• Richard Lancaster

The Humble Pigeon


The bane of restaurateurs and homeowners whose premises are often pockmarked by their droppings, the humble pigeon is now considered a pest by many. This was not always the case, with Britain’s King George I ordering by decree that all pigeons were the crown’s property. Their droppings were a vital ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder! Another royal, Queen Elizabeth II, continues that love. In the Queen’s case, she races pigeons from the royal lofts at Sandringham.

Historically, the pigeon features prominently in ancient writings. It is claimed that the first homing pigeon was the bird released by Noah, from the ark. Records show that the ancient Greeks kept pigeons over 5,000 years ago. For hundreds of years, Europeans have enjoyed the culinary delights of pigeon pie.

In World War II, the allied air forces used pigeons in bombing raids over Germany. The birds achieved a 98% success rate for missions flown. One of these named Cologne (after the German city), flew back to Britain badly injured, with a location message telling of the downed plane’s whereabouts. It received the Dickin Medal, which is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. The French, Swiss, Israeli and Chinese armies still use pigeons, because the messages they carry cannot be affected by electronic jamming.

The average pigeon lives for around 30 years and mates for life, unless separated. Both parents feed their young with a milk-like substance, and will feed other orphaned chicks where necessary.

Scientists believe that pigeons have a unique sensory ability to detect coming thunderstorms and earthquakes. A racing pigeon has been clocked flying at 120km/h and the world record price for a pigeon is AU$250,000.

So next time you see a pigeon, treat it well. They are a good friend to we humans.

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