When the first Olympic games were held in Greece in 776 BC, how did people find out who the winners were? Pigeons carried the news! Julius Caesar, the emperor of Rome more than 2,000 years ago, used birds to send messages back home from battle. Pigeons were used as war messengers as recently as in World War II. In fact, until the invention of the telegraph in 1836 and the telephone in 1875, the fastest way to send any kind of news was by pigeon.
Pigeons are still sometimes used as messengers. For example, medical workers on an island in France put blood samples into the tiny pockets of a vest worn by a pigeon. The pigeon then flies the blood samples to the mainland. In many parts of the world, news photographers use pigeons. When they can't leave their spot or don't want to get caught in traffic, they attach their rolls of film to a pigeon. The pigeon carries the film to a developer in time for the next issue of a newspaper or magazine.
Nobody knows for sure how pigeons are able to find their way back home from hundreds of miles away. Scientists think that pigeons can detect the Earth's magnetic fields. This means that their brains work like a compass to figure out North, South, East, and West. Scientists also think that pigeons can tell direction by looking at the position of the sun in the sky.
Pigeons have been on this earth at least 20 million years. That is longer than humans! Scientists know this from fossils, which are remains of bones that have been preserved in rock.
The original pigeons lived among cliffs and rocky ledges in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. These pigeons are known as Rock Doves, and they still exist today. All Rock Doves are the same blue-bar color morphs.
About 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, humans began to capture and raise pigeons. Some they raised for food, some for racing, and some to carry messages.
People also raised pigeons for their beautiful feathers. Over many generations, this is how pigeons acquired such a wide range of color morphs.
The first pigeons in North America were brought over by people from Europe who settled in Canada in the early 1600s. Pigeons that escaped from settlers formed the wild flocks you see in cities today. These wild birds live among city buildings, bridges, and other man-made structures in the same way their ancestors used to live among cliffs and rocky ledges.
The Story of Cher Ami
In World War I, a pigeon saved the lives of many soldiers in the "Lost Battalion" of New York's 77th Division of the U.S. Army. This pigeon was Cher Ami. His name means "dear friend" in French.
During a battle in France, the American soldiers found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Then they found themselves being fired on by their own side! They tried sending a message to their fellow troops by pigeon. The first message said, "Many wounded. We cannot evacuate." The pigeon carrying the message was shot down. They sent out a second bird with the message, "Men are suffering. Can support be sent?" That pigeon too was shot down.
One homing pigeon was left-Cher Ami. His message was, "Our artillery is dropping a barrage on us. For heaven's sake, stop it!" The men of the Lost Battalion saw Cher Ami fly up-and then saw him shot down. Yet soon Cher Ami was airborne again. Hopes soared. Cher Ami's leg was shot off and he was hit by another bullet. Still, this bird kept flying. Cher Ami finally got through. The shooting stopped, and many lives were saved.
At the end of the war, Cher Ami and more than 40 other pigeons were honored for their brave service. They were well cared for until they died. Today Cher Ami's body can be seen in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian Institution.
There's so much stuff I could tell you, I'd probably end up writing it for you, LOL.
Don't forget that pigeons were trained to scout out the bright orange life vests of people stranded at sea, since they can see better and farther than us in foggy/bad weather. They also took aerial photographs and they were trained to guide missles, but that of course never got into action.
Some other good war heros besides Cher Ami were G.I. Joe, Mary of Exeter, Winkie, and Kaiser. Those probably have the better stories. But there were other famous and awarded birds. The ones I can think of off the top of my head are: William of Orange, Duke of Normandy, Beachcomber, Princess, Royal Blue, Navy Blue, Mercury, Scotch Lass, Reuter Express, President Wilson, The Mocker, Spike, Jungle Joe, White Vision, and Straight Arrow. There are more, and there are stories and info on each, but it's bed time for me. I'll give all the info I know and have gathered up over the years, tomorrow.