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On Pigeons


Pigeons are one of nature's most under-rated creatures. Known in local circles as flying rats, these noble creatures of the air are actually a marvel of evolution and the triumph of mother nature over man.

The pigeons of our cities are descendents of European birds designed to live on cliff sides. Cliff sides offered a perfect place to build nests safe from predators, and it didn't hurt that pigeons need little to make nests.

The pigeon first emigrated to America when their cliff-dwelling predecessors were transported to the New World for food and their message-carrying abilities. Once in the United States, pigeons escaped from captivity and thrived in their new environment.

Then came cities, and pigeons that had to scrap on cliff sides suddenly had man-made industrial cliffs and ample foodstuffs. It didn't hurt that pigeons, having evolved for an environment with limited food options, were natural scavengers with an omnivore's diet. Consequently, the cliff-dwelling aviators thrived and continue to thrive in today's cities.

But pigeons are much more than opportunistic birds. Their innate homing ability, combined with their quick speed and ability to fly long distances, made the lowly pigeon an extremely useful bird during past wars.

The feral rock pigeon, the pigeon most common in cities today, has a natural homing ability that allows it to return to its home from any location in the world, even if the pigeon has no idea where it is. Scientists have still not come to a definitive conclusion about the pigeon's homing ability, but various theories have been proposed. Perhaps the most interesting is the idea that homing pigeons are able to sense the Earth's magnetic fields and use this sixth sense to return to their point of origin. Two other theories postulate that pigeons rely on the position of the sun and visible cues to make their way home, or upon atmospheric smells. When near home, pigeons also rely on visible landmarks and cues. Whatever the case, the pigeon's natural homing ability proved useful in wartime conditions, where smoke from explosions often made visibility nil for the flying creatures. Even with zero visibility, pigeons were able to find their way home.

The pigeon's homing ability is not the only thing that makes pigeons ideal as message carriers. Pigeons can fly up to 62 m.p.h. for over 10 hours at a stretch. That's 620 miles in one trip, an impressive and useful feat for a bird commonly thought of as vermin.

Their homing ability and their ability to cover large distances quickly made pigeons a natural messenger for modern man. The first evidence of man utilizing the pigeon dates back as early as the 1100's in the Middle East. Homing pigeons were also used by Genghis Khan.

In more modern times, the United States relied heavily on pigeons during wartime. In World War I, for instance, American pigeon Cher Ami was awarded a French metal for heroic service for successfully delivering 12 messages. On its last trip, Cher Ami successfully delivered a message that saved the lives of over 200 U.S. soldiers, even after Cher was shot in the wing.

And here's another fun fact: Pigeons are largely monogomous. Once finding a mate, pigeons will stay with that mate until death. Only then, does the majestic pigeon seek new mates.

Also: There are indications that pigeons are among the few animals to pass the "mirror test," a test to determine whether an animal can recognize its own reflection. Other animals with passing grades: chimpanzees, orangutans, dolphins, elephants and man!

Until next time, make mine pigeons!

posted by Jordan @ 10:57 PM,


At 7:17 PM, Blogger RaisingCayne said...

WTF!? Is this HighOnWikipedia!? The Devil's Advocate of Odd Factoids. ...

All very interesting stuff, don't get me wrong. And in fact, I have a newfound respect for what I previously thought were just obnoxious varmints. It's just, I was really expecting to hear why you were compelled to share?! (Not to mention why/how you knew all this stuff.)

Let me guess: you accidentally off'ed a few pigeons on your way to work today, (a la George Costanza) and are just tryin' to make amends with the species huh?

At 7:34 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Frankly, Cayne, I have no idea where the inspiration came from. I've always been a big fan of pigeons in general, and for whatever reason, I started writing this post late at night on a whim. People really don't appreciate pigeons, so I thought I'd share my own personal thoughts and some facts that could convince people that pigeons aren't disgusting. Think of it as one really long, wet brain fart.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger CC said...

I'm almost positive that woman also passes the mirror test.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger DrChako said...

Mmmmm... Pigeons. Tasty.


(BTW - Thanks for the comments about my Iraq experiences)

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I'm with the others on this one. WTF?

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

There's not much to say guys. I really love pigeons and I felt like sharing.

At 6:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. I saw a movie with Cher Ami in it. I had no idea that pigeons could get home no matter where they are. I always did like pigeons...

At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who ever said that pigeons are tasty that is really stupid Cher Ami is a simble of our country


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