Mental Floss

Pigeons as messengers, from spying to stocks?!

Special Guest Star
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This week we're thrilled to have guest blogger Courtney Humphries posting with us. Courtney is the author of Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan...And the World and today she's riffing on why the U.S. military has awarded pigeons medals, the strange role they've played in financial journalism, and what they've got to do with Noah's Ark. We'll let her take it from here:

Pigeons in a Time of War

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Pigeons for Peace (and Business!)

The birds have proved useful in peacetime as well. Pigeon posts were used to carry mail in the Middle East as early as the 5th century BCE. In the 1800s, Paul Julius Reuters, the founder of the famous wire service, flew pigeons bearing news and stock prices between Brussels, Belgium and Aachen, Germany, where there was a gap in telegraph communications, besting the railroad's time by two hours. The competition for pigeons that could fly financial news led breeders to develop faster breeds. Eventually these culminated in the modern Homing Pigeon, a breed that is flown in races all over the world.

Although these birds are often portrayed as scouts, soldiers, or athletes, from a pigeon's perspective it is only doing one thing: trying to get home. Pigeons have a natural ability to find their homes, which humans have exploited for their own purposes. Homing pigeons are trained from a young age to fly back to their lofts for food even if they are taken far away; some birds have been known to return even after being away for years. Perhaps that's what's most impressive about pigeon communication systems; they rely on messengers who can only travel in one direction.

Of course, the birds often dubbed "rats with wings" do have one other messenger tale that can't be overlooked. One of the first examples of the pigeon as messenger is in the Biblical story of Noah's Ark, in which the dove (or pigeon—the two names were actually interchangeable) returned to Noah bearing a branch that signaled it had found land.

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Want more stories about pigeons? Click here to purchase Courtney's wonderful book

Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan...And the World

. And be sure to check out Thursday's post on

Eating Pigeons by the Forkful

.

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