Hey friend! Welcome back to another post! Today, we are talking about the American Pigeon Museum located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Did you know that 32 pigeons received the Dickin Medal of Honor during World War II? Keep reading to learn more about this award and the museum that explains the history and importance of pigeons. Let’s get started!
*All photos were taken at the American Pigeon Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The American Homing Pigeon Institute (AHPI) was founded in 1973 as a way to honor pigeons and their legacy. It would later be renamed the American Pigeon Museum and Library (APM&L). The land the museum sits on was purchased in 1993. A new building was built on the property in 2013 to house the museum – it’s a larger building which has allowed more of the collection to be placed on display. The collection is pretty impressive if you ask me!
Pigeon History Around the World
The first recorded image of a pigeon dates back to 3000 BC in Iraq – that’s a long time ago! Fast forward a few years to 1600 AD and pigeons were being transported to other countries. In 1606, French settlers brought the Rock Dove to Port Royal, Nova Scotia introducing the bird to the New World. (1600-1900 AD Information Sign in the Museum) Fast forward another 2 centuries and there are several recordings of pigeons in the nineteenth century.
Pigeons in War
The War History exhibit was my favorite exhibit at this museum. It was really interesting to see how pigeons were used in various wars. The World War II section explained how pigeons were used to transport messages. Pigeons have also been used by the Coast Guard to deliver messages!
World War I
World War I began in 1914 and the United States joined the war in April 1917. By July 1917, General John J. Pershing was sending cablegrams asking for two pigeon specialists and 12 enlisted experts. He also wanted to purchase 500 pairs of Homing Pigeons for breeding. He asked for an additional 1,000 pigeons that had been hatched in that year to be sent to the American Army in France. The pigeons were successful in delivering their messages 95% of the time! “The most famous pigeons used by the Allied Forces at this time were The Mocker, President Wilson, Spike, Big Tom, Colonel’s Lady, Kaiser, and Cher Ami to name a few.” (World War I Information Sign in the Museum)
World War II
Pigeons were once again used in World War II. Read the stories of Otto Meyer and Maria Dickin to learn more about their roles with the pigeons in the war effort.
Otto Meyer (1905-1991) was an US Army Major during World War II. He was put in charge of the US Army’s world-wide pigeon breeding and training program. Meyer was soon promoted to Commander of the US Army Pigeon Service Agency. He oversaw 3,000 soldiers and 54,000 pigeons!
His favorite pigeon was named Kaiser who lived to be 32 years old. Kaiser served in both World War I and World War II. G.I. Joe was another one of Meyer’s pigeons. He received the Dickin Medal of Honor for saving 1,000 Allied troops by delivering a message in time for them to move.
Otto Meyer continued working with pigeons after WWII. He was the civilian technical advisor of the Signal Corps pigeon breeding and training program. (Otto Meyer Information Sign in the Museum)
Maria Dickin & the Dickin Medal of Honor
Maria Dickin (Sept. 22, 1870 – Jan. 3, 1951) was upset after witnessing the plight of sick animals in East London during World War II. She established the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA). Later, she created the Dickin Medal to recognize the service of animals during WWII. Dickin said the animals had to have demonstrated “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units.” (Maria Dickin Case in the Museum)
From 1943-1949, 54 Dickin Medals were awarded to animals for their service in WWII. Among the recipients were 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, 3 horses, and 1 cat. The pigeons received the award for delivering messages!
Pigeon racing began around 1875 in the United States and many people still participate today. The sport is especially popular in New York and New Jersey, but it must be noted that pigeon racing takes place in multiple countries around the world.
Pigeon racing is a sport where Racing Homer pigeons are taken to a certain location and then they are released to return home. They will travel 60-600 miles in a given race. The pigeons are specifically trained for these kind of races. The judges measure the bird’s rate of travel to determine the winner. In modern races the pigeons are tracked using a RFID tag to record arrival time. In traditional races, the pigeons were labeled with a rubber ring with an identification number and a special racing clock was utilized. The bird’s rubber ring was placed in the clock to signify when it arrived at the end of the race. “From this timestamp an average speed is measured and a winner of the race can be found.” (Pigeon Racing Information Plaque in the Museum)
How do you tell what kind of pigeon it is that you’re looking at? The Homing & Fancy Pigeon exhibit illustrates the differences between the two breeds of pigeons. To view the “Breeds of Pigeons” Gallery – CLICK HERE!
So, I know I talked about my favorite exhibit earlier in this post, but I have to highlight another awesome feature of this museum. There are REAL, LIVING pigeons in the museum. The pigeons pictured below are kept outside behind the museum and you have to go out the back doors to have access. There were also pigeons inside the museum in a bird cage by the front desk. I liked being able to see the different types of pigeons and their multi-colored feather patterns.
GRAPHIC PHOTO WARNING FOR GALLERY BELOW: Pictured in this gallery are images of pigeon dissections, a pigeon skeleton, feather diagram, and a real preserved pigeon. If you don’t want to see a preserved pigeon then don’t scroll through the gallery below – it is the last picture (#6) in the gallery. The pigeon skeleton photos are (#4) and (#5).
Passenger Pigeons – A Tragic Ending
The Passenger Pigeon is a tragic example of what can happen when species are not taken care of properly. The Passenger Pigeons suffered from habitat loss and hunting. “The last confirmed sighting of wild passenger pigeons occurred at Laurel, Indiana on April 3, 1902, Thirty years earlier, it had been the most abundant bird on the continent. But hunting wiped out the wild flocks by the 1890s, and the few wild survivors couldn’t reestablish the communal lifestyle they needed to survive.” (Going, Going, Gone Information Plaque in the Museum) Some scientists estimate that 3-5 billion passenger pigeons may have been alive when Europeans initially came to America.
Martha – the last Passenger Pigeon in captivity – died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914 at 1 pm at the age of 29. The Cincinnati Zoo donated her body to the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian mounted the bird and placed her on display.
The American Pigeon Museum has a dedicated space for a research library. There are lots of different books and records you can look at. You can walk right into the space without making an appointment.
The American Pigeon Museum and Library also has a cool section on their website with articles about pigeons and their history. I have linked it HERE!
The American Pigeon Museum was a cool museum to visit! I didn’t really know a lot about the history of pigeons before visiting the museum and I definitely learned a lot on this trip. I hope you’ll go check this museum out and see the pigeons!
Happy traveling! I’ll talk to ya soon! 🙂
TRAVEL TIP: This museum is super close to a lot of other museums in OKC! Make sure to check out the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Science Museum, OKC Zoo, Oklahoma State Firefighters Museum, and more in the area!
2300 N.E. 63rd St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73111
TRAVEL TIP: Museum admission is free!
Information Signs in the Museum Galleries – specific signs labeled within the post when used