Editor’s note: The first in this series appeared back in May. This is another section. More will follow as space permits. From the website published by Jones & Son Pest Control Supplies Ltd.
5. THE PIGEON AS A MESSENGER. The earliest large scale communication network using pigeons as messengers was established in Syria and Persia about 5th century B.C. Much later in the 12th century A.D., the city of Baghdad and all the main towns and cities in Syria and Egypt were linked by messages carried by pigeons. This was the sole source of communication. In Roman times, the pigeon was used to carry results of sporting events such as the Olympic Games and this is why whites doves are released at the start of the Olympic Games today. In England, prior to the days of telegraphs, pigeons were often taken to soccer matches and released to carry home the results of the game. Their use as a messenger in war time resulted in many pigeons being awarded honours by both the Bristish and French Governments. Incredibly, the last “pigeon post” service was abandoned in India is 2004 with the birds being retired to live out the rest of their days in peace.
6. THE RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PIGEON. Many religious groups including Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs feed pigeons for religious reasons. Many older Sikhs feed pigeons ceremoniously to honour the high priest and warrior Guru Govind Singh who was a known friend of the pigeon (or rock dove). Some Sikhs also feed pigeons because they believe that when they are reincarnated they will never go hungry if they have fed pigeons in their previous life. Other religious groups in India believe that when a person dies his or her soul assumes the form of a bird (normally a pigeon) and therefore by feeding birds, they are caring for the souls of their departed ancestors. The pigeon is revered in India with huge flocks numbering many thousands of birds being fed daily at Hindu temples in town and city centres throughout the country. In both eastern and western societies, many of the most entrenched pigeon-related problems are considered to be caused, certainly in part, by religious feeding of the birds. In the Christian religion, the pigeon is both a symbol of peace and of the Holy Spirit.
7. FAMOUS PIGEONS. During the First World War, a pigeon named Cher Ami (Dear Friend) saved the lives of many French soldiers by carrying a message across enemy lines in the heat of battle. Cher Ami was shot in the chest and the leg, losing most of the leg to which the message was attached, but continued the 25 minute flight avoiding shrapnel and poison gas to get the message home. Cher Ami was awarded the French “Croix de Guerre” for heroic service. Another heroic pigeon named G.I. Joe saved the lives of a thousand soldiers in World War Two after British troops had established a position within an Italian town that was due to be bombed by Allied planes. Communication equipment was down and the only means of stopping the raid was to attach a hastily-written message to G.I. Joe and send him to Head Quarters. G.I. Joe flew twenty miles in twenty minutes arriving at the air base while the planes were taxiing on the runway. Disaster was averted with five minutes to spare. G.I. Joe received the “Dickin” medal for his bravery.
8. ROCK DOVE OR PIGEON. The feral pigeon that we see in our towns and cities today are descended from the Rock Dove (Columba livia), a cliff-dwelling bird historically found in coastal regions. The word “pigeon” is actually derived from the Latin word “pipio” which meant “young bird”. The word then passed into Old French as “pijon” and thus the English word “pigeon” was derived and is now used the world over as a common name for the Rock Dove. Other common names include “domestic pigeon” and the “feral pigeon”. In 2004, British and American ornithologists officially re-named re-named the bird the Rock Pigeon.