Release the Pigeons

Here’s a weird bit of animal news for you:  around 5000 of 9000 carrier pigeons engaged in pigeon racing disappeared.  The pigeons were part of an obscure sport that races homing pigeons, and it’s unclear why over half of the birds never returned home.

Carrier and homing pigeons aren’t as necessary today as they were even one hundred years ago, what with improvements in communication technology.  When everyone is carrying around a Star Trek communicator with more computing power than the Apollo spacecrafts, the need to maintain a rookery of sky-rats is quite diminished.

That said, the birds are quite remarkable.  Carrier pigeons have saved thousands of lives in various conflicts around the world.  The piece in The Western Journal about the missing pigeons discusses the heroics of Cher Ami, a pigeon that saved the 77th Infantry Division’s “lost battalion” in the First World War “by delivering 12 messages and returning to his roost despite being shot in the leg”  The brave bird died from his injuries in 1919, but “was awarded the Croix de Guerre by France.”

Survivalists and homesteaders might take a particular interest in homing pigeons:  while they’re not particularly useful now, they could be quite useful in the event of a major failure of the power grid, or should the Internet and various cellular services go down.

But what of the missing birds?

The missing pigeons were released in Great Britain, and were expected to return within three hours.  However, according to The New York Post, there were around a quarter-million pigeons released nationwide in Britain, and only 10% returned on time.

Presumably, many of those birds have returned since, as the head of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, Ian Evans, says that most birds should find their way home after some rest.  The Association’s website even has a page for reporting strays, with information about basic care (don’t feed the pigeons bread, but do give them bird seed or crushed up cornflakes, with a deep dish of water).  Apparently, most pigeons will continue on their way back home after enjoying some refreshments, but if they don’t, the website also details how to identify the pigeons—little ring numbers on the birds’ legs.

As for why so many birds went missing, it’s unclear.  The only explanation I’ve read in any source so far has something to do with magnetic polarity, which is one of those things that sounds scientific, yet implausible.  Like elementary school teachers threatening my generation that American was heading to the metric system and that we would be required to write essays in cursive, whenever I hear about magnetic polarity flipping around or solar flares disrupting this or that, I instinctively write it off as the scientific equivalent of astrology:  it’s grasping at straws to give an authoritative reason for why something inexplicable has happened.

Well, let’s hope our feathery friends make it home.  The wilds of England are no place for a proper British bird.

Release the pigeons!


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