The homing pigeon is a variety of domesticated Rock Dove (Columba livia) that has been selectively bred to be able to find their way home over extremely long distances. Because any pigeon generally returns to its own nest and its own mate, it was relatively easy to selectively breed the birds that found their ways home over repeated long flights. The birds carry messages (frequently written on cigarette paper) in small tubes that are attached to one leg. Flights at least as long as 1689 miles have been made by exceptional birds in a pigeon racing competition. Their average flying speed over moderate distances is around 30 miles per hour, and they can achieve bursts of speed up to 60 mph.
These birds should be distinguished from carrier pigeons, another breed entirely.
Messenger pigeons were used as early as 1150 in Baghdad and later also by Genghis Khan.
In 1850, Paul Reuter, who later founded of the Reuters press agency, used a fleet of over 45 pigeons to deliver news and stock prices between Brussels and Aachen.
They were used extensively during World War I. One homing pigeon, Cher Ami, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his heroic service delivering 12 important messages, once after being shot.
Homing pigeons were still employed in the 21st century by certain remote police departments in eastern Orissa state of India to provide emergency communication services in cases of natural disaster. In March 2002, it was announced that India's Police Pigeon Service messenger system in Orissa was to be retired.
The humorous IP over Avian Carriers (RFC 1149) is an Internet protocol for the transmission of messages via homing pigeon. This protocol has been used once to transmit a message in Bergen, Norway.