Monday, May 26, 2008

A Tribute on Memorial Day to our Forgotten Heroes

Pigeons of war

In fierce fighting and deep in enemy territory, American pigeons carried life-or-death messages that radio and field phones could not.

This Memorial Day, when we commemorate the men and women who have died in war, we will also take a moment to reflect on how many pigeons and animals have also suffered and died for human military purposes.

Do you know that pigeons saved the lives of thousands of people during World War 1 and World War 11. Medals were bestowed upon the following pigeons for acts of bravery and for saving the lives of thousands of humans.

A complete list of pigeons awarded

NEHU.40.NS.1 - Blue Cheq. Hen "Winkie"
MEPS.43.1263 - Red Cheq. Cock "George"
SURP.41.L.3089 - White Hen "White Vision"
NPS.41.NS.4230 - "Beachbomber"
NPS.42.31066 - Grizzle Cock "Gustav"
NPS.43.94451 - Dark Cheq. Cock "Paddy"
NURP.36.JH.190 - Dark Cheq. Hen "Kenley Lass"
NURP.38.EGU.242 - Red Cheq. Cock "Commando"
NPS.42.NS.44802 - Dark Cheq. Cock "Flying Dutchman"
NURP.40.GVIS.453- Blue Cock "Royal Blue"
NURP.41.A.2164 - "Dutch Coast"
NPS.41.NS.2862 - Blue Cock "Navy Blue"
NPS.42.NS.15125 - Mealy Cock "William of Orange"
NPS.43.29018 - Dark Cheq. Cock "Ruhr Express"
NPS.42.21610 - B.C. Hen "Scotch Lass"
NU.41.HQ.4373 - Blue Cock "Billy"
NURP.39.NRS.144 - Red Cock "Cologne"
NPS.42.36392 - "Maquis"
NPS.42.NS.7542 - 41.BA.2793 - "Broad Arrow"
NURP.39.SDS.39 - "All Alone"
NURP.37.CEN.335 - "Mercury"
BPC.6 -
DD.43.T.139 -
DDD.43.Q.879 -
SBC.219 - Cock "Duke of Normandy"
CC.2418 - B.C. Hen
WLE.249 - "Mary"
DHZ.56 - "Tommy"
42.WD.593 - "Princess"USA.
43.SC.6390 - "G.I. Joe"

One can always observe pigeons on pictures with Kamadeva, one of the oldest Hindu love gods. Christian religion tells the story of Noah who sent a pigeon 3 times to look for a dry piece of land.

Greek and Roman history writers quote pigeons. Pigeons informed the home front on victories and defeats of kings and generals.

Pigeons were the newsmen between Iraq and at that time Syria in the 12th century. Sultans built pigeon houses. Belgian and Dutch newspapers depended for a great deal on pigeons for their information.

Napoleon's defeat in the battle of "Waterloo" was reported to England by Nathan Rotschild's pigeons.

From Wartime Hero to Modern-Day Nuisance (snippet: ABC News)

Felder's announcement Monday was somewhat timely, as Nov. 12 was the day we observed Veterans Day, honoring America's wartime heroes. But few remembered that thousands of American and allied forces were saved in World Wars I and II by pigeons. Pigeons?

For centuries, pigeons were used to carry important messages in wartime when communication lines were down, according to Andrew Blechman in his book, "Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird."

Blechman recounts one instance of the birds' heroism in the story of the U.S. Army's 77th Division, later known as the Lost Battalion, in World War I. The battalion was trapped behind enemy lines while American troops 25 miles away, unaware of the 77th's position, unleashed a massive artillery attack on them. The desperate soldiers wrote a message: "Our artillery is dropping a barrage on us. For heaven's sake, stop it!" and attached it to their carrier pigeon, Cher Ami.


Home of the Heroes

Cher Ami (Dear Friend)

The ability to communicate is essential to soldiers in the field. Without communications to their commanders or support units in the rear area, soldiers on the front line can't send messages about their progress, request needed supplies, or call for help when things reach their worst.

During World War I, messages were sometimes transmitted by wire (telegraph of field phone), but two-way radio communications had not yet become available. Sometimes a unit was ordered to attack over a broad and often difficult terrain, making it impossible to string the wire necessary for communications. In these situations, a field commander often carried with him several carrier pigeons.

Pigeons served many purposes during the war, racing through the skies with airplanes, or even being fitted with cameras to take pictures of enemy positions. But one of the most important roles they served it was as messengers. An important message could be written on a piece of paper, then that paper neatly folded and secured in a small canister attached to a pigeon's leg. Once the pigeon was released, it would try to fly to its home back behind the lines, where the message would be read and transmitted to the proper military planners.

The United States Army is divided among several different specialties, the men from each specialty trained for a particular kind of work. Infantrymen are trained to fight on the ground, artillerymen are responsible for the big guns, armor refers to the men who fight in tanks, and the Air Service was the name for the group of soldiers who fought in the air during World War I.

One of the oldest of these groups of soldiers was the members of the U.S. ARMY SIGNAL CORPS. Since the birth of our Nation, it was these men that were responsible for insuring that messages between all units, (including messages to other branches of service like the Navy and Marines), got through. The Army Signal Corps identifies itself by a torch with two crossed flags. These represent SIGNAL FLAGS, a common way that messages were passed using code.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Army Signal Corps was given 600 pigeons for the purpose of passing messages when it couldn't be done by signal flag or field phone. The pigeons were donated by bird breeders in Great Britain, then trained for their jobs by American soldiers.

During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the 2-month battle that finally ended World War I, 442 pigeons were used in the area of Verdun to carry hundreds of messages.

This is how the system worked:
When a commander in the field needed to send a message, he first wrote it out on paper, trying to be both brief and yet as detailed as possible. Then he called for one of his Signal Corps officers, who would bring one of the pigeons that went with the soldiers into battle. The message would be put in the capsule on the birds leg, and then the bird would be tossed high in the air to fly home.

The carrier pigeon would fly back to his home coop behind the lines. When he landed, the wires in the coop would sound a bell or buzzer, and another soldier of the Signal Corps would know a message had arrived. He would go to the coop, remove the message from the canister, and then send it by telegraph, field phone or personal messenger, to the right persons.

Carrier pigeons did an important job. It was also very dangerous. If the enemy soldiers were nearby when a pigeon was released, they knew that the bird would be carrying important messages, and tried their best to shoot the pigeon down so the message couldn't be delivered.

Some of these pigeons became quite famous among the infantrymen they worked for. One pigeon named "The Mocker", flew 52 missions before he was wounded. Another was named "President Wilson". He was injured in the last week of the war and it seemed impossible for him to reach his destination. Though he lost his foot, the message got through to save a large group of surrounded American infantrymen.

Cher Ami

Probably the most famous of all the carrier pigeons was one named Cher Ami, two French words meaning "Dear Friend". Cher Ami several months on the front lines during the Fall of 1918. He flew 12 important missions to deliver messages. Perhaps the most important was the message he carried on October 4, 1918.

Mr. Charles Whittlesey was a lawyer in New York, but when the United States called for soldiers to help France regain its freedom, Whittlesey joined the Army and went to Europe to help. He was made the commander of a battalion of soldiers in the 77th Infantry Division, known as "The Liberty Division" because most of the men came from New York and wore a bright blue patch on their shoulders that had on it the STATUE OF LIBERTY.

On October 3, 1918 Major Whittlesey and more than 500 men were trapped in a small depression on the side of the hill. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, many were killed and wounded in the first day. By the second day only a little more than 200 men were still alive or unwounded.

Major Whittlesey sent out several pigeons to tell his commanders where he was, and how bad the trap was. The next afternoon he had only one pigeon left, Cher Ami.

During the afternoon the American Artillery tried to send some protection by firing hundreds of big artillery rounds into the ravine where the Germans surrounded Major Whittlesey and his men. Unfortunately, the American commanders didn't know exactly where the American soldiers were, and started dropping the big shells right on top of them. It was a horrible situation that might have resulted in Major Whittlesey and all his men getting killed--by their own army.
Major Whittlesey called for his last pigeon, Cher Ami. He wrote a quick and simple note, telling the men who directed the artillery guns where the Americans were located and asking them to stop. The note that was put in the canister on Cher Ami's left leg simply said:

"We are along the road parallel to 276.4."Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us."For heaven's sake, stop it."

As Cher Ami tried to fly back home, the Germans saw him rising out of the brush and opened fire. For several minutes, bullets zipped through the air all around him. For a minute it looked like the little pigeon was going to fall, that he wasn't going to make it. The doomed American infantrymen were crushed, their last home was plummeting to earth against a very heavy attack from German bullets.

Somehow Cher Ami managed to spread his wings and start climbing again, higher and higher beyond the range of the enemy guns. The little bird flew 25 miles in only 25 minutes to deliver his message. The shelling stopped, and more than 200 American lives were saved...all because the little bird would never quit trying.

On his last mission, Cher Ami was badly wounded. When he finally reached his coop, he could fly no longer, and the soldier that answered the sound of the bell found the little bird laying on his back, covered in blood. He had been blinded in one eye, and a bullet had hit his breastbone, making a hole the size of a quarter. From that awful hole, hanging by just a few tendons, was the almost severed leg of the brave little bird. Attached to that leg was a silver canister, with the all-important message. Once again, Cher Ami wouldn't quit until he had finished his job.

Cher Ami became the hero of the 77th Infantry Division, and the medics worked long and hard to patch him up. When the French soldiers that the Americans were fighting to help learned they story of Cher Ami's bravery and determination, they gave him one of their own country's great honors. Cher Ami, the brave carrier pigeon was presented a medal called the French Croix de guerre with a palm leaf.

Though the dedicated medics saved Cher Ami's life, they couldn't save his leg. The men of the Division were careful to take care of the little bird that had saved 200 of their friends, and even carved a small wooden leg for him. When Cher Ami was well enough to travel, the little one-legged hero was put on a boat to the United States. The commander of all of the United States Army, the great General John J. Pershing, personally saw Cher Ami off as he departed France.
Back in the United States the story of Cher Ami was told again and again. The little bird was in the newspapers, magazines, and it seemed that everyone knew his name. He became one of the most famous heroes of World War I.

Years after the war a man named Harry Webb Farrington decided to put together a book of poems and short stories about the men and heroes of World War I. When his book was published, it contained a special poem dedicated to Cher Ami:

Cher Ami
by Harry Webb Farrington

Cher Ami, how do you do!
Listen, let me talk to you;
I'll not hurt you, don't you see?
Come a little close to me.

Little scrawny blue and white
Messenger for men who fight,
Tell me of the deep, red scar,
There, just where no feathers are.

What about your poor left leg?
Tell me, Cher Ami, I beg.
Boys and girls are at a loss,
How you won that Silver Cross.

how do you do! Listen,
let me talk to you;
I'll not hurt you, don't you see?
Come a little close to me.

"The finest fun that came to me
Was when I went with Whittlesey;
We marched so fast, so far ahead!'
We all are lost,' the keeper said;

'Mon Cher Ami--that's my dear friend--
You are the one we'll have to send;
The whole battalion now is lost,
And you must win at any cost.'

So with the message tied on tight;
I flew up straight with all my might,
Before I got up high enough,
Those watchfull guns began to puff.

Machine-gun bullets came like rain,
You'd think I was an aeroplane;
And when I started to the rear,
My! the shot was coming near!

But on I flew, straight as a bee;
The wind could not catch up with me,
Until I dropped out of the air,
Into our own men's camp, so there!"

But, Cher Ami, upon my word,
You modest, modest little bird;
Now don't you know that you forgot?
Tell how your breast and leg were shot.

"Oh, yes, the day we crossed the Meuse,
I flew to Rampont with the news;
Again the bullets came like hail,
I thought for sure that I should fail.

The bullets buzzed by like a bee,
So close, it almost frightened me;
One struck the feathers of this sail,
Another went right through my tail.

But when I got back to the rear,
I found they hit me, here and here;
But that is nothing, never mind;
Old Poilu, there is nearly blind.

I only care for what they said,
For when they saw the way I bled,
And found in front a swollen lump,
The message hanging from this stump;

The French and Mine said, 'Tres bien,'
Or 'Very good'--American.'
Mon Cher Ami, you brought good news;
Our Army's gone across the Meuse!

You surely had a lucky call!
And so I'm glad. I guess that's all.
I'll sit, so pardon me, I beg;
It's hard a-standing on one leg!"

"Cher Ami" and Poems From France
Rough & Brown Press, 1920

Cher Ami died of his multiple war wounds on June 13, 1919--less than a year after he had completed his service to the United States Army Signal Corps. Upon his death a taxidermist preserved the small pigeon for future generations, a bird with a story that became an inspiration to millions over the years.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Stolen Pigeons

New York Post
January 13, 2008 --

On behalf of the Humane Society of the United States, I would like to commend The Post for highlighting the cruel practice of pigeon netting (“Fresh Pigeon Snit," Jan. 6).

Thousands of pigeons are netted in New York and sold to live pigeon shoots across state lines.

Similar to dog fighting, pigeon shooting exists so shooters can gamble against one another. Netted birds are stuffed into boxes and released 30 yards from shooters motivated by monetary prizes.

Most hunters condemn these seedy events, disturbed by the idea of blowing away thousands of animals launched out of boxes at close range.

New Yorkers can help end these events by reporting information about illegal pigeon nettings to 311.

The HSUS offers a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals illegally netting and transporting pigeons.

Heidi Prescott
Senior Vice President
The Humane Society of the United States
Washington, DC

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Last Pigeon

A.M. Richard Fine Art is pleased to announce The Last Pigeon a group exhibition curated by Andrew Garn. Selected works by Vyahir Golub, Livan Pombo, Luis Piccione, Paloma Columbia, Piotr Peristeri, Dieter Tauben, and Dan Duif.

Since 1996, the common pigeon (columba livia) population has been steadily declining. According to the American Audubon Society, between 2002-2008, still-born pigeon death syndrome (SBPDS) has increased ten fold. While New York City councilman Simcha Felder has called for the criminalization of pigeon feeding, their population is decreasing. Targeted by various political agendas, the endangered species could well become but a memory in the collective city experience. The fate of the columba livia, may meet that of the ectopistes migratorius (passenger pigeon) which in the 1850s was the most ubiquitous bird living in the U.S. Commonly, passenger pigeons would darken the skies with dense flocks measuring a mile in width and up to three miles in length. Sadly, in 1913, the last passenger pigeon died in captivity.

The Last Pigeon, an exhibition concerned with the study of this specific bird, brings awareness to the issue of urban wildlife preservation.

Raised in Manhattan, Mr Garn was, from early times, well aware of the plight of the urban pigeon. Occasionally, he would prevent stumblebums from using sling-shots to wound or kill the feathery creatures. Pre-occupied with their rescue, Mr. Garn attempted to hatch abandoned eggs using a desk lamp as an incubator. Today a New York-based artist and photographer, Mr. Garn has invited a select group of artists to conceive a tribute to the much underappreciated columba livia.

Mr. Garn has created a captivating photographic portfolio of pigeon life - from birth to hoary age. To the uninitiated eye, the pigeon portraits reveal a beauty of subtle nature. Distinct personalities, peculiar character traits, odd signs of time and experience are unveiled. Rarely seen are photographs of baby pigeons. A short video montage features a Muybridge-like sequencing and morphing of pigeon types in motion. Standing on a wood platform before a slate grid, the birds slowly move and timidly bop to the sound of Thelonious Monk's Epistrophy. Actual pigeons, for the duration of the exhibition, can be seen living in a reconstructed Brooklyn rooftop diorama. A series of small sculptures conceived in the form of pigeons made of clear glass filled with feathers, are strewn in the main gallery space. One can only wish that these fanciful renderings not become the last flock of lost pigeons.

Press release

March 28th - May 11th, 2008
Gallery Hours: weekdays by appointment, weekends 1-6 pm
Gallery Contact: A.M. Richard (917) 570-1476

Monday, May 5, 2008

Pigeons in the Military, Police and Trafficking Service


In the late 19th and early 20th century, homing pigeons were frequently used as message carriers within European battle zones. Equipped with a small message capsule, pigeons would carry messages between troops and allies, alerting people if soldiers were captured behind enemy lines. They would also provide important time sensitive information that couldn't be sent by other means. Pigeons were hard to detect, difficult to shoot down, and fast commuters.

In 1903, German Engineer Julius Neubronner combined a small analogue camera with a mechanical timer and attached it around a pigeon's neck. This innovative approach to aerial photography soon raised interest from the German military. Shortly thereafter, exploring the potential for secret aerial photography carried out by pigeons began in earnest.

By Word War II entire "Pigeon Corps" had been established, serving both the Army and Air Force of several countries including England, Germany, France and the United States. Pigeon fanciers were consulted and encouraged to donate special breeds, and to provide expertise in pigeon handling and training to the military. Collaborations between pigeon fanciers and military personnel started to occur more frequently. In fact, the human pigeon handlers dedicated to the war messaging service became fondly known as the "Pigeoneers" by American forces.

Several decades later during the Vietnam War, the US Military developed a small radio-tracking device for attaching to homing pigeons. The idea was to capture the birds belonging to the Vietkong and follow their flight path home. Knowing the pigeons’ destination would help the US find hidden enemy camps. Pigeons have continued to be used in military and other governmental efforts. More recent examples include their alleged use by Iraqi troops during the second gulf war in 1991, and as discussed briefly below, as messengers for the Indian police in the state of Orissa, and to traffic illicit goods across state borders in South Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mexico and the US.


The state of Orissa in India has used homing pigeons as part of their police service for over sixty years. This remote state used messenger pigeons to send reports throughout the state and to the country's capital during floods and other environmental conditions that cut the region off from other means of communication. The pigeon courier service or "P-mail" was handed to the police by the army in 1946, one year prior to India's independence from England. In 2002 it was decided that the pigeon courier service was too costly for the state and that email would be a more efficient way of communicating in contemporary India.


While homing pigeons have largely been retired from official governmental and military purposes, they are still being used for less official underground activities such as transporting small amounts of precious goods across country borders. In South Africa, pigeons are reportedly used to smuggle diamonds out of the country, in Afghanistan, pigeons assist in sending small portions of heroin over to Pakistan, and in the United States pigeon-enhanced drug trafficking between the US-Mexican border continues to flourish.


According to the International Harold Tribune, pigeons continue to be used in remote parts of Britain and France to carry blood samples from one location to another.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

PETA Offers $2,000 Reward for Information on Blow-gun Shootings of Pigeons in Seattle

Monday, April 28, 2008 - Page updated at 06:02 PM


This pigeon was photographed in downtown Seattle. The bird is still alive because the dart did not hit any of its vital organs.

PETA offers $2,000 reward for information on blow-gun shootings of pigeons in downtown Seattle
By Sonia Krishnan

Seattle Times staff reporter

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced today it is offering a $2,000 reward for information on one or more shooters involved in impaling pigeons in downtown Seattle with metal darts.

Several Seattle residents have called PETA in the past two weeks to report seeing three injured pigeons fluttering around with needle-like projectiles — about three to four inches long — piercing their heads, said Tori Perry, cruelty case worker for the Norfolk, Virginia-based organization. The birds were spotted on the 1400 block of Third Avenue and at the corner of Third Avenue and Union Street, she added.

The darts were fired from a blow gun, lodging directly behind the birds' eyes without penetrating their brains, Perry said.

The longer the darts remain, the higher the chance for the injury to get worse and infection to set in, she said. The end result: "a very, very painful death," Perry said.

"This is just a horrifying case," she said. "Someone who would do this to an animal is a short step away from doing this to a human being."

Authorities at the Seattle Animal Shelter said they have also gotten several complaints about the darted pigeons. And, they add, it's been difficult to track and capture the birds to get them proper treatment.

"They are quite athletic, good fliers," said Don Baxter, enforcement supervisor. "They're not hanging around waiting for an officer to get close" and take it to a veterinarian, he said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Seattle Animal Shelter at 206-386-7387.

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or

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