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Sci-Tech Tuesday: Carrier Pigeon Service during WWII Relied on Animal Behavior

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Widely used during World War I, the homing pigeon, or carrier pigeon when relaying a message, returned to service in the European theatre during WWII.  Despite the development of the radio to transmit voice messages, the carrier pigeon was a desirable alternative for communication while maintaining radio silence and obscuring the position of the sender.  Additionally, homing pigeons carrying cameras provided discrete surveillance of German activities.

Get more information about the role of carrier pigeons during WWII.

Homing behavior is the unique ability of animals to return to an original location such as a nest or territory.  A variety of vertebrate and invertebrate species utilize homing abilities, including honeybees, sea turtles, salmon, newts, limpets, and many species of birds.  Pigeons use internal compass mechanisms paired with a highly developed hippocampus, the region of the brain controlling spatial reasoning.

Learn more about pigeon homing behavior.

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Post by Annie Tête, STEM Education Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.

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