Pigeons in History and Fiction


I wrote about a future dystopian California in Feeling a Way. Creating future California without technology was a fun history learning endeavor. People, in this future without modern technology, need to accomplish the same things we do in our modern world. They need to produce food. They need clothing and houses. They need to travel and communicate over distances. Finally, they need to have the means to live peacefully together, or defend themselves from violent people. The historical truth is that people in the past did all those things. I researched slide rules, messenger pigeons, donkey transportation, bows, arrows, swords, and atlatls.

One topic I spent many an engrossing hour researching was the racing pigeon. Racing pigeons, homing pigeons, messenger pigeons, or carrier pigeons have been used by humans since early recorded history to deliver messages or light loads over hundreds of miles.

In military science the pigeon was used to send messages up through World War II near the middle of the 20th century. Militaries around the world employed pigeons for communication between units and headquarters before wireless radios became available.

Pigeons have been used up to distances as far as 1000 miles. The United Kingdom military used about 250,000 homing pigeons in WW2. The United States employed thousands of pigeons. UK bombers carried a pigeon in case of being shot down. If a plane was going down the pigeon would be released with the written location in that world before GPS, satellites, and tracking devices. One limitation is that the homing pigeon is a one way communication device. They return to home base. So to go both ways requires two separate pigeons.

I first became interested in racing pigeons when my spouse’s mother complained about her brother making her record the times for his pigeon racing, when they were young. He would leave her with a stopwatch and pencil at home, waiting by the cages. He would drive hundreds of miles away, and release the birds. She would have to stay there watching, and record when each bird arrived. She complained to me, years later. Those birds flew about 60 miles per hour, so a hundred mile flight would take less than two hours.

It has been a fascinating journey to learn so much about the racing pigeon and their importance in history. William and his group carry a basket with messenger pigeons to communicate with library headquarters.  Feeling a Way:



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