Birds of Burden: 7 Ways Humans Harness Avian Abilities [Slide Show]

Our avian friends are capable of far more than singing or dressing a table
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Guard-Dog Bird

Humans have put parrots' famed ability to mimic and even smartly use our spoken languages to nefarious use. Back in 2010 reports emerged of police in Colombia confiscating more than a thousand parrots, like these yellow-crowned Amazon birds, trained as lookouts for drug gangs.....[ More ]

Search and Rescue

Birds could someday help in search-and-rescue missions. Through a program called Project Sea Hunt in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the U.S. Coast Guard explored using pigeons for locating men and equipment lost at sea.....[ More ]

Bird Patrol

Birds have served humankind well in the role of "animal sentinels," acting as early warning systems for environmental hazards. The best-known historical example is the canaries brought into coal mines at least since the 19th century.....[ More ]


As birds of prey, falcons, hawks and eagles have all joined people on hunts for small game, going back centuries. A more modern example of falconry, though, is employing raptors to scare and chase off pest birds.....[ More ]

Sweet Spot Locator

Honeyguides, and in particular the greater honeyguide, are famous for—as their name implies—guiding people to bee hives. While out with members of the Samburu tribe in northern Kenya in the late 1970s, Tony Diamond, a research professor in wildlife ecology at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, watched a bird in action.....[ More ]

Fisherman's Friend

For over a millennium, fishermen in China, Japan and elsewhere have used seabirds called cormorants to catch fish. The birds accompany fisherman on their boats out into lakes and rivers. The birds dive underwater and return good-size fish such as carp back to the surface.....[ More ]

First Tweet

Pigeons possess an uncanny ability to find their homes, a fact that armies and civilians have long exploited to ferry messages. "I think it's astonishing—you can take these pigeons thousands of miles away in any direction, you let them go, and they turn around and fly home," says Charles Walcott, professor emeritus of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University who has studied the homing ability of pigeons.....[ More ]

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