Editor’s Note: Due to space, not all 21 are listed this time. I hope to continue this article as space permits.
1. HOW OLD ARE PIGEONS? Pigeons have lived alongside man for thousands of years with the first images of pigeons being found by archeologists in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and dating back to 3000 BC. It was the Sumerians in Mesopotamia that first started to breed white doves from the wild pigeon that we see in our towns and cities today and this undoubtedly accounts for that amazing variety of colors that are found in the average flock of urban pigeons. To ancient peoples, a white pigeon would have seemed miraculous and this explains why the bird was widely worshipped and considered to be sacred. Throughout human history, the pigeon has adopted many roles ranging from symbols of gods and goddesses through to sacrificial victims, messengers, pets, food, and even war heroes!
2. BIBLICAL REFERENCES. The first Biblical reference to the pigeon (or dove) was in the Old Testament of the Bible in the first millennium AC and was the story of Noah and the dove of peace. Later, in the New Testament, the pigeon was first mentioned during the baptism of Christ where the dove descended as the Holy Spirit, an image now used extensively in Christian art. These early Biblical references have paved the way for the many different ways that the urban pigeon is viewed in modern societies worldwide. Perception of the pigeon through the centuries has changed from God to the devil and from hero to zero!
3. PIGEON DROPPINGS – FOUL OR FANTASTIC? Although pigeons droppings are seen as a major problem for property owners in the 21st century, it was considered to be an invaluable resource in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in Europe. Pigeon poop was a highly-prized fertilizer and considered to be far more potent than farmyard manure. So prized in fact that armed guards were stationed at the entrances to dovecotes (pigeon houses) to stop thieves stealing it! Not only this, but in England in the 16th century, pigeon poop was the only known source of saltpetre, an essential ingredient of gunpowder and was considered a highly valued commodity as well. In Iran, where eating pigeon flesh was forbidden, dovecotes were set up and used simply as a source of fertilizer for melon crops. In France and Italy, it was used to fertilize vineyards and hemp crops.
4. THE PIGEON AS A WAR HERO. In modern times, the feral pigeon has been used to great effect during war times. In both the first and second World Wars, the pigeon saved hundreds of thousands of human lives by carrying messages across enemy lines. Pigeons were carried on ships in conveys and in the event of a U-boat attack, a messenger pigeon was released with details of the location of the sinking ship. In many cases, this lead to the survivors being rescued and lives saved. Mobile pigeon lofts were set up behind the trenches in the First World War from which pigeons often had to fly through enemy fire and poison gas to get their messages home. The birds played a vital role in intelligence gathering and were used extensively behind enemy lines where the survival rate was only 10%. In the Second World War, pigeons were used less due to advances in telecommunications, but the birds relayed invaluable information back to the allies about the German V1 and V2 Rocket sites on the other side of the English Channel.
to be continued…
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