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"By what mistake were pigeons made so happy,
So plump and fat and sleek and well content,
So little with the affairs of others meddling."
~ Pigeons, James Henry (1843-1916)
Although happy pigeons may not be particularly meddlesome, messenger pigeons have been conscripted for great deeds of communicative importance in the affairs of men! The true messenger pigeon is a variety of domestic pigeons derived from the wild rock dove, selectively bred for its ability to find its way home over extremely long distances. Because of this skill, domesticated pigeons have been used since 3000 BC for messaging over distances! Written or encoded messages were tied around the leg of a pigeon, which would fly to reach its original nest. Messenger pigeons were used extensively during World War I to communicate important military intelligence. The Irish pigon "Paddy", the American pigeon "G.I. Joe "and the English pigeon "Mary of Exeter" all received the Dickin Medal, (along with 32 other pigeons who also received this award) for their gallantry and bravery in saving human lives with their actions. One homing pigeon, "Cher Ami", was awarded the French Croix de guerre for her heroic service in delivering 12 important messages! Today, the pigeon post service has been honoured by the humorous internet protocol "IP over Avian Carriers (RFC 1149)" for the transmission of messages via homing pigeon. Originally intended as an April Fools' Day, this protocol was implemented and used, once, to transmit a message in Bergen, Norway, in 2001. Coo-coo! 📬 ✉️ 🐦
The true messenger pigeon is a variety of domestic pigeons (Columba livia domestica) derived from the wild rock dove, selectively bred for its ability to find its way home over extremely long distances. The rock dove has an innate homing ability, meaning that it will generally return to its nest (it is believed) using magnetoreception.
Flights as long as 1,800 km (1,100 miles) have been recorded. Their average flying speed over moderate 965 km (600 miles) distances is around 97 km/h (60 miles per hour)!
Because of this skill, domesticated pigeons were used to carry messages as messenger pigeons. They are usually referred to as "pigeon post" if used in post service, or "war pigeon" during wars.
Until the introduction of telephones, homing pigeons were used commercially to deliver communication.
The sport of flying messenger pigeons was well-established as early as 3000 years ago. They were even used to proclaim the winner of the Ancient Olympics.
Historically, pigeons carried messages only one way, to their home. They had to be transported manually before another flight. However, by placing their food at one location and their home at another location, pigeons have been trained to fly back and forth up to twice a day reliably, covering round-trip flights up to 160 km (100 mi).
Their reliability has lent itself to occasional use on mail routes, such as the Great Barrier Pigeongram Service established between the Auckland, New Zealand, suburb of Newton and Great Barrier Island in November 1897, possibly the first regular air mail service in the world. The world's first 'airmail' stamps were issued for the Great Barrier Pigeon-Gram Service from 1898 to 1908.
This tartan is one in a series of tartans designed by Robert K Jones of Rablogan of Scotland to celebrate the roles of animals as working partners in life. This tartan celebrates the pigeon as an invaluable transporter of communications over the past centuries, in day to day life and in times of war. Their service is represented through the colouring and design of the tartan. Colours: green, purple, grey, white and red reflect those of the pigeon; blue represents the sky, the medium in which they operate; green and purple represent Scotland where the pigeon has been an important and essential part of Highland life for centuries.
For more interesting facts about pigeons, click the pigeons!