Two darling girls recently asked me if we have pigeons here in Washington, D.C. and the answer is: Why yes! Yes we do! You’d be hard-pressed to find a city anywhere on earth without rock pigeons.
You, dear reader, may think of the pigeon as nothing more than the pestilential soiler of your windowsill, but I am here to tell you that they are so much more. Pigeons are noteworthy birds with special skills.
Pigeons have a remarkable homing ability which allows them to fly straight home, even when they have been taken very far away. Humans have domesticated the bird and then used this special pigeon skill for their own purposes. Pigeons have carried messages home for people for thousands of years.
To illustrate how delivery-by-pigeon works:
Let’s imagine I have pigeons who live in birdhouses in my garden. Then let’s say I go on a trip with my family. I take my pigeons with me so that I can send messages to my best friend, Hector, while I am away.
When I want to send Hector a note, I can simply attach it to one of my pigeons and then release the bird. The pigeon will fly straight home to its own birdhouse in my garden.
Hector would need to know to go check the pigeons’ birdhouses so he could see if one of my birds had come home bearing a letter, but I would obviously have explained this to him before I left town.
Over the years the method of attaching a message to a pigeon has changed. During World War I soldiers attached messages to their pigeons’ legs with teeny metal cannisters. Modern scientists attach bird-sized backpacks to pigeons to gather climate data.