This has been an odd week in the news for birds.
Here at Bird-X we use what we know about bird behavior to humanely discourage birds from nesting or landing in certain areas. Historically, knowledge of bird behavior has been applied for a long time to the advantage of humans, such as the use of homing pigeons. The rock pigeon has an uncanny ability to find its way home from almost anywhere, even traveling over a thousand miles. For centuries, people have bred homing pigeons in order to use that navigational instinct to advantage.
First World War pigeon with camera
(image from Deutsche Bundesarchiv via Wikipedia)
This useful instinct was naturally deployed during wartime. Pigeons would be transported and kept in a cage until a message was ready to be sent. Then a pigeon would be let loose with the message attached to its leg and it would head for home even through enemy fire, taking the message with it. And not just messages — the pigeon shown below was used by German forces to take pictures over the Front. Homing pigeons have even been decorated for their wartime service – a First World War hen pigeon named Cher Ami was given the Croix de Guerre for saving 200 soldiers despite being shot through the wing, while during World War II the UK’s Dickin Medal for Animal Courage was awarded to 32 homing pigeons.
A new twist on this story emerged earlier this week, when authorities in Turkey suspected a kestrel of spying due to the small metal bracelet stamped “24311 Tel Avivunia Israel” around his ankle. Concerned villagers discovered the suspicious bird and turned it over into custody. Given the history of birds used for hostile purposes, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that a bird could be used to gather information with the right technology – but was this little hawk more than it seemed? Medical personnel registered the bird as “Israeli Spy” in their documents before conducting extensive medical testing including X-rays. We are happy to report that there was no sinister business afoot — the kestrel was found innocent and released.
Another story in the news this week reiterated the fact that even in captivity, birds are still wild animals with minds of their own. Their behavior can’t always be predicted. Flamingo experts were surprised and baffled to witness one unusual trick! In a first for the species, faced with a British heatwave, one ingenious bird’s behavior didn’t fit in with the rest of his local flamboyance (did you know that was the word for a group of flamingos?) Rather than standing in the pond at Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire, UK, he took to floating around it like a swan, his long legs trailing behind. Visitors must have wondered if they’d had a drop too much over lunch down the pub, as the pink-and-black “swan” sailed majestically by.