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It is said that pigeons live on average to be about 10-15 years old. I believe this is for captive or racing pigeons. The average feral pigeon living in the wild would most likely have a reduced lifespan since they have no one to care for them against the elements, disease and predators.

The oldest recorded pigeon (that I could find info about) was a red checker cock called Kaiser. He was born in 1917 and died in 1949 at the age of 32 ½. Kaiser was in fact a German war pigeon who was captured by the Americans in 1918 and used by them for breeding.

Kaiser, WWI Captured German War Pigeon:

  • “Kaiser” 1917-1949
  • Band # 17-47-0-350
  • Red Checker Cock
  • Bred and trained by the German Imperial Crown
  • Captured by the Americans in 1918 during the Meuse Argonne offensive
  • Assigned to the US army signal corps, Fort Monmouth, N.J and Camp Crowder, MO.
  • Handled by Col. Clifford Algy Poutre from 1936-1943
  • Kaiser lived for 32½ years
  • Specialty: outstanding breeder

This photo of Kaiser was taken in 1938, US Army Signal Corps Lofts, Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Martha – the last passenger pigeon:

The second oldest pigeon was Martha, the last passenger pigeon. She hatched in a zoo in 1885 and died in 1914, aged 29. The sad and poignant story of the now extinct passanger pigeon species can be read here: In Memory of Martha

A live passenger pigeon in 1898 (Note: I don't know if this is Martha)

PORTRAIT OF A PIGEON

By Wilson P. Dizard
Published in The New York Times, February 24, 1946

Technically, Kaiser could be called a traitor to the Imperial Crown of Germany. A soldier of fortune, he has served under two flags in two international wars. This may seem surprising when one considers that Kaiser is 29 years old and that his kind has always been regarded as a symbol of peace. But Kaiser carries no olive branch in his bill-he’s a Regular Army Flier, assigned to the United States Signal Corps, and the oldest pigeon known to history.

Kaiser was hatched in Germany in February, 1917, and was trained as a military homing pigeon for the German Army. The famous bird was captured when the Yanks stormed an enemy front-line trench during the Meuse offensive in 1918. He was brought to this country and assigned to the Signal Corps Pigeon Center, Fort Monmouth, N.J., until August, 1942, at which time he was transferred to Camp Crowder, Mo., the Army’s pigeon-breeding center.

In terms of human ages, Kaiser is a cool 140 years old-the normal life span of a pigeon being from 5 to 8 years. Despite his advanced age, Kaiser has continued to father large groups of homing pigeons. He astounded his keepers and pigeon breeders all over the country last year by fathering seven youngsters. The breeders shook their heads and said that because of Kaiser’s age his youngsters would be useless as military homing pigeons. They took it all back when one of them, Little Caesar, won a 320-mile race from Dallas to Camp Crowder in competition with some of the best birds in the Army.

There is no logical explanation for the Kaiser’s hardiness except for the fact that he lives under ideal conditions at the Crowder lofts. He and the latest of his many mates, Lady Belle, live alone in a white loft away from the other loft buildings. The only difference between their loft and those of the other pigeons is that Kaiser and Lady Belle have an electric heater-a small concession to Kaiser’s old age.

Although a “member” of the United States Army, Kaiser still wears a seamless aluminum identification band on his left leg, bearing the seal of the German Imperial Crown. This band was placed there by his German keepers when he was a week old, and it cannot be removed unless cut from the leg.

(From: http://pigeonsincombat.com/thepigeoneerswebpage.html)


The following website has different articles and photos about birds, particularly pigeons and birds of prey, as spies in war: Spy birds

There is some very good info as you scroll down the website, such as the following (although I hate the idea of animals dying in a man-made war):

Brits’ pigeons of mass destruction revealed
ABC News, Saturday, May 22, 2004

Brits' pigeons of mass destruction
One British airman thought pigeons could be used
to deliver biological weapons.

British intelligence agents secretly discussed plans to attack the Soviet Union with pigeons armed with biological weapons, documents made public by the National Archives reveal.
The bizarre Cold War scheme was hatched by Wing Commander WDL Rayner, a Royal Air Force officer who, in the aftermath of World War II, saw suicide pigeons as the future of warfare.
He was part of a top-secret “pigeon committee” set up after the war amid concerns that lessons learned from using pigeons to carry messages through Nazi German lines would be lost as the British military disbanded its flocks. Rayner’s idea called for pigeon lofts to be situated around Britain at locations with the same electro-magnetic and coriolis values as potential Soviet targets.
The History of MI5 and MI6
If war broke out, the birds – whose homing instincts depend on such values – would be released, each carrying a 55-gram capsule loaded with a “bacteriological warfare agent” such as anthrax.
“A thousand pigeons each with a two-ounce explosive capsule landed at intervals on a specific target might be a seriously inconvenient surprise,” Rayner wrote in a paper to the committee.
But the idea ran into turbulence from Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5, which branded Rayner “a menace in pigeon affairs” and disputed his participation on the committee.
In the end, Rayner’s plans for a full-scale experimental pigeon loft, with about 400 birds, never got off the ground, due to wrangling between the intelligence services and armed forces over who should pay for it.
The National Archives in London regularly releases intelligence documents no longer deemed to be top secret. Most are from World War II but some cover the pre- and post-war period.
– AFP


Lovely to see that the pigeons that were used in war aren’t forgotten:

Paddy the pigeon decorated for bravery in fight against Hitler

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

John worked with Paddy the pigeon, who was awarded the Dickin medal, the  animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross for his war efforts during the D-Day landings
John worked with Paddy the pigeon, who was awarded the Dickin medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross for his war efforts during the D-Day landings

A war hero decorated for his bravery in the fight against Hitler is finally being honoured by his home town 55 years after his death.

Paddy the pigeon was the first bird make it back to England with vital news from the D-Day Normandy landings in June 1944.

His exploits of daring-do, avoiding deadly German falcons released to catch the airborne messengers, and making it back across the Channel, earned Paddy the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

The citation on his medal said: “For the best recorded time with a message from the Normandy Operations, while serving with the RAF in June, 1944.”

Paddy was one of thousands of pigeons taken to France as part of the D-Day landings. He was one of 30 seconded to 1st US Army and at 8.15am on June 12 he was released carrying coded information on the Allied advance.

He made it back to his loft 230 miles away in Hampshire in four hours 50 minutes – the fastest time of any courier pigeon released during the Normandy landings.

After the war the heroic bird returned to its home at Carnlough on Northern Ireland’s Co Antrim with owner Captain Andrew Hughes where he lived on until dying in 1954 at the ripe old age of 11.

He was immortalised in an illustrated children’s book Paddy the Pigeon by Gail Seekamp in 2003 – now finally his home town is going to recognise him.

A plaque is being unveiled on the harbour wall in Carnlough on Saturday by the well-known veteran pigeon breeder John McMullan who trained Paddy and was a friend of Captain Hughes.

Mr McMullan, who still lives in Carnlough, said today: “I agree with this wholeheartedly. Paddy was the only pigeon from Ireland to win the Dickin Medal.

“It is only right the plaque is put up, it is just a pity they didn’t do it earlier.”

He revealed that during his military training Paddy was based at Ballykinlar Army camp in Co Down, and was taken out in the Irish Sea by submarine and set free to find his way back to base.

When the bird was moved to the south coast of England ready for his war time exploits it took Paddy just three weeks to learn where his new base loft was.

“Paddy was the last pigeon to be let go by the Americans in Normandy and he was the first one home.

“He was the best of the lot, the best of thousands,” said Mr McMullan.

From: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/paddy-the-pigeon-decorated-for-bravery-in-fight-against-hitler-14493979.html##ixzz0uj2BgS3S


Commando, pictured with the rare medal he won during World War II

Most of us know now that pigeons were used in both World Wars, carrying important messages across the battlefields (for links on heroic pigeons please go to: Heroic pigeons and Pigeons in Military History), however, after World War II their use was stopped. … Or were they?

Here are two current(-ish) reports of pigeons being caught on suspicion of spying:

Pigeon held in India on suspicion of spying for Pakistan

Iran arrests pigeons ‘spying’ on nuclear site


On Sunday night we watched the 2005 WWII pigeon cartoon ‘Valiant’. At the end of the movie they stated that of the 54 Dickin Medals* awarded to animals in war, 32 of them went to messenger pigeons (18 to dogs, 3 to horses and 1 to a cat). I thought that was pretty awesome! Pigeons have so many uses and they certainly deserve recognition for all the wonderful things they do.

The story of Cher Ami and G.I. Joe pigeons are quite well known so there’s no need for me to retype what has already been written. You can find their stories at http://nationalpigeonday.blogspot.com/2008/03/history-of-cher-ami.html, http://www.wingswest.net/pigeons/Warpigeons/warpigeons.html and http://pigeonexpresso.com/famous-pigeons.html if you haven’t heard of the heroic deeds they did. There seems to be quite a few war memorials for animals around the world and one is the Animals In War Memorial in London which I haven’t yet been to but it looks like an interesting place to visit: http://www.animalsinwar.org.uk/index.cfm?asset_id=1373 I don’t go to London often (I’m a country mouse by heart), however, I will try to visit the war memorial some day soon.

After watching ‘Valiant’ I also thought that there aren’t enough pigeons in animated movies out there. The pigeons in the 2008 animated cartoon ‘Bolt’ are pretty cool, however, they don’t play a major role. There are numerous short animated film starring pigeons that can be found on YouTube but not all of them are nice.

When I get some free time I’ll compile a list of favourite short pigeon animations. In the meantime we’ll just have to pray that Pixar/Disney etc. start making more pigeon movies – it’s not like there’s a lack of story ideas and inspiration out there!!

* In 1943 Maria Dickin, the founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a British veterinary charity, instituted the Dickin Medal to honour the work of animals in war.