How long does it take to train a messenger pigeon?

Training a messenger pigeon to deliver messages takes dedication, time and patience. With the proper techniques and commitment, most pigeons can be trained within 2-4 months to reliably carry messages between locations. The total training time depends on several key factors:

The pigeon’s age

Younger pigeons can be trained more quickly than older birds. Pigeons are best started in training as young squeakers of 4-6 weeks old. At this age, they are old enough to regulate their body temperature and have enough wing strength to start flight training. Yet they are still highly impressionable and trainable. Older pigeons up to 6 months of age can still be trained, but it will take more time and effort.

Short training sessions

Messenger pigeons are trained in short, focused sessions rather than marathon training times. Frequent short sessions of 10-15 minutes each are more effective than prolonged 1-2 hour sessions. Short sessions prevent the pigeon from becoming tired, frustrated or stressed. The best results come from daily consistency with training.

Positive reinforcement

Training messenger pigeons relies heavily on positive reinforcement. This means rewarding desired behaviors and ignoring unwanted behaviors. Popular rewards are small food treats, praise, petting and letting the bird spend time with its mate. Reinforcing good behavior helps the pigeon learn quicker.

Gradual increase in distance

Pigeons are slowly trained to fly greater distances from their home coop. Training starts with short distances of 100 feet and slowly progresses to longer distances up to 5-10 miles over 2-4 months. Rushing the distance too quickly can overwhelm the bird and undo the training.

Visualization training

An important aspect of training is teaching the pigeon to visualize its home coop from increasingly farther locations. The trainer progressively moves the pigeon farther away from the coop and allows it to observe the coop’s location from each new spot. This visualization primes the bird to orient itself during an actual message flight.

Simulated message carrying

Pigeons need practice flying with a message cylinder attached to their body. The trainer starts with an empty dummy cylinder, then gradually adds light weight, eventually progressing to carrying an actual message. This gets the bird comfortable flying with the extra weight of a message.

Weather conditions

Messenger pigeons are trained in various weather conditions like rain, wind and changing temperatures. This prepares them for delivering messages successfully during different weather they may encounter. Training only in ideal conditions makes real-world message carrying more difficult.

Predator exposure

Flying training includes controlled exposure to potential predators like hawks, crows or cats. This teaches the pigeon predator avoidance skills. The trainer uses either trained predator birds or simulations like model hawks to provide this exposure.

Navigation skills

Pigeons are taught navigation skills like flying high above landmarks, orienting to the sun and using magnetic fields. Good navigational abilities ensure the pigeon can find its way home from unfamiliar sites. Trainers will transport pigeons to new locations and observe their homing ability.

Night flying

Message carrying may require flying at night or in low light conditions. So pigeons are trained to fly in simulated night conditions starting with dusk flying and progressing to full night. This prepares their vision and navigation for darkness.

Flock flying

Pigeons are flock birds so they feel most comfortable and are less stressed when flying with other birds. Trainers will send young pigeons out with experienced flyers to provide comfort and modeling of correct behaviors.

Mating pair bonding

Pairing the pigeon with a mate can improve motivation and training success. The pigeon feels a strong drive to return home quickly to its mate. Allowing the mated pair time together between training sessions helps reinforce the home coop.

Endurance training

Long distance message carrying requires physical endurance from the pigeon. Trainers build up wing muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness through regular flights of increasing duration and distance. Fit pigeons reach peak endurance at about 6-12 months old.

Mental stimulation

In addition to flight training, pigeons are provided mental stimulation through problem-solving toys and activities. This strengthens cognitive skills helpful in navigating and message delivery. Rotating a variety of puzzles, toys and challenges keeps training mentally engaging.

Training of specific routes

For optimal performance, pigeons are eventually trained on actual routes they will fly for carrying messages. They learn the precise locations and geography of the start point, delivery destination and the route between. This reflects real world application of their skills.

Avoiding training pitfalls

There are some common training mistakes that should be avoided to have the fastest, most effective messenger pigeon training:

  • Training sessions that are too long – Keep under 15 minutes
  • Not enough positive reinforcement of desired behaviors
  • Increasing distance or expectations too quickly
  • inconsistent or sporadic training schedule
  • Ending training on a negative experience
  • Exposing birds to uncontrolled stress or trauma
  • Failing to simulate real-world conditions the bird will face

The training team

Having a consistent trainer or team of trainers working with each pigeon improves results. The bird bonds with its trainer and responds best when that person conducts most training sessions and provides reinforcement. Using multiple trainers can confuse some pigeons.

Maintaining training

Even after the initial 2-4 month training period, messenger pigeons need ongoing training to maintain their skills. They should fly training routes at least once per week when not actively carrying messages. Refresher training keeps their navigation, endurance and message carrying abilities sharp.

When can training begin?

The ideal age to start training a messenger pigeon is 4-6 weeks old. This balances having enough wing strength with maximizing trainability. Some people start as young as 2-3 weeks but the bird is very fragile. Older birds over 6 months can be trained but require more work.

What is the optimal training frequency?

Pigeons respond best to short, daily training sessions rather than long infrequent sessions. Training each pigeon for 10-15 minutes once per day provides the best results. Consistency is key, 6 days per week is recommended.

What is the most effective training method?

Positive reinforcement training is the most effective for messenger pigeons. This means rewarding desired behaviors and ignoring unwanted behaviors. Food treats, praise, petting, mating time or anything the pigeon finds stimulating can be used as rewards.

How is distance increased in training?

Distance is gradually increased over the 2-4 month training period as the pigeon builds skills. A good rule of thumb is to increase distance by no more than 25% each week. Rushing progress often backfires. Patience yields the best long-term results.

How are pigeons trained to carry messages?

Pigeons are trained to carry messages by starting with an empty dummy cylinder attached to their body, then gradually adding light weights. Once comfortable, they progress to carrying an actual message cylinder with rolled paper inside. Over time the length of message is increased.

What are the signs that training is progressing well?

Signs that a pigeon’s training is going well include:

  • Enthusiastically flying out from the coop
  • Easily finding the way home from progressively greater distances
  • Exhibiting less stress behaviors during handling and flight
  • Eagerly consuming its post-training reinforcement reward

How can you tell if the pigeon is getting overwhelmed?

Signs of stress that indicate training may be progressing too rapidly include:

  • Hesitating or resisting leaving the coop
  • Appearing lost or taking much longer returning from flight
  • Weight loss or changes in droppings
  • Excessive vocalizations or agitation
  • Aggression towards the handler or other birds
  • Self-mutilation behaviors like feather plucking

What rewards work best for training?

The most effective rewards for training messenger pigeons are:

  • Small pieces of favored treats like unsalted peanuts, corn, sunflower seeds
  • Brief time for mating/bonding with mate
  • Praise, petting and affection from the handler
  • An enriching toy or activity after the session
  • Access to a bath or dust bath

Food rewards should be healthy and provided in moderation.


Training a messenger pigeon takes dedicated time and effort but can be very rewarding. Following sound training principles and being patient are key to success. Under ideal conditions, most pigeons can be ready for basic message delivery in 2-4 months. Ongoing training is needed to maintain their skills over time. The result is a reliable partner for long distance communication.

Leave a Comment