Gaither Pratt and Pigeon Homing

This picture makes me a little sad.  The Office of Naval Research had funded a project, headed by Gaither Pratt, to see if homing pigeons were using ESP to find their way.  In 1958 Rhine asked Gaither to give up his pigeon research. He felt the research was more biology than parapsychology, and he was likely correct. But Pratt loved his pigeon work. You could just tell from his letters that the work made him happy. But Gaither’s obedience was absolute, and so he arranged to have the Office of Naval Research grant transferred to the Duke Department of Zoology.

Gaither hadn’t yet been able to answer the question of how pigeons home (and as far as I can tell we still only have theories). And “once Gaither got into something he was like a bulldog and to take him off of something would have killed him,” Rhea White told me. “He was nothing if not thorough, and to leave something unfinished would have really upset him.” Plus, look at this picture. Doesn’t this look like wonderful, idyllic work? I’m not saying Rhine was wrong. I guess I’m just saying it’s too bad we can’t have it all.

4 thoughts on “Gaither Pratt and Pigeon Homing

  1. Here’s my story:

    I was having a particularly bad day during high school and had a cross country meet in the afternoon. Halfway through the run, a pigeon, sensing my weakness, nailed me. I ran the rest of race with bird poop on my shirt and in my hair.

    Since then, I’ve always believed that not only did that pigeon have ESP, but it used it maliciously.

  2. Homing in pigeons may for a large part due to sensing the Earth’s magnetic field (through magnetite containing neurons). However there is a story, told to me by a Swedish teacher, where a pupil of hers had cared for a bird while on holiday. It turned out that the same bird turned up at the school the boy was at, a few 100 kms away. This is not so easy explainable by the magnetic sense.

  3. I just watched a NOVA episode which presented the latest theories about how pigeons home, but I already forgot what they are!

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