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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Day 19, Pigeon I.

Watching Pidgey these last couple of days I’ve become curious about the use of messenger pigeons, certainly a stark change from the convenience of instant text messages and emails of today. I was surprised to learn they were still in use till as recently as WWII; though they certainly declined with the invention of the electric telegraph and telephone, these forms of technology were only reliable in times of peace, being susceptible to being cut or easily destroyed during wartime. Messenger pigeons were a reliable form of communication and useful for relaying secret messages, a true and tried method that has served the human race for centuries. The use of messenger pigeons can be traced back to Phoenician merchants, who would convey information back to land via pigeons when out on boats in the Mediterranean. Though our relationship with pigeons can be traced further, with tablets dating back to 3000 BCE from Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq and Iran) and Egyptian hieroglyphics suggesting that pigeons were being domesticated by both civilizations. Written records show messenger pigeons were used by many known figures throughout history and as a vital tool during war, including: Julius Caesar, Brutus (during the battle of Marina and Modern; 43 BCE), Hannibal, Genghis Khan, in the Siege of Harlem (1673) and by William of Orange. Interestingly, their use peaked between the end of the 12th century till about mid 13th century, with Europeans only becoming acquainted with messenger pigeons much later, by the Saracens during the Crusades; Marco Polo wrote, in admiration, about their extensive use in the east. The ‘homing pigeon’ or ‘homer’, according to Darwin, descended from the Persian messenger dove and was first brought to Europe by dutch sailors. Over time they have been selectively bred and differ from its wild pedigree, the rock dove (ie. Pidgey), being greater in size with larger brains, greater breadth of flight feathers and more muscular power. (Not to be confused with the ‘carrier pigeon’ or ‘English carrier pigeon’ which were solely bred for show.)