thing, but used for racing and entertainment purposes, since a metal contraption is ill-devised for the mail delivery that occupies real pigeons.

These metal robot pigeons are constructed with a “homing” device that tells them where the finish line is. Without going into too much detail as to how GPS works – a question for another day – the robot birds build nests at the finish line, and embed in the metallic junk of the nest a beacon which transmits a message such as “Come home” on a frequency unique to that particular robot. The robotic birds then race along, following the sound, until they are happily back in their robot nests.

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Disclaimer: The veracity of the above post is highly questionable. GPS does not work that way.

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