One for the birds

Consider a recent newspaper account about the growing mystery of homing pigeons that disappear during races, leaving their owners puzzled.

In one event between Newmarket, VA, and Allentown, PA, 1,500 birds out of 1,800 couldn’t find home. In another race, 700 out of 800 birds never “re-cooped.”

The problem? Cell phones.

Experts say the devices interfere with the bird’s inner navigation system, the electromagnetic field, and throw them off course. This is conjecture. But sometimes, cell phone users deserve to be surrounded by a flock of confused, nervous pigeons.

The phones should be banned on beaches, inside cars, at baseball games, at restaurants and during funerals. I was next to a guy once who chatted on a cell phone while standing in front of a urinal. Good thing he had nothing to say to me at the time. And a nurse friend told me about a patient who sat naked on an exam table while talking business.

Some birds, like Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect.

For example, chickens are the only animals we eat before they’re born and after they die. In good times, we like to eat pigeons. But we call them squab, and serve them under glass. 

During the Great Depression, I’m told, it was not uncommon to read of park-bench ladies who fed pigeons with one hand, only to smack them with a sock full of sand to get a free meal.

This brings to mind Cher Ami, a brave bird who delivered messages during critical times to Gen. Pershing during World War I. A communication one stormy day from the Lost Battalion confirmed the group was indeed found.

Another time, as Cher Ami saluted with his wing and took off, a German sniper fired, hitting the courier in the left leg, where the message was attached. Not missing a flutter, Cher Ami folded the leg to his chest and continued 37 miles to Pershing’s tent.

For his bravery, Gen. Pershing awarded Cher Ami the Distinguished Flying Cross. Today, the bird’s stuffed body stands mounted in the National Museum in Washington, DC. Later, the movie “The Pigeon That Took Rome” featured Charlton Heston as a World War II soldier who used pigeons to communicate with the Allied Forces.

There’s a lesson or two to be learned here.

First off, we hope Mr. Heston advises the National Rifle Association to shoot only clay pigeons — out of respect for Cher Ami’s relatives. 

Secondly, if you’re a truckdriver and need a reliable form of communication that doesn’t drop calls, have dead batteries or move out of tower range — it might be wise to purchase some paper, a pencil and a pigeon. LL

—by Dick Larsen, senior editor