A Tribute to the Proud and Peaceful Pigeon

Nov 13, 2013

Pigeons have been both reviled and revered for over 5,000 years
Credit zigazou76

B.F. Skinner thought pigeons were so smart they could be used to guide missiles during WWII. He proposed a system in which pigeons would essentially pilot the missile. Skinner said pigeons could be trained to peck at a screen to adjust the trajectory of a missile toward its target. Project pigeon was funded but never used. It's one of the many reasons I could talk about pigeons all day. 

This year, a New York conceptual artist named Duke Reilly trained half his flock of pigeons to carry contraband cigars from Cuba to Florida and the other half to carry tiny video cameras documenting the smuggling flight of their comrades. 

Another group of researchers trained pigeons to reliably distinguish between the paintings of Picasso and Monet, even if they had never before seen a particular painting. 

Today, on the show, everything you wanted to know about pigeons. 

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  • Andrew Blechman is an award-winning journalist and author of Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird
  • Yoni Applebaum is a social and cultural historian and a doctoral candidate at Brandeis University. You can read his work for The Atlantic here. You can also read his article about pigeons here
  • Wanda Corn is the Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor Emerita in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University