Quirky Travel: Things You Never Knew About Pigeons

Taxidermy bird at WWII Signal Corps display Pigeon Museum Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Taxidermy bird at a WWII Signal Corps display in the American Pigeon Museum Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Fancy, often quite bizarre-looking breeds with names like English Pouter, Shakhsharli, Mookie, and Saxon Fairy Swallow.

One of the woven wicker baskets from the UK Royal Family’s pigeon lofts, complete with a tag reading “HM Queen” because Queen Elizabeth is an avid fan of racing pigeons, despite PETA’a disapproval of the sport.

Biographies and photos of stout-hearted wartime “pigeon heroes” like Cher Ami who carried battlefield communications even while wounded and under fire.

Pigeons at war on the Western Front in WWI in this photo from the American Pigeon Museum in Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Pigeons at war on the Western Front in WWI in this photo from the American Pigeon Museum in Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I did spend a lot of time scratching my head while walking through the American Pigeon Museum and Library in Oklahoma City, learning about the world’s oldest domesticated bird and thinking to myself, “Wow, these people are really INTO this stuff….” but by the end, I was glad I’d stopped by and hope to return to see the live birds when they return to the facility.

My only previous knowledge of what are often called homing or carrier pigeons is a scene from the beginning of a Nancy Drew mystery book – Password to Larkspur Lane – which involves an errant pigeon with a secret message.

When I spoke with museum curator Lorrie Monteiro, even she had to admit to some personal skepticism when she interviewed for her current job. “I mean, pigeons? Really??” Now she’s a full-on enthusiast, rattling off pigeon facts and stories as fast as I could ask questions.

Racing Pigeons

Oklahoma City is quite the flapping hotbed of pigeon activity – the American Racing Pigeon Union headquarters is right next door to the Pigeon Museum.

There is a whole museum section devoted to racing timing devices – you release the competing birds from a set, measured distance and see how long it takes for them to get home to their loft.

Vintage Belgian pigeon racing clock by Plasschaert in the American Pigeon Museum Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Vintage Belgian pigeon racing clock by Plasschaert in the American Pigeon Museum Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

When I asked Ms. Monteiro about the many shelves of vintage racing clocks, she explained that before the modern world of timing by RFID chips, racers had special rubber bands and as soon as the bird crossed the loft threshold, you removed the band and dropped it into these special clocks, which recorded the time.

Pigeons in Wartime

Who would suspect a random bird flying near a battlefield to be part of the enemy communications chain?

Oh, the Nazi’s Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS in World War II, for example – Himmler happened to be a pigeon fancier. Britain’s MI5 even trained anti-pigeon peregrine falcons to take down the German communications-carrying birds.

Signal Corps Pigeon Company memorabilia Pigeon Museum Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Signal Corps Pigeon Company memorabilia in the American Pigeon Museum in Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Take your time looking through the new museum section devoted to carrier pigeon battlefield communications during World War One, especially the “pigeon heroes” who persevered through live fire and wounds to return to their lofts with critical messages.

Breeding Pigeons

There are dog shows, cat shows, and so why not pigeon shows?

They’ve spliced together all manner of genes to make some really odd-looking pigeons; there’s an extensive image gallery for them in the museum. I don’t quite see how some stay upright, with their massive puffed-out chests.

Pigeon fanciers show vintage poster Pigeon Museum Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Los Angeles pigeon fanciers show vintage poster on display at the American Pigeon Museum in Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

This is exactly the kind of unusual attraction that I love to find when I travel, and I’m glad to hear that pigeon enthusiasts from around the world have been showing up to visit….birds of a feather, and all that.

The American Pigeon Museum and Library is located near the Remington Park casino and track in Oklahoma City, at  2300 NE 63rd, Oklahoma City, OK 73111.

Hours of operation are Fridays and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment (call 405-478-5155.) For a unique downtown OKC experience, I recommend the Colcord Hotel and Flint Restaurant.

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