Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
It's funny.  Laugh.

Pigeon Protocol Finds a Practical Purpose 113

Selanit writes "Since David Waitzman wrote his tongue-in-cheek Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers, there have been occasional attempts to actually transmit information via pigeon. One group back in 2001 successfully sent a PING command. But now there's a practical use for pigeon-based communications: photographers working for the white-water rafting company Rocky Mountain Adventures send memory sticks full of digital photos via homing pigeon so the photos will be ready when the rafters finish up. The company has details on how the pigeons are trained and equipped. It may not be a full implementation of the Pigeon Protocol, but it works in narrow canyons far off the beaten path — and just as David Waitzman presciently predicted, they occasionally suffer packet loss due to hawks and ospreys."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Pigeon Protocol Finds a Practical Purpose

Comments Filter:
  • Packet loss (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I think the best part of the story is the packet loss explanation!! If only the pigeons could upgrade their internal CDMA protocol!

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No can do. This is a pure UDP implementation, feel the speed!

      • This is a pure UDP implementation, feel the speed!

        If you're concerned about speed, I would suggest running trials of the African Swallow vs. the European Swallow.
      • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

        I suspect you could correct for packet loss through a RAIP (Redundant Array of Independent Pigeons) configuration. RUDP?

    • by Kiralan ( 765796 ) *

      So, how long before the media giants ban this form of P2P (Person 2 Pigeon)/(Pigeon 2 Person), or even P2P2P (Person to Pigeon to Person)?

  • Cache La Poudre (Score:5, Informative)

    by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Saturday August 29, 2009 @03:44PM (#29245809) Homepage Journal

    I rafted the Poudre this summer. It was a great time. The company we went with did a great job, not sure why the need to race photos back. Our photographer rode back with us, while we turned in our gear, changed clothes, etc. he set up in the office, and started showing the pictures to folks on an iMac. While we watched he burned a dvd. We had a big group so he set a price and sold us a dvd that we could all copy. It was pretty sweet. Mountain Whitewater Descents [] was the company we used and I'd recommend them to anyone headed that way.
    Apparently a while back some French trappers got snowed in and hid their gun powder by the river - that's how it got its name.

    • It could also be a case of volume. An example is the Deschutes River in Oregon -- on any given summer weekend you have raft after raft going down the river. At all the major rapids there are photographers set up taking pictures of each raft as it goes over. It looked like they went for the less creative (but possibly more reliable) means of having runners that drive the cards back and forth to the home base. That seemed effective enough, though it would be less effective if there weren't any good roads
  • by gblues ( 90260 ) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @03:47PM (#29245855)

    This is less "TCP/IP over Pidgeon" and more "Sneakernet Over Pidgeon." Although if all the memory cards were the same size you could get away with calling it ATM over Pidgeon, I guess.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ari_j ( 90255 )
      I'm not finding any claim that it is IP over Avian Carrier as prescribed by RFC 1149. It is, perhaps, misleading to call it a "pigeon protocol," but nobody claimed it was IP. It is definitely more of a protocol than a sneakernet, though, unless the pigeons are walking the whole way.
    • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @03:57PM (#29245931) Homepage Journal
      Unless the pigeon comes back it's certainly not TCP, more like Pigeon UDP.
  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @03:49PM (#29245869) Homepage
    This isn't an implementation of RFC1149. *sigh* It even says so in the summary, not even the freaking article. They're just using carrier pigeons as couriers, like they've been used for centuries.

    "Since David Waitzman wrote his tongue-in-cheek Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers, there have been occasional attempts to actually transmit information via pigeon.
    Yeah, attempts like the victory at Marathon in 490BC...

    • Yes I read this and thought, hrm, sounds more like SMPT via Pigeon, which would be only a slight update of what they have been doing for... hundreds of years.

    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      "Since David Waitzman wrote his tongue-in-cheek Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers, there have been occasional attempts to actually transmit information via pigeon.
      Yeah, attempts like the victory at Marathon in 490BC...

      Hmm. [Emphasis mine]. Are you claiming that RFC1149 was written back in about 500BC or before? That would have involved someone predicting not just the Internet about 2500 years before it happened, but also the RFC process and that there would be a 1148 preceding ones. Impressive, but unlikely.

      (Has anyone managed an SSL handshake by avian carriers yet?)

    • Yeah, attempts like the victory at Marathon in 490BC..

      No. The legend has a runner (who had fought in the battle) running back to Athens to announce the victory. He was so exhausted by the combination of the battle and the long run home that he died just after gasping out the good news. Nowhere in any account of the battle is there any mention of pigeons being used.

      • So, thats an example of Sneakernet then. :)

      • #1 that is a myth. #2 we're talking about spreading the word to all of Greece, not just Athens. Duhhhh...the Greeks used carrier pigeons...
        • Generally speaking, a myth [] either has religious overtones or is used to explain the origin of some custom or facet of culture. As this story is just an embellishment of the story of the battle, I referred to it as a legend, [] because it seemed more appropriate. As far as spreading the word to the rest of Greece, do you have a cite for that?

          Other things aside, I like your current .sig, having used something similar myself a few years ago.

      • I've always wondered what his time was
  • We use to always compare TCP/IP packets to pidgeons.. ..
    The joke was send more pidgeons and stop routing them over the pond where the duck hunters are.

    Brings to mind the old expression, never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck load of DLT tapes going 55mph.
    Or the recover plan of "TOPS" ..... Tapes on Planes


  • yikes, I'd hate to see the ms on that ping reply.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 29, 2009 @04:01PM (#29245967)

    a.k.a. "POOP".

  • by mindbrane ( 1548037 ) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @04:02PM (#29245977) Journal
    Ospreys are deeply beautiful birds of prey and watching them is magic, but I've never seen an osprey take anything but fish.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ospreys have been known to devour Marines.

    • Well this post is brilliant, I live in Manchester (City Centre) UK and we have Peregrines here [] Just last week I saw one of them take a Pigeon out of the Sky and it was awesome! It happened so fast I thought it was a UFO. I was also pleased to learn that peregrines have been used to test "G-force Meters" by the airforce and they constantly break them at 18G! Wonderful.
      • One time I attended a class for people wanting to start a business. The teacher started the class asking us each to describe the business we had in mind of starting. One woman stood up and said she wanted to start a "peregrine falcon business."

        Without any further description, the teacher said, "You can't sell those birds. They're protected." She replied that she wasn't going to sell falcons. She was going to rent them.

        Her plan was to get contracted by big box stores. When they get normal birds stuck flyin
        • @Seth, Lovely story Seth, Remember the television programme from the 1970's "Rent a Ghost"? =)
        • Using birds of prey to fend off pigeons from buildings has been standard practice for some while. I'm not sure you can decouple these birds so easily from their default environment though; I don't think that using them for too many buildings will work. They are highly individual birds that will fly back when they decide to, so it would be hard to run a tight schedule.

          If there are many birds it would be more useful for owners of big buildings just to make a nesting site somewhere on the top of the building (

      • Osprey [], not peregrines, peregrines take pigeons a lot. In Calgary, Alta. they used to nest in niches on the outsides of high office buildings, and, likely fed nearly exclusively on pigeons. The Wikipedia article will introduce you to Osprey. I canoed into an isolated mountain lake and watched a nested pair ply their trade for nearly a week. They only ever took fish. On the west coast I've camped for weeks near nested pairs and they only ever, that I saw, took fish. Peregrines, likely, are one of the prey bi
    • by jgrahn ( 181062 )

      Ospreys are deeply beautiful birds of prey and watching them is magic, but I've never seen an osprey take anything but fish.

      Yeah, they are very specialized on fish. I suppose it could eat a pigeon if it was sitting beside it, but catching it in the air -- that's not going to happen. Also, the summary says "hawks and ospreys", but TFA said "There are hawks, ospreys in this canyon ... they do get them ... what are you going to do?" she said.. Reminds me of attitude to raptors you find among very old people,

    • by drseuk ( 824707 )
      Our superior POOS protocol includes frikkin' lasers to stop these Osprey terrorists from eating our information infrastructure. Unfortunately we're having some teething trouble with data retriv ...
  • Someone can't spell (Score:2, Informative)

    by BenoitRen ( 998927 )

    One of the story tags is "wortthless".

  • by rwyoder ( 759998 ) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @04:16PM (#29246101)
    ...and a two-year-old article in the Denver Post is "news" to SlashDot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Jim Efaw ( 3484 )
      Revenge for Slahdot being 2 years ahead of a lot of the general media so many times.
      • by Trepidity ( 597 )

        That's because, while neither we nor they read or investigate anything we write about, the traditional new media has to wait long enough to at least give the impression that they might've plausibly interviewed someone or read a book.

        • by drseuk ( 824707 )
          Just like the old media does you mean?

          Freddie Star ate my Hamster []

          (front-page of Murdoch's "The SUN" newspaper, 13th March 1986). Whilst completely untrue (according to Freddie) you can drop this phrase into any pub conversation in Britain today and everyone over 35 will laugh.

          Of course if you have to pay to read it, it must be true. Presumably the more you pay, the more true it is ...
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The article took 2 years to reach Slashdot because pigeon 1 carried the text in XML, pigeon 2 carried the XSL to render the XML to HTML, and pidgeon 3 carried the embedded adverts. Pidgeon 3 however was apparently mis-routed and wound up at, where the lack of content went unnoticed.

  • So now we can send a message to Black Jack Pershing saying "For God's sake, stop shelling your own positions!" Unfortunately, 200 Doughboys perished while Windows needed rebooting.
  • Pretty cool (Score:2, Insightful)

    I don't know why everyone needs to find something to whine about in this article; it's a pretty cool story. An amusing blend of modern and ancient technology to solve an interesting problem.
  • Still useful. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Sawopox ( 18730 )

    This may be useful in a post apocalyptic world. Chances are, Internet style connectivity will be wiped out. Decentralized regional networks may still exist. Transporting high-density data using antique methods such as the pigeons can allow for FidoNet (remember that?) other BBS-style data exchange. Anything that can get the information moving again is a good thing.

    • Pigeon data transfer has one big disadvantage -- pigeons have to be transported first to where you want the data from. Or you need to have a pigeon from a location where you want to send something.
      Sadly, there is no way of bundling two pigeons so one can transfer them back and forth :(

      That is the reason why pigeons were used to carry emergency or very important and urgent messages only.

    • This may be useful in a post apocalyptic world.

      Useful Down Below as well - for those who remember Grim Fandango.

  • I'm pretty sure there was a story like that about four years ago on slashdot as well. I think it was from Australia where the pigeons were carrying pictures home from some three day adventure trips.

    In both cases they mention that some of the pigeons get lost, and here also that sometimes they are just too slow. Why not go for redundancy? Wouldn't it make sense to send two pigeons each carrying a copy. I think it would dramatically decrease the failure rate.

    Of course to do such redundancy you would hav
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by TBoon ( 1381891 )

      you would have to carry some device that could copy the pictures.

      You mean, like, say, a netbook?

      • by kasperd ( 592156 )

        You mean, like, say, a netbook?

        That is an option, if you cannot find a smaller device to do the task.

    • by ramk13 ( 570633 )

      I was thinking about redundancy and I realized that if one pigeon is unsuccessful it is more likely that another pigeon released under the same conditions would also be unsuccessful. Not that it would necessarily fail, but if weather was the problem any pigeon leaving in that time frame would have the same problem.

      I think the copy the memory card is a easy backup plan. Just bring a laptop or something to copy the memory card and you'll still have pictures even if the pigeon goes AWOL.

    • Of course to do such redundancy you would have to carry some device that could copy the pictures. Does there exist cameras, which can do it? I can imagine there are plenty of situations, where people would happily pay the extra cost for the data security, it would not only be for pigeons.

      Professional DSLR cameras tend to have two memory card slots these days, and they can be configured to save a copy of every image to both cards, as the photos are taken. Or they can also be used to make a copy of the contents of one card onto the other.

  • Well prior even to publication of RFC 1149, similar protocols were employed in the CAD business, as documented by a source I'd hope more Slashdot readers would be familiar with. []


  • If the USB memory sticks were large enough (capacity-wise) this could actually have quite and impressive bandwidth and could easily rival a dedicated fixed-line broadband connection. It's the latency that kills you on this one though!

    • your bandwidth cost might be kind of high too. The attempt at sending a ping via RFC1149 (2001?)resulted in close to a 50% packet loss. Throwing away 50% of the memory sticks could get quite expensive.
  • I guess if they forget to send the pigeons for a few trips and go OMG we have too many photos and send them all at once, that would be a pigeon denial of service attack.
    • that would be a pigeon denial of service attack

      No, a pigeon denial of service attack would be made with a shotgun.

  • I remember seeing a documentary about this on TV years ago, only back then they were carrying rolls of 35mm film. The only thing new is that they've upgraded to digital photographs and memory sticks.

    Back then it was more impressive because they were able to send the rolls of film back to the visitor center and process them on a 1 hour photo lab machine (which doesn't take anywhere near an hour to process) and have the prints up on display by the time the rafters came in from their trip.

    • Yeah, was just gonna post the exact same thing. I saw it in about 1985/1986 on Ripley's Believe it Or Not. Anyway, not a new idea....then again maybe this is the same company that was doing it 20+ years ago.

  • This is nothing new. Pigeon (not Pidgin) carriers have existence since...forever. They're still used in some limited cases today. I don't see anything terribly different done by these folks; heck, the pigeons don't even come back, so it's not full TCP...

    Hence why this was meant to be funny...

    • by S3D ( 745318 )
      Some RKKA (Soviet army) divisions still had pigeon stations in OOB just before the start of WWII. There is no evidence they were actually used in WWII, but they could have been useful. With contemporary radio unreliable, and cables and land communications disrupted by German armored spearheads in the beginning of the war, Red Army command had often to relay on one-way dispatches dropped from airplanes. Pigeon connection could have provided two-way communications with cut-off groups.
      • Pigeon connection is just as one-way as air-dropped dispatches. It just goes the opposite way.

        You can't train a pigeon to seek out a location other than its home. The troops in the field had to carry a supply of pigeons with them and send them back to the base - but the base couldn't send a pigeon into the field.

      • by drseuk ( 824707 )
        Wrong, there's plenty of evidence of vital pidgeon (and other animal) involvement in WWII, lest we forget.

        Animal war heroes statue unveiled [] (by HRH the Princess Royal)

        Tommy the Pigeon V.C. []

        Pidgeons that hadn't been captured and destroyed on the ground were considered a serious enough threat to be shot down or attacked by special-trained hawk squadrons.
  • Posted: 06/24/2007 02:06:52 AM MDT

    This is old news, I've even seen references to this before that. Also it has nothing to do with RFC 2549 other than birds carrying bits.

  • Good luck, agent Calavera. Viva la RevoluciÃn!

  • Gosh is it 2003 already.

    Waitomo Adventures in New Zealand used pigeons for transporting camera cards approximately 1.571 eons ago.

    This isn't news.

    (I wonder if they still use them? A quick peek didn't show it on their site - only some annoying pop-up flash)

    NB: I'm quite prepared to be proven wrong about the 'first' part - I researched this almost as long as it took to type this in.

  • You always send the duplicate and keep the original just in case, seeing as a memory stick for 5$, i would say you can send 1 keep one, even give another as part of the package!

  • Can't wait to send someone IMs in Pidgin using the Pigeon protocol.

Neutrinos have bad breadth.