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Pigeons are gross. They're also wildly underrated.

The pigeon needs a better publicist.

These birds are important to scientific history and history in general: Darwin was fascinated by them in The Origin of Species, they helped send messages during wartime, and they even guided missiles.

Sure, there are bad things about these birds (like the way they deface statues of our own species' great leaders). But over the centuries, their unique abilities to be trained and to find their way home have been used in interesting and surprising ways (that almost make up for their constant cooing).

B. F. Skinner Foundation

(B. F. Skinner Foundation)

One of the craziest plans for pigeons illustrates their unique abilities best: Project Pigeon, the idea to use pigeons to guide missiles. Behaviorist B. F. Skinner was intrigued by the possibilities of training pigeons to do amazing things — like play Ping-Pong — and he believed their skill could be harnessed in World War II. He wanted to train pigeons to peck at a particular object and use the movements in their neck to guide a missile to its target (you can read his paper here). Skinner himself recognized it was a "crackpot idea" (which is part of the reason it wasn't used in war), but the premise — that these animals could be trained to do almost anything — remains sound.

B. F. Skinner Foundation, pigeons playing ping pong

Pigeons playing Ping-Pong (B. F. Skinner Foundation)

Today we think of pigeons as a nuisance. But next time you pass through the park, consider appreciating the birds instead of the statues they perch on. Because even pigeons, the lowliest of birds, have a lot to offer.