19th century email…the Homing Pigeon

When I’m writing, I often find myself with a problem that stumps me.

This time it was communication. But SECRET communication. Sure by the time I’m setting my books there was a telegraph. But I needed two men to communicate with each other and no one knows there’s a connection.

.……………Mary Connealy’s Website……………..

I got some good suggestions. Did you know native Americans communicated with arrows? The tribe might be spread over a great expanse, but they’d stay close enough for an arrow to reach. One man would an arrow a great distance and when it reached it’s goal, those waiting them would know it was a signal for whatever had been agreed upon, then that group would send an arrow to the next group.

One can only wonder is anyone got an arrow in their backsides but it seemed to work.

Of course there were smoke signals.

And there were runners. 

None of these things worked for me.

Click for Woman of Sunlight

And then my fevered brain came up with homing pigeons.

And then the research began.

I found out there were already homing pigeons 1000 years before Christ.

I found out homing pigeons were used a lot in war. And were in fact called War Pigeons.

And I found out the birds could fly as far as 600 miles at a speed of 100 miles per hour. Six hours to reach 600 miles. Of course these were records, but I didn’t need my pigeons to go 600 miles. I needed more like twenty. No problem.

But how did the pigeons figure it out? How did they designate ‘home.’ Could ‘home’ be changed? Could the birds go back and forth? Did that mean they have two ‘homes.’

Oh, it was confusing, but also fascinating. ‘Home’ can be split. Like ‘home’ can be two places, the place they eat and the place they sleep. So that explains why they’d go back and forth. But more simply,, I figured out that the pigeons could send a message for two men to meet. Then they could exchange their pigeons.

Well, it was fun. And fascinating. It reminded me of the stories you hear of a dog finding his way home over hundreds of miles and even years. But these birds are born with this inbred instinct to go home. No matter where you take them, they will fly back home.



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Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

29 thoughts on “19th century email…the Homing Pigeon”

    • Hi Laura. I’ve been reading about them ever since. My struggle now is how to change them, right? If my characters bring them west then do the pigeons learn a NEW home or do you need new pigeons? I’m more complicated the more I research!!!

  1. Very interesting facts about pigeons. We have so many pigeons here where I live, now when I see them I’m going to be thinking about your blog. Thanks for sharing. I’m curious how your story in your book turns out.
    Have a blessed day.

  2. Good morning! Great post! This post answered questions I’ve had before but never took the time to find the answers. Pigeons was what popped into my mind too when you talked about secret messages but I never knew how the pigeons managed to go back and forth. Of course, I still have questions on how they get that established! I’d love to read this book because I’m very intrigued now! Stay safe in these difficult times!

    • I agreed with all the unanswered questions! I had MORE the more I researched and still don’t quite understand it. So, I could have a pigeon here, who thinks my daughter’s house…more than an hour away is ‘home’. But then will the bird come back here? It would have to, right? Or does my daughter have to drive it back to me? Weird.

  3. Welcome. I knew a few of these facts but not all. I love learning from this group. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for sharing so many things that I didn’t know and I personally know how a dog can find its way home. We had a dog lost for 33 days before he showed up at our back door. He was wet, dirty, and very thin but he found his way home and Max was treated like a King when he did!

  5. Mary, we have a homing pigeon museum here in OKC! It’s fascinating. And they have a nice collection of live “fancy” pigeons, too. If you ever come to town, I’ll take you. 🙂

  6. How interesting! I had no idea. Can’t wait to read the book and find out how the pigeons figure into it. 🙂

  7. Interesting research. Thank you for sharing it with us. I knew homing pigeons had been used for a long time, but had no idea just how long. Makes you wonder how the idea of using them ever got started. How large a “stable” of birds would you need to have an efficient and effective service? What about predation? A falcon could take out your message with little trouble. I am resisting the temptation to go down the research rabbit hole.

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