PIGEONS as Messengers

The earliest large-scale communications network that relied on pigeons as messengers was established in Syria and Persia around the 5th century B.C. It was expanded until deep into the 12th century A.D., connecting all major cities from Baghdad to Egypt by messages that were carried by pigeons. In Greek and Roman times too, the pigeon was used to carry results of sporting events and this is why until today white doves are released at the start of the Olympic Games. Also in England, prior to the days of telegraphs, pigeons were often taken to football matches and released to carry home the result of the game. More broadly, they played a crucial role as part of postal services in many different countries.

In modern times, the pigeon has been used to great effect during wartime in particular. In both the First and Second World War, pigeons saved hundreds of thousands of human lives by carrying messages across enemy lines. Especially in the First World War , mobile pigeon lofts were set up behind the trenches from which pigeons often had to fly through enemy fire and poison gas to get their messages home. During the First World War, a pigeon named Cher Ami (“dear friend”) saved the lives of many French soldiers by carrying a message across enemy lines in the heat of battle. Cher Ami was shot in the chest and the leg, losing most of the leg to which the message was attached, but continued the 25-minute flight avoiding shrapnel and poison gas to get the message home. Cher Ami was awarded the French ‘Croix de Guerre’ medal for heroic services.

In the Second World War, pigeons were used less often, due to advances in telecommunications, but the birds still relayed invaluable information back to the allies about the German V1 and V2 rocket sites on the other side of the English Channel.


In the Christian religion the pigeon is both a symbol of peace and of the Holy Spirit. The first biblical reference to the pigeon (or dove) was the story of Noah and the white dove of peace in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the pigeon was first mentioned during the baptism of Christ where the white dove descended as the Holy Spirit, an image now used extensively in Christian art.

Many other religious groups, including Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, feed pigeons for religious reasons. The Sikhs, for instance, feed pigeons ceremoniously because they believe that when they are reincarnated they will never go hungry if they have fed pigeons in their previous life. Other religious groups in India believe that when a person dies, the soul assumes the form of a bird (normally a pigeon) and therefore by feeding pigeons and other birds they are caring for the souls of their departed ancestors. Similarly, Chinese people view the bird as a symbol of peace in the next life.

  • WeddingsWhite rock doves are typically released as a pair during wedding ceremonies to represent the bride and groom. White doves mate faithfully for life and raise their young together. These birds symbolize hope that newly wedded couples will also remain faithful, start a family and live out their days together. The bird’s white colour signifies breaking away from the past and starting over. When they depart together, these birds represent the beginning of a journey into a new life together.
  • FuneralsReleasing white doves at a funeral symbolizes the journey of the deceased individual’s spirit into a world of peace. The number of birds released also carries symbolic meaning. A single bird represents the deceased’s spirit, while four doves symbolize the Holy Trinity guiding the deceased into heaven. Ten to twenty doves represent angels traveling with the deceased’s spirit, guiding the person to her final destination.
  • EventsThe release of white rock doves represents peace, prosperity and success, no matter what the occasion is. Witnessing these birds take flight at any important event, including graduations, religious ceremonies, or even sporting events and concerts, is a beautiful, memorable sight imbued with hope for a positive outcome. The release may specifically symbolize future prosperity for a recent graduate or company, devotion and hope for a religious ceremony.


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