Pigeon post is mail which is carried by pigeons or other birds. The term is used both to refer to physical items of mail, and to the system used to transport them. While this type of postal system is largely obsolete today, it was at one point a very trendy method of carrying mail. Although the use of pigeons for carrying mail was never widespread, friends would sometimes send mail by pigeon, as would people in the financial industry who wanted to transmit news reasonably quickly.
The practice of using pigeons and birds to carry mail is ancient. The Greeks and Romans both used pigeon post to convey information, and many pigeons worked in military service, carrying messages with troop orders and other military material from place to place. In addition to pigeons, birds of prey were sometimes used for messages.
At various periods in history, the popularity of pigeon post waxed and waned. Successful communication during sieges and prolonged military campaigns sometimes led to a resurgence of interest, for example, with many governments maintaining fleets of messenger birds to carry critical information for the state through the 1800s. Some post offices also retained a pigeon mail service at one time, and it was used to communicate between financial institutions with information about stock prices and other news of interest.
One pigeon even received military decorations during the First World War after being shot down with a message. The nameless bird survived long enough to transport the message to its end destination, receiving the Legion of Honor for his service. Most “employees” of the pigeon post were not quite so heroic.
Pigeon post had some serious drawbacks, of course. Generally, people used birds which were trained to return to a specific spot, so in order to send a message, someone had to have the right bird on hand. The birds were vulnerable to being blown off-course or attacked by predators, with some authorities attaching bells to their birds to frighten off would-be snackers. Using birds of prey to carry mail sometimes addressed this issue, although some birds of prey took advantage of their freedom to disappear without delivering their messages.
In a way, the pigeon post could be considered the first form of airmail. Pigeons are still used to carry messages in some remote regions of the world where other postal options are not available, and pigeon enthusiasts also keep birds for the purpose of sending messages to other enthusiasts, keeping this ancient tradition alive.