Which type of bird was used to send messages amongst allies during both World Wars?

And the answer: Pigeons.
Photo credit: JJ Harrison

While humans have utilized pigeons’ unique homing abilities throughout much of history, these avian critters proved invaluable during both World Wars. Pigeons of the Racing Homer breed were primarily used, and 32 of them were even presented with medals for their military service. During World War I, the US army used over 600 carrier pigeons in France alone.

We may see pigeons flock to city streets and urban centers, but these fascinating animals are actually among some of the most intelligent and longstanding domesticated species of bird in the world. In fact, humans have kept pigeons since around 4500 BCE, during which period the first depictions of the bird were seen in Mesopotamian art.

Since that time, pigeons have played various roles in human history to significant impact. Pigeons are some of the best navigators of the bird world, and can find their way home from some 1,300 miles away. For this reason, pigeons have historically been excellent messenger birds both during wartime and peaceful periods of human history. Aside from their service during World War II, pigeons have been released from sinking boats to send for help, and trained to aid in rescuing people lost at sea. Thanks to their great eyesight and ability to detect ultraviolet light that surrounds people in water, these fascinating birds can locate those who are stranded and notify rescuers of the location.

Did you know?

It’s Adopt a Rescued Bird Month! Although keeping birds as pets dates back to ancient times, the practice has extended through to the early 20th century, when birds were the most popular pets in the U.S., and has since persisted today. This January is an excellent time to bring in a feathered friend—many of whom are in dire need of adoption to a safe and loving home. Learn more about Adopt a Rescued Bird Month here.

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