By Tim Guilford, University of Oxford | April 26, 2014 02:10am ET
This article was originally published at The Conversation.The publication contributed the article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Pigeons have extraordinary navigational abilities. Take a pigeon from its loft and let it go somewhere it has never been before and it will, after circling in the sky for while, head home. This remarkable capacity extends to places tens even hundreds of kilometres from its home and is all the more remarkable to humans because we are apparently incapable of it ourselves.
But we have long made use of the pigeon’s homing ability, principally for carrying messages in the past. And for several decades now the pigeon has played centre stage in scientists’ attempts to understand the map and compass mechanisms fundamental to bird navigation.