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RELEASING A PIGEON FROM A NAVY PLANE DURING FLIGHT
The Navy birds taken to the Arctic by the MacMillan Arctic Expedition (see the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for November, 1925) were especially selected and trained for their arduous work in the Far North. A special loft was constructed for their use and a large quantity of pigeon feed was provided. Unfortunately, all but four of these birds were killed by Arctic falcons during their first flight in Greenland.
Preeminent among the work of the birds was that performed by "Big Tom." Released at Grandpré at 2:35 one afternoon, this bird had to make his flight during intense machine-gun and artillery action; yet 25 minutes later he delivered his important message at a village 24 miles
When examined, it was found that one of the bird's legs had been shot away and a part of his breast ripped open by a machine-gun bullet, which was still lodged there. The message tube, intact, was hanging by the ligaments of the torn leg.
"The Mocker" (see illustration, page 92) was hit by a machine-gun bullet which destroyed one eye; yet he homed in record time on the morning of September 12, 1918, carrying with him a message giving the location of several heavy German batteries which, at that time, were doing terrible execution on advancing American troops. This information thus conveyed enabled the American artillery to silence the enemy's guns within 20 minutes.
"The Spike," another Homing Pigeon, was more fortunate than "Big Tom" and "The Mocker." During American offensives he made 52 trips from the front
"BILL," OF ATLANTA, WINS AN AERIAL DERBY
A bird is not considered "home" until it passes through the window of its loft, when the owner removes the leg band and puts it into an automatic clock to record the time of arrival (see text, page 94). Racing Pigeons are flown successfully from distances of from 10 to 1,000 miles, and a good average speed for one of these birds is 1,200 yards a minute (see text, page 86).
lines to his loft without being touched, and every one of the messages which he carried contained vital information.
"President Wilson" was a bird used at first by the Tank Corps, but was later transferred to the Meuse-Argonne sector. Like "The Spike," he made many important trips from the front to headquarters.
On the morning of November 5, when the situation in his sector was desperate, he was released with a message, the delivery of which probably meant success or failure to his command. There was a heavy fog at the time, and in addition. to the difficulty of flying through it, constant artillery and machine-gun fire had to be encountered on the way home. This bird lost one leg in flight, but he brought the message through, after which he was sent to the hospital for treatment.
The French and the British during the war decorated some of their birds, but the American pigeons could not receive. medals of honor or distinction because Congress had not authorized an award
for heroism to any but human beings. The accomplishments of pigeons on land were equaled by those of pigeons at sea. Every Allied aviator carried these messengers with him.
The British, French, and Belgian governments commandeered the services of every Homing Pigeon in their respective countries. Even the Royal loft was taken over by the British Navy, and the king's birds were assigned to trawlers, scout ships, and other craft in the North Sea, from which they carried many important messages to Sandringham.
RACING PIGEONS TRAIN EARLY FOR THE RACE COURSE
Racing Pigeons have pedigrees like racing horses, and they are bred and trained with care equal to that bestowed upon their equine brothers. The enthusiast watches the feeding of his young birds. from the moment they leave the shell. Four weeks later, when they leave the nest, fully feathered, he takes particular
After the youngster is happily settled in his loft, his first experience outside comes some morning when his owner, before feeding him, places him on the landing board. Food is then scattered on the loft floor, and the "young man," before he realizes what he has done, pushes a wire to one side and comes in for his breakfast.
THREE LIDS PROTECT
After two or three
A FEATHERED HERO OF THE WORLD WAR "The Mocker," a U. S. Army Homing Pigeon, whose eye was shot out by shrapnel during the European conflict (see text, page 90).
care to see that they do not go hungry while their parents are weaning them.
After they are weaned, the birds are placed in a separate loft, where they soon learn to know that the approach of their owner means food, water, or kindly attention of some sort. From the young bird loft they are given their first flying experience.
A Racing-Pigeon loft is equipped with a window made of wires which are easily pushed in, but not out. These permit the bird to enter the loft, but prevent his exit. Outside of the window is a landing board, on which the birds alight when returning from a spin through the air.
The wings are the most essential part of a Homing Pigeon's body. When these are spread, the feathers should overlap
A WINGED MESSENGER IS CAST OFF FROM A NAVY PLANE
At the time of the World War armistice the forces of the United States and Allied armies had approximately 320,000 pigeons for use in emergencies as a means of communication when all other methods failed.
each other without any breaks. Good length and breadth of feather are desirable, and at full spread the wing should look like an inverted letter V.
Each wing contains twenty feathers, ten primary at the outer edge and ten secondary on the inner side toward the body.
The Homing Pigeon's tail, which is its rudder, is also important. It has twelve flight feathers in two sets of six each. When the bird is at the top of its flight, the tail has the appearance of containing but one feather.
Pigeon flyers watch the molt, or changing of feathers, closely. When a bird is six weeks old it begins to drop its nest feathers and its first set of adult feathers
begins to appear. It should never be flown while in heavy molt.
The new feathers, if food and housing conditions are satisfactory, will all be in within eight or ten weeks from the start of the molt. When the molt is sufficiently advanced, the youngster's training on the road begins.
After the birds grow familiar with their surroundings they are taken a mile or more from home in a basket and released. The distance is increased from day to day up to 25 miles. When this stage is reached, instead of being released in a group from the basket, they should be single tossed-that is, one bird should be taken out at a time-and there should be a delay of two or three minutes before another bird is freed.
This single-tossing process, repeated many times, puts the individual bird on
PIGEONS WITH MESSAGES ARRIVING AT THE ANACOSTIA NAVAL AIR STATION (SEE, ALSO, ILLUSTRATION, PAGE 91)
Racing Pigeon fanciers usually like to have what is called an "overflight" loft, or one at a greater distance than the average to be covered between starting point and home terminal, because a bird flies fastest when it is near home, and the overflight lofts, under normal conditions, usually produce the race-winners. But under bad conditions the short loft has the advantage. Its birds can better fight wind, rain, and darkness and may get home at the close of a hard day, whereas the birds from the overflight lofts may have to wait until the next morning.
his mettle. It also trains him to fly from a given point to a given point, notwithstanding the number of birds in a flock at the time he is released in a race, or the number he may meet flying in an opposite direction.
From the 25-mile stage a jump may be made to 50 miles, usually the last training stage for a young bird. The next step is ordinarily the 100-mile race, where the bird gets his first test for speed and endurance.
The racing of pigeons is unlike any other sport, in that the birds start from a given point, but finish at different points. When they are shipped to the race, a countermark, or small band, with a secret number, is placed on the leg of each con
testant. When the bird reaches its home, it should go into the loft without delay, where its owner removes this band and puts it into an automatic clock, which records the time of arrival (see, also, p. 91).
The distance to each loft from the starting point is measured, and the winner of the race is the bird which flies the greatest number of yards per minute.
PARENTAL INSTINCT PLAYS PART IN
When old birds are raced, the hen flies best when her eggs are from eight to ten days old, and the cock when their young are from ten to twelve days old. While the cock is driving his hen, neither bird can be raced successfully, as the spirit of