Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Prized Pigeons

     We have all heard the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover.” When it comes to pigeons, truer words were never spoken. Pigeons are special birds, contrary to what many people think, that pigeons are dumb, ugly or dirty. None of this is true. Have you ever noticed the confident way that pigeons coo and strut? Well, check out their résumé!
     They have worked for the Reuters News Agency; Reuters operated a live telex service using Homing Pigeons in the mid 1800s. Pigeons have served their country as well. They have flown in many wars, including both WWI and WWII. Pigeons achieved a 98% success rate in the missions flown in WWII, despite enemy fire, and often with mortal injuries to themselves.
In the World Wars, pilots carried pigeons in case they had to abandon their plane, they would release the bird for help. Many pilots owe their lives to a pigeon. Pigeons proved valuable in the Gulf War, as their messaging was not affected by the electronic jamming. Recently they have been proposed to be used by Project Sea Hunt (U.S. Coast Guard) to spot life-jackets out in the open sea.
     Advanced studies at the University of Montana conclude: “Pound for pound, the pigeon is one of the smartest, most physically adept creatures in the animal kingdom.”
    Their physical make-up and behavior is impressive. Pigeons come in many color variations and feather patterns. Did you ever notice their shiny, rainbow-like neck feathers or their bright red feet? They are unlike other bird species, that are typically uniform in their coloration. Look closely at a flock of pigeons and you will see white ones, gray ones. Some are blue gray and others have reddish feathers. There are solid colored pigeons and speckled pigeons. A full-grown pigeon has about 10,000 feathers.
     Pigeons have been known to live more than 30 years. They are the only birds in the world that do not have to lift their head to swallow water. They can see very well for more than 25 miles in the distance. Scientist believe they may hear wind blowing over mountains from hundreds of miles away. The pigeon can beat its wings up to ten times per second, while maintaining a heart rate of 600 beats per minute up to 16 hours without rest.
     Unless separated, pigeons mate for life. Not only do both parents feed their young but they will feed other babies in their flock, even if they are not their own.
     Pigeons have been recognized for other extraordinary things, as well. In the late 1800s, the most heroic recorded flight was from a pigeon that was released in Africa and took 55 days to get home in England. It traveled over 7,000 miles. In the 17th century, King George I of England decreed all pigeon droppings to be property of the Crown and the “lofts” were policed to enforce the law! (Pigeon manure was used in making gunpowder.) Pigeons have been bought for as much as $225,000.00 USD. Around the world, there are about five races a year with million dollar purses.
     Scientists are realizing how interesting pigeons are and have many questions about them. The answers will tell us not only about pigeons, but about birds in general, as well as help us learn more about other wildlife, our land, skies and ourselves as “human animals.”