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The Amazing Skill of the Lowly Pigeon

There are 290 species of pigeons in the world, but only one has adapted to live in cities. But that one species has an amazing skill—the ability to carry an important message and then to find its way home. Recent studies have suggested that they navigate using human structures as well as natural ones: they follow roads and canals, and have been observed going round roundabouts before taking the appropriate exit. They can fly extremely fast—up to 110 miles per hour—and can cover 700 miles in a single uninterrupted flight. There are faster birds, but none can fly horizontally, under its own power, as quickly as a pigeon.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries they became important as messenger birds. During the Siege of Paris in 1870, pigeons were taken out of the city by balloon and returned carrying thousands of letters stored on microfilm and sewn into their tail feathers. During the First World War, soldiers at the front used pigeons to communicate with those behind the lines and with tank commanders when their radios failed. In the Second World War, most bomber crews carried a pair of birds in a specially designed floating cage. If they were shot down they would release a pigeon bearing a message detailing their position.

Major General Fowler, the British army’s chief of signals and communications wrote, “If it became necessary immediately to discard every line and method of communications used on the front, except one, I should unhesitatingly choose the pigeons. When the battle rages and everything gives way to barrage, machine gun fire … gas attacks and bombings, it is to the pigeon that we go.”

Possible Preaching Angles: In the same way, as a follower of Jesus, you do not need to be the fastest or most amazing witness for Christ. But we are called to be faithful and reliable to carry the message of Christ to others.

Adapted from Jon Day, “Operation Columba,” London Review of Books (4-4-19)

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