Communication by Bird

November 21, 2012

I saw an intriguing headline this morning, “UK spies unable to crack coded message from WWII carrier pigeon“. The message was recently found on the skeleton of a bird (see image above).

This got me thinking (and reading) about carrier pigeons as a very interesting form of non-digital communication. And transport. According to Wikipedia:

A carrier pigeon or messenger pigeon is a homing pigeon (specifically a domesticated rock pigeon, Columba livia) that is used to carry messages. Using pigeons to carry messages is generally called “pigeon post“. Most homing or racing type varieties are used to carry messages.

… Historically, pigeons carried messages only one way, to their home. They had to be transported manually before another flight. However, by placing their food at one location and their home at another location, pigeons have been trained to fly back and forth up to twice a day reliably, covering round-trip flights up to 160 km (99 mi).

… With training, pigeons can carry up to 75 g (2.5 oz) on their backs.

Carrier pigeons were used in 6th Century BC by Cyrus, King of Persia to “communicate with various parts of his empire”, as well as to deliver emergency medication in the late 1800s – early 1900s by German apothecary Julius Neubronner.  Neubronner also invented the pigeon photographer method for aerial photography. More recently, carrier pigeons transported messages during World Wars I and II, and lab specimens between two English hospitals in the 1970s, and two French hospitals in the 1980s.

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