Why Carrier Pigeons Do It Better

by Rachel Gertz

White Carrier Pigeon Looking Regal
A sexy white carrier pigeon; photo credit to L’Yoshka on Flickr.

In light of recent happenings in Egypt, and considering how the whole country’s internet got taken down back in March, I started worrying about what we would do if aliens landed and shut down the internet, or the Rapture struck and suddenly there was no one left manning the internet transmitting stations. Boom goes the dynamite.

We’d all be hooped!

So, after doing a little dirty research, it’s no surprise to me that we should default to using the noble carrier pigeon the next time trouble turns its ugly head.

Why Pigeons Rule

Carrier pigeons are reliable. We’ve been using them for tens of thousands of years to carry invaluable messages from place to place. From the Egyptians and Persians to Reuters before Reuters Press, carrier pigeons have helped us along our merry way. In response, we’ve leered and jeered them for their unusual head bobbing and mangled club foot claws and chased them into oncoming traffic. It is the pigeon’s way. We must not be revolted, but respect his unusual display of ugliness. For he is useful. And some might even say beautiful.

I wouldn’t. Useful, yes. But nice looking? They look like they’ve made friends with the McDonald’s grease trap and are hopped up on Chicken McNuggets.

Homing Pigeons

Pigeons were also used extensively during World War I and II to deliver strategic messages behind the lines. In fact, they were called Racing Homers* and 32 of them received the Dickin medal, which I find both hilarious and amusing. One noble Pige,Cher Ami, was awarded with a French medal for bravery for delivering 12 invaluable messages relating to ‘friendly’ fire. Cher’s leg was practically blown off and his breast punctured during the last trip behind the lines. But he swooped back up into the air and landed in the hands of the shell shocked soldiers who disentangled the message from his mangled leg. He saved almost 200 lives with those messages. When has the internet won an award for bravery, I ask you? 

*Not to be confused with Racing Home the band; my husband was the drummer in the early 2000’s. They all stripped down and skinny dipped on the ski jump at Shalome Park one night. Must have been a band thing.

Magic Military Use of Pigeons
Those war pigeons were dang useful; photo credit to Poughkeepsie Day School on Flickr.

How Do They Work?

The carrier pigeon, also known as the homing pigeon or rock pigeon, is a smart bird. Despite it’s devious head bob, its beady eye and greasy pin feathers, the carrier pigeon is a species to envy. It can fly hundreds of miles over land and sea to find its mate, tracking either magnetic fields or roads and pathways to reach its destination. That is the science behind the bird. And so if you are wondering whether you could send a reply back with the arriving pigeon, the answer is no. These birds go one way. You would need a second bird who nested in the original sender’s pants to create true pigeon mail. Or a cheating pigeon with sassy mistress birds waiting all over the country to entice your racing homer to deliver the proverbial seed. Lo, the pigeon is not a swinger.

Side note: I always wondered how Noah taught that damn dove to bring back the olive branch way out in the middle of the ocean. Must have been some crazy magic.

The kicker is the fact that the poor military pigeon who saved all those soldiers’ lives had no fricking allegiance to the army or any human whatsoever. All he was trying to do is get back to his mate who was probably cooing her head off as grenades and bullets whizzed by. He died a slave to mankind’s horrific game of kill kill kill.

Humans are such jerks when it comes to animal husbandry. 

One sexy bird
Carrier pigeons are big in Bulgaria; photo credit to Karen Horton on Flickr.

Pigeons are Fast S.O.B.s

Unlike the internet, pigeons aren’t limited by bandwidth and they don’t charge extra for additional downloads like your Telecom company tries to. In fact, a recent experiment in England found that it is faster to fly a pigeon 120km to a remote village with USB keys strapped to its ankles, than it is to transfer that same file to the same location over the internet. The internet completed only 24% of the total 300MB download in the time it took the pigeon to fly, land, and have the USB files transferred. They can fly faster than a bicycle courier and look less stupid, too—no bicycle tires or helmets to weigh them down.

How mod.

I think you’re beginning to see the usefulness of this bird. Yes?

Pigeons Are Mules

The internet can’t carry five grams of cocaine over a prison wall in a fanny pack. Pigeons can. Well, they can try. Early this year, a pigeon was detained—yes detained; I guess they needed to take him in for questioning—for trying to smuggle 40 grams of marijuana and 5g of cocaine over the prison walls of a northeastern Columbia jail. Seems he was too high or heavy to make it over. Think how much more effective the drug cartels would be if they stopped making human beings swallow bags of coke and jump planes to Arizona and instead, strapped some dime bags on the backs of white carrier pigeons and launched them into outer space. It would be simply mesmerizing. Well, until DEA caught wind of it and took up clay-pigeon shooting lessons.   

When your internet is down, you really miss it, but you are at the mercy of the universe to bring it back. Did you know, however, that if your pigeon goes missing, there are services that will bring it back? Yes, several. It’s quite amazing actually. You’ll never lose that greasy bird for good. So don’t even try.

Pigeon.org

Interbug.com

They’re Still Truckin’

Pigeons are so useful that in many places, they’re still used to carry messages today. In the isolated mountainous regions of Afghanistan, pigeons relay messages between remote villages. In England, they’re still racing them, with approval from the queen. Pigeons were also used to carry blood samples between hospitals right up until the 80’s. Ironically, the same period that the internet sprang up.

So I ask you: what happens when the internet burns down? Pigeons will still fly, bitches.

Watch out.

Pigeons doing it.
Pigeons will get it on; photo credit to zigazou76 on Flicker.

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