Raven attacking Northern Hawk Owl
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Pigeons have been used as wartime messengers at least since antiquity. Before the advent of radio communications, the birds were routinely used as airborne couriers, carrying messages in tiny capsules strapped to their legs. A homing pigeon can find its way back to its loft from nearly a thousand miles away. Over short distances, it can fly a mile a minute. It can go where human couriers often cannot, flying over rough terrain and behind enemy lines.
By the early 20th century, advances in communications technology seemed to herald the end of combat pigeoneering. In 1903, a headline in The New York Times confidently declared, “No Further Need of Army Pigeons: They Have Been Superseded by the Adoption of Wireless Telegraph Systems.”
But technology, the Army discovered, has its drawbacks. Radio transmissions can be intercepted. Triangulated, they can reveal the sender’s location. In World War I, pigeons proved their continued usefulness in times of enforced radio silence. After the United States entered World War II, the Army put out the call for birds to racing clubs nationwide. Tens of thousands were donated.
In all, more than 50,000 pigeons served the United States in the war. Many were shot down. Others were set upon by falcons released by the Nazis to intercept them. (The British countered by releasing their own falcons to pursue German messenger pigeons. But since falcons found Allied and Axis birds equally delicious, their deployment as defensive weapons was soon abandoned by both sides.)But many American pigeons did reach their destinations safely, relaying vital messages from soldiers in the field to Allied commanders. The information they carried — including reports on troop movements and tiny hand-sketched maps — has been widely credited with saving thousands of lives during the war.
Mr. Topus enlisted in early 1942 and was assigned to the Army Signal Corps, which included the Pigeon Service. He was eventually stationed at Camp Ritchie in Maryland, one of several installations around the country at which Army pigeons were raised and trained. There, he joined a small group of pigeoneers, not much bigger than a dozen men.
Camp Ritchie specialized in intelligence training, and Mr. Topus and his colleagues schooled men and birds in the art of war. They taught the men to feed and care for the birds; to fasten on the tiny capsules containing messages written on lightweight paper; to drop pigeons from airplanes; and to jump out of airplanes themselves, with pigeons tucked against their chests. The Army had the Maidenform Brassiere Company make paratroopers’ vests with special pigeon pockets.The birds, for their part, were trained to fly back to lofts whose locations were changed constantly. This skill was crucial: once the pigeons were released by troops in Europe, the Pacific or another theater, they would need to fly back to mobile combat lofts in those places rather than light out for the United States. Mr. Topus and his colleagues also bred pigeons, seeking optimal combinations of speed and endurance.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;I've heard it in the chillest land,
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up, Hannah. The clouds are lifting. The sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality.
Look up, Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow -- into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us. Look up, Hannah. Look up."
(Thanks, Wikipedia--we geese can never remember such long things by heart.)
Leak Near Platform A Sends More Than 1,000 Gallons Into Ocean Waters
Though details remain sketchy, the United States Coast Guard confirmed this morning that late on Sunday December 7, an oil spill near Platform A in the Santa Barbara Channel — roughly six miles offshore of Summerland — spewed an estimated 27 barrels of oil — approximately 1,134 gallons — into the ocean.
According to Doug Anthony, deputy director of the Santa Barbara County Energy Division, response teams from the U.S. Coastguard, California Fish and Game and the Federal Government’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) are currently responding to the incident and have 11 boats on the scene. About 15 to 20 of the spilled barrels are believed to have already been recovered. Still, according to MMS, the size of the oil slick 1.5 miles long and 2,000 feet wide and is headed due east towards Ventura County. There have been reported impacts to wildlife.
Platform A is the site of the historic hemorrhage of 1969 which sent more than 1 million gallons of crude into the Pacific and is widely considered to have been the mishap which gave birth to the modern day environmental movement.
(That photo above was taken on the way to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel in 2005.)
Dear Vera, Chuck, and Dave:The answer is, no. Like other Tufted Titmice, we are much too shy to be famous!
Your names sound vaguely familiar. Are you famous?
Your friend, Rusty Blackbird.