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What is Pigeon Post?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

By DentalFloss — On Oct 17, 2011

I know pigeons are seen as stupid creatures, but the carrier pigeon proves that this at least wasn't always so. I know we don't need pigeon post anymore, but I wonder if there is anything else useful that pigeons can be trained to do.

By hyrax53 — On Oct 16, 2011

@drtroubles- I love the idea of sending someone I loved a letter by carrier pigeon! Imagine the look on the person's face. If I had the chance to do that, I would- I wonder if there are any in my area. I will have to check.

By drtroubles — On Oct 16, 2011

@lonelygod - If you are interesting in training carrier pigeons you should check your local area for meetup groups that are pigeon enthusiasts. My town is pretty small and we have a group that raises pigeons and trains them to deliver letters.

One of the neatest things they do is offer a romantic letter delivery service. They can train a pigeon to drop off a letter for your loved one. It is pretty impressive.

As far as whether or not it is actually difficult to train a pigeon, I think that depends on the bird. They all have different personalities.

By lonelygod — On Oct 15, 2011

I would love if I could have a letter delivered by pigeon post. It is such a novel idea. It actually reminds me a lot of the owl post in Harry Potter. Though I am sure that is where J.K.Rowling got her idea for it.

Does anyone know if training a pigeon to deliver letters is hard or not?

I have been looking for a really unique hobby and have seen some pigeon for sale notices in our local newspaper. I am sure the pigeons are probably for squab, but I would prefer to keep a pigeon as a pet and put it to work.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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