US Coast Guard Trained Pigeons to Rescue People

Emma | 05 - 07 - 2021

Pigeons are one of the most intelligent birds with an amazing memory. A pigeon can detect cancer in radiology images, pass the mirror test, and recognize words. Pigeons can see colors the same way as humans, and they also can see ultraviolet rays. Due to their intelligence and adaptability, the US Coast Guard uses pigeons to rescue people. 

During the 1970s and early 80s, the US coast guard trained pigeons to search for people lost at sea as part of “Project Sea Hunt.” Pigeons have better eyesight than humans, so they were given basic training for search and rescue missions. The pigeons were good at spotting but were trained on orange, red, and yellow objects. After their basic training, the pigeons were placed in chambers beneath the helicopter with a view of a 120-degree window, so three pigeons could see 360 degrees. When they saw a life jacket they pecked a keyboard which was set with a light, so the helicopter moved closer to the target. The pigeons outperformed the humans by spotting the floating target 80 of 89 trails and spotted targets 90% of the time where the aircrew saw the object only 38 percent of the time. 


There were also few drawbacks of using pigeons. The first and foremost drawback was the weight of the pigeons, which had to be carefully maintained. Pigeons generally get hungry to search the oceans for hours without losing focus. Pigeons’ health will be at risk if the weight drops, whereas an increase in weight would reduce their effectiveness. During the project sea hunt, a helicopter went in search of the missing boat. The helicopter ran out of fuel and landed at sea, in which the crew escaped with no injuries, but they couldn’t save the life of pigeons. 

What Animal Did the US Coast Guard Attempt to Train as Lifeguards
  • A. Pigeons
  • B. Hawk
  • C. Falcon
  • D. Eagle

Despite the accident, the Coast Guard recommended sending the pigeons to helicopter units across America. The officials also wanted to introduce owls in the search and rescue missions because they would see them at night.  

Why Not Hawks and Falcons? 

The Coast Guard officials said they didn’t train shape-eyed birds like hawks or falcons because pigeons are well-mannered, calmer, and easier to train. 

The project sea hunt was successful in 1981, but the advances in technology replaced pigeons.

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