No Piggy, No!
Off the Wall, April 18
, 2013

The other day I got an email from a friend who happened to mention the fact that he had just watched a documentary on television concerning carrier pigeons getting medals for achievements accomplished in one of the world wars. I was unaware that these birds were trainable for such intricate activity. Of course, you probably know what’s to follow – another bizarre approach that one could label evidential of my character.

I can’t imagine how one would train a pigeon. First of all, how does one tell if he has made the pick of the litter when it comes to IQ ratings? After all, not all pigeons have the capabilities of these birds, right?

I hope they weren’t carriers of disease. It would be incomprehensible to me that one of Pittsburgh’s finest would get a Purple Heart for taking some form of an outbreak from one camp to another. For all intended purposes, let’s rule that out right here and now!

Let’s assume they went far and beyond the call of duty to perform a service that no robin, starling or sparrow could even imagine of doing. Right off the tuft of its head, let’s assume it was of the valiant nature and let it go at that.

My questions are “Where does one get one of these birds, and how is it trained.”

When I accompany Holy Family Church and Indiana (PA) parishioners to feed the hungry in Pittsburgh, pigeons that want a cut of the action surround us. I mean, if I was a pigeon and saw all that delicious food being served, I would be there as well with open beak and baited breath. “After all, we birds have to eat, too.”

So here I am in the Steel City, big fat birds, all looking the same (I know I can say that to you, but not to them. They may feel offended). Is it against the law to corral one and take one home and try to train it? Lord forbid. I would be told they carry some sicknesses and stay away from them.

But soldiers didn’t. Unless they got them at a shelter. Did you ever see pigeons at a shelter or at Petland? “There’s one! It’s on sale today for 20% off!” Don’t think so. Not any of the stores I’ve visited.

O.K. So you find yourself one of these elite birds. You take it home, build a cage and give it food and water. Sounds good to me. “We start training in the morning. 10-4?”That means, you got the message. All the bird does is give you a little wooing and looks me right in the eye. I stare back. Finally, the "it" and I are having a staring match. “Hey buddy, don’t look at me like that. Keep it up and no Yum Yums for you tomorrow.” Of course, it doesn’t know what they are, and second, I have to give it something so it responds to my orders.

Since we are both early risers, we begin right away. I take it to the end of my living room and decide to call it. “Here Piggy, here Piggy.” Got to call it something. Not having much luck. I go closer with a Yum Yum and call again. I get the same results. Then I notice an unmentionable. “No, Piggy, no.” Do you think it has the foggiest idea what I’m talking about? I think I’m missing it somewhere. Maybe this just wasn’t my calling.

Then on one of the websites I read that children have been known to train these birds to deliver messages to their friend’s house. I also learned that in addition to troops using them, prisoners, hospitals and drug smugglers have prevailed upon services of these “fine-feathered friends.” Of course, my attitude toward Piggy isn’t the fondest. That’s all I’m going to say about it! Carrier or homing pigeons must be a different breed.

According to Wikipedia, “A carrier pigeon (C.P.) or messenger pigeon carried messages only one way, to their home. They had to be transported manually before another flight. By placing food at one location and their home at another location, they were trained to fly back and forth.” I can see why Piggy wasn’t cut out for this type of maneuver.

I did learn from this website that 32 pigeons were presented the Dickin Medal. From Pee Vee to C.P., thank you for serving. You deserve my fullest salute!

- Paul J. Volkmann
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