The Origin of Falconry and the Carrier Pigeon

Abron Toure By Abron Toure, 5th Dec 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>True Stories

It is said necessity is the mother of invention but more often than not war gives rise to them both. Falconry and the use of Carrier Pigeons are no exception.

The Origin of Falconry and the Carrier Pigeon

It is said necessity is the mother of invention but more often than not war gives rise to them both. Falconry and the use of Carrier Pigeons are no exception. The practice of both is believed to have started in Egypt over 3000 years ago. It is well documented carrier pigeons were commonly used during the Crusades and across the battlefields during World War I and World War II to deliver confidential messages where the telegraph or other electronic transmissions were of no help.

These couriers were also known as homing pigeons. Essentially they were one way birds. Instinctively capable of finding their way home typically the pigeons were transported to strategic destinations and then released with messages tied to their leg. Similarly birds were always prepared for return trips.

They had limited ability capable of travel up to 300 miles. Where routes required greater distances a series of networks were established. Birds were housed at stations or in cities along the way as a relay for areas requiring coverage outside the range.

In warring lands and periods where technology did not permit opposing groups or insurgents required quick turn around for planning strategically timed events. For the purpose of coordinating battle plans over large distances carrier pigeons were an absolute necessity.

It can be speculated out of a needed to disrupt these communication lines the art of Falconry was born. Generally it is thought of as a sport and after the crusades became associated with the nobility of Europe. However the gamesmanship was primary used for hunting food; trained falcons and other birds of prey helped the Bedouin tribes of the eastern deserts survive 1000 of years ago by catching small animals.

Somewhere along these historical lines the connection between Falconry and the carrier pigeons became indistinct. Yet there is every indication the use of Homing Pigeons gave birth to the art of Falconry. There are also strong clues perhaps both practices are old enough to be associated with the ancient Egyptian god of the sky and the solar god of war.

Horus is one of Egypt’s most significant gods and is symbolized by the falcon. The Egyptians made it a point to talk about the eye site of Horus. He ruled the sky. His right eye was said to be the sun and his left eye the moon. Although there are a number of birds of prey it is well known the Falcons kills while in flight as apposed to others like the owl, eagle and hawk which will kill in flight or on land or sea.

It is the uniqueness of the Falcon and its willingness to only kill in the sky that earned it the prolific title of the solar god of war or god of the sky. To exploit this rare skill the Egyptians used a technique called hooding. It is a garment used for training and taming the bird. Falcons are fierce animals. When their heads are covered it helps to calm them. The hood also assists the bird to focus. The trainer spots the prey. The hood is removed quickly; once off the bird locks in on the first object in flight it sees. One can see how the falcon would have become the natural counter measure for carrier pigeons during times of war.

Here is a bit of historic trivia. Where one combatant had carrier pigeons and the other side had neither falcons nor pigeons. The lack of foresight cost the side without dearly. The conflict took place in India when the country was ruled by European merchants.

The East India Company started out as a commercial venture and governed large portions of south Asia from 1757 to 1858. During its tenure the company supplanted commercial interest with militaristic and colonialist administrative rule. This political and cultural shift led to resentment on the part of the local nobility. Eventually the company’s interests were undermined and a rebellion took place between 1857 and1858.

The company ruled for a hundred years but its downfall was extra ordinarily swift. There were uprisings in one part of the country but the indigenous people planned the revolts weeks in advance and heard the resulting news immediately. The ruling class for the longest time chalked up the phenomena to some form of superstitious mambo jumbo such as the spirit of the people travelling along the winds or something to that effect.

While the British were relegated to sending messages by rider which meant it would take days if not weeks before important communications could go from one city to another. The indigenous people had a system of carrier pigeons.

As with many, the British were victims of their own prejudice. As the ruling class they underestimated those they ruled. Rather than relying on common sense they let bigotry govern their thought processes. So when it came to analyzing how these precise coordinated uprisings were being planned logic and critical thinking was disregarded. Instead good judgment was replaced with superstitious excuses and a superiority complex.

The British leadership imagined their opponents were too primitive. They attributed the uprising to isolated incidences and believed effectively the trouble would die down. The impression led them to suppose such a culture could not have a sophisticated communication system like carrier pigeons. This narrow mindedness cost them the advantage or the ability to act preemptively and contain the rebellion.

By the time the tactic was discovered it was too late. War had broken out and it became necessary to intercept these messages. Often when the pigeons were sighted they were out of firing range. Rifles of that period were far less accurate than today. If they had trained falcons history could have proven to be very different.


Bedouin Tribes, Birds Of Prey, Carrier Pigeons, Crusades, East India Company, Egyptian God Of The Sky Egyptian Solar God Of War, Falconry, Homing Pigeons, Horus, Technique Called Hooding, World War I, World War Ii

Meet the author

author avatar Abron Toure
Abron Toure has a BA in Philosophy, Brandeis, a BS in Chemical Engineering, Northeastern, MS Administration, Boston University. worked for Raytheon, Lam Research and Tokyo Electron Limited.

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