10 Super Fun Facts About Pigeons
A nuisance? Yes.
An intruder? Definitely.
A beady-eyed little birdy? One that you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy.
These dudes can do some definite damage. Quickly.
The common pigeon is a creature that means well, but usually makes a very big mess wherever it goes. And because they travel in large flocks for the most part-- one pigeon can easily mean fifty or more. Roosting in your eaves, crevasses, and especially underneath your Arizona solar panels, it's a good-sized residential issue in the Phoenix metro area.
Here are a few things you may not have thought of when it comes to those gray avian that like to paint your house brown:
How Long Have Pigeons Been Around?
Pigeons have co-existed with man for thousands of years. The first images of pigeons were drawn around 3000 BC.
White doves were bred with the wild pigeon that we see in our towns and cities today by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. This is why we see an amazing variety of colors in the average flock of urban pigeons today.
To ancient people, the white pigeon was an absolute delight to see and explains why the bird was considered to be sacred. The pigeon has been everything from a symbol of gods and goddesses through to sacrificial victims, food, pets, messengers and heroes of war- they are without a doubt, a part of human history.
The Pigeon. A War-Hero
In both World War I & II, the pigeon saved hundreds of thousands of human lives by carrying messages across dangerous territory. Pigeons were carried on ships just in case of a U-boat attack-- so they could send a messenger pigeon with details of the sinking vessel's location. In many instances, this led to people being rescued and their life spared. During World War I, moveable pigeon lofts were set up behind the trenches, and pigeons often had to flew straight through crossfire and hazardous conditions to get their messages home. Survival rate behind enemy lines was less than 10%.
In World War II, pigeons were used less due to advances in telecommunications. but the birds still brought info back to the allies from the other side of the English Channel about the German V1 and V2 Rocket sites.
The Pigeon. A Messenger, Then and Now
The earliest communication network that was of recognizable size using pigeons as messengers was established during the 5th century BC in Syria and Persia. 17 years later, the city of Baghdad and all the main towns and cities in Syria and Egypt were linked by pigeons carrying messages.
That was a real tweet.
This was the one and only source of communication over distance. In Roman times, the pigeon was used to deliver the results of sporting events, such as the Olympic Games. And today white doves are released at the start of the Olympic Games in honor of past ways of life.
In England, before the use of telegraphs became common, pigeons were released to carry home the result of the game after a football match. Incredibly, the last ‘pigeon post’ service was abandoned in India in 2004 with the birds being retired to live out the rest of their days in peace.
In World War I, a pigeon named Cher Ami (dear friend) saved many French soldiers by carrying a message across enemy lines in the most intense moments of the battle. She was shot in the chest and leg, and lost most of the leg to which the message was attached, but amazingly, she continued the 25-minute flight to get the message home, through shrapnel and gas.
The French ‘Croix de Guerre’ medal was awarded to Cher Ami for heroic service.
Believe it or not, a pigeon named G.I. Joe saved the lives of more than a thousand soldiers in the Second World War. He flew 20 miles in 20 minutes arriving at an air base that was close to being attacked, whilst the planes were taxiing on the runway. Disaster was averted with 5 minutes to spare. For his bravery, G.I. Joe received the ‘Dickin’ medal.
Why All The Head-Bobbing?
The pigeon has eyes on the side of it's head, unlike humans and owls which have eyes on the front of their head, the face. They bob their heads for depth of perception as pigeons have monocular vision rather than binocular vision. The pigeon’s eyes work much better with stationary images, so as the pigeon takes a step forward, the head is temporarily left behind. The following step brings the head forward again and so on. This allows the bird to keep itself balanced and aware of it's immediate surroundings.
Air Mail Service by Pigeon-Gram
In 1896, the first organized pigeon airmail service began-- between New Zealand and the Great Barrier Island. The sinking of the SS Wairarapa off the Great Barrier Island, with the loss of 134 lives, was instrumental in helping to form the service. News of the disaster did not reach New Zealand for 3-days, so naturally, the pigeon-gram service was organized.
The very first message was carried in January, 1896 and took less than a few hours to reach Auckland. Up to 5 messages were carried by each pigeon with the record time for the journey being held by a pigeon named ‘Velocity’, completing the trip in just 50 minutes and averaging 125 kmph. Just a little bit slower than a modern aircraft.
Pigeons Can Be Big Business
Generally, the pigeon is seen as an unwelcome guest in our cities, and we tend to call upon a professional pigeon removal service for help.
Racing pigeons are another story, however. Most of us are unaware that racing pigeons can be worth huge sums of money. Racing pigeons have sold for over $130,000, in recent years. One top seller in particular was a champion racer-- a 3-year old bird, beating 21,000 other pigeons in one long distance race. He was purchased by a British Company for breeding purposes. On to a new pigeon life! The previous highest price paid for a racing pigeon was $73,800.00.
Savers of Lives... Yep, Pigeons!
A team of Navy researchers has discovered that pigeons can be trained to save human lives at sea with very high success rates. A number of pigeons were trained to identify red or yellow life jackets when floating in the water in Project Sea Hunt.
The pigeons were found to be more reliable than humans, and also many times quicker when it came to spotting survivors from a sinking boat.
Pigeons can see ultra-violet in addition to the standard spectrum of colors that we humans can see. This is one of the reasons they are such great candidates for life saving services.
Well I've Never Seen a Baby Pigeon!
Most small birds raise their young in 2-3 weeks with young birds occasionally leaving the nest after just 10 day-- but pigeons are different they keep their babies in the nest for up to two full months.
A distinct advantage over many other species of birds is given to the pigeon due to the fact that it exits the nest as a teenager. For this reason it copes much better in the first few days of freedom.
Are Pigeons Smart?
Pigeons are known to be one of the most intelligent birds on the planet. They're able to take on tasks previously thought to be the only completed by humans.
The pigeon is one of only 6 species to have the ability to pass the ‘mirror test’ (being able to recognize its reflection in a mirror). The pigeon can also tell all 26 letters of the English alphabet, as well as conceptualize on them.
Pigeons have been observed to be able to tell the difference between photographs, and even two different human beings in the same photograph-- when food is the reward for doing so.
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