PIGEON POST. The use of homing pigeons to carry messages is as old as Solomon, and the ancient Greeks, to whom the art of training the birds came probably from the Persians, conveyed the names of Olympic victors to their various cities by this means. Before the electric telegraph this method of communication had a considerable vogue amongst stockbrokers and financiers. The Dutch government established a civil and military pigeon system in Java and Sumatra early in the 19th century, the birds being obtained from Bagdad. Details of the employment of pigeons during the siege of Pans in 1870-71 will be found in the article POST AND POSTAL SERVICE: France. This led to a revival in the training of pigeons for military purposes. Numerous private societies were established for keeping pigeons of this class in all important European countries; and, in time, various governments established systems of communication for military purposes by pigeon post. When the possibility of using the birds between military fortresses had been thoroughly tested attention was turned to their use for naval purposes, to send messages between coast stations and ships at sea. They are also found of great use by news agencies and private individuals. Governments have in several countries established lofts of their own. Laws have been passed making the destruction of such pigeons a serious offence; premiums to stimulate efficiency have been offered to private societies, and rewards given for destruction of birds of prey. Pigeons have been used by newspapers to report yacht races, and some yachts have actually been fitted with lofts. It has also been found of great importance to establish registration of all birds. In order to hinder the efficiency of the systems of foreign countries, difficulties have been placed in the way of the importation of their birds for training, and in a few cases falcons have been specially trained to interrupt the service in war-time, the Germans having set the example by employing hawks against the Paris pigeons in 1870-71. No satisfactory method of protecting the weaker birds seems to have been evolved, though the Chinese formerly provided their pigeons with whistles and bells to scare away birds of prey.
In view of the development of wireless telegraphy the modern tendency is to consider fortress warfare as the only Sphere in which homing pigeons can be expected to render really valuable services. Consequently, the British Admiralty has discontinued its pigeon service, which had attained a high standard of efficiency, and other powers will no doubt follow the example. Nevertheless, large numbers of birds are, and will presumably continue to be, kept at the great inland fortresses of France, Germany and Russia.
See L. du Puy de Podio, Die Brieftaube in der Kriegskunst (Leipzig, 1872); Brinckmeier, Anzucht, Pflege, und Dressur der Brieftauben (Ilmenau, 1891).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)