Homing Pigeons: Birds That Made History
Nowadays, with our sophisticated communication systems we can send messages immediately to anywhere in the world, it is very difficult to think that one of the fastest means of transmitting and communicating information was through the use of pigeons. However, we owe much to the ability of these birds, who, for centuries, traveled long distances to carry messages that we were not expecting.
Carrier pigeons differ from others in that they have an excellent sense of direction and a more athletic body, being able to travel up to a thousand kilometers in a single day at a speed of 90 kilometers per hour.
The use of carrier pigeons in history
The use of pigeons for communication purposes has historically been very varied.
For example, they were vitally important during times of warfare in the Middle Ages, where the transport of messages was normally done using these animals, although their history goes back many years.
There are records that pigeons were already used as courier in 2800 BC
In mythology and literature, we have several reports in which we can see the work of these small flyers, for example, in “The Thousand and One Nights” , where they are referred to as having great importance, let’s see this excerpt: “… we have to capture them, the forty pigeons of the caliph, put them in a cage and bring them too!”
They have been a significant symbol to represent the delivery of messages, if we review ancient texts, like the Bible for example, we see that the Holy Spirit comes through a dove and, equally, a dove announced the birth of Jesus to Mary.
A dove also gave Noah an olive branch, as a message about what was on land nearby.
Furthermore, in ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, we have found references to the use of pigeons for communication purposes.
For example, it was the pigeons that reported the names of the winners of the Olympic Games in the confines of the Empire. Already in ancient Rome, Roman troops had carrier pigeons that carried various military campaigns.
However, its use is not exclusive to classical history. During World War I it was a privilege to have these feathered friends, and even during World War II they were used to prevent conversations from being intercepted.
In both wars, it was important to train different animals, such as dogs and cats. The use of bats was even thought of.
Pigeons did not only carry messages, they were also used to deliver small objects that were elsewhere and needed to arrive urgently, such as blood tubes from hospitals or laboratories.
Some modern armies continue to train carrier pigeons in order to maintain a contingency plan in case a conflict arises that causes modern communication systems to collapse.
Carrier pigeons today
While pigeon racing (which refers to the breeding and training of pigeons) is still implemented, they are mainly used in sporting events, mainly in Spain.
There are a considerable number of breeder clubs in order to maintain the tradition of training pigeons as well as to encourage sport and healthy competition.
In sport, it aims to make a pigeon return to its loft after some flight time. The idea is that two or more pigeons are released and that they return to their lofts.
Among them there are the so-called robber pigeons, which try to conquer or drag the opposing pigeons (that’s why they are called robber pigeons) to the opposing loft.
The owner of the pigeon who has the advantage keeps the opponent’s pigeon.
Another form of competition consists in releasing the pigeons in an open space, or in a different one from which they are used, the one who can identify and return to their respective loft faster wins.