Pigeon racing was my dad’s main hobby, so let me tell you from experience that mum in this photo is what he would call a ‘blue checker’.
One sad day during the second world war two air force men arrived at our house with a wicker pigeon basket and a War Office letter authorising the removal of all dad’s pigeons for subsequent use as messenger birds. I tell you the truth, strange though it sounds. My dad was too old to be called up for war service but not his precious pigeons.
Anyway, almost in tears he pleaded with the two airmen to good effect and so they left with only half the birds saying merely that they reserved the right to collect more later, but they didn’t.
However, some time later one of the now national service pigeons arrived back at the loft he was born in with some message capsule attached to one leg. It seems that this bird has resisted being reorientated to the carrier pigeon loft near Bletchley about twenty miles north of our house and when released had simply gone absent without leave and flew back home.
Dad immediately took both pigeon with message still attached down to our local police station. A few days later a police constable arrived at our house with the “deserter “pigeon in a small cardboard box and left him. It seems this bird was no longer considered reliable enough to be entrusted with work of national importance. Dad told and retold that story for the rest of his life.
No electronic communications around the early 1940′s which is why pigeons would be taken aboard planes or ships going on missions and released if necessary. Those pigeons which made it back had the well known ‘homing instinct’ which has been the basis of pigeon racing for centuries, as I’m sure you all know. Many pigeons must have died or at best joined a feral population somewhere, though I would imagine some would be subsequently recaptured if they had mesages still attached. Pride!
One last thing, a wartime carrier pigeon was awarded a special medal, having returned with its message although carrying a lot of lead shot in its body and with half its feathers missing. This was reported in a national newpaper at the time.
It’s decades since I read the likely scenario of a flock of pigeons driven out to sea by an Indian Oceon storm but finding a lucky refuge on some remote island. Then, so it goes, they were doubly lucky when nothing turned up to eat them. Like pigeons do, they bred. Unfortunately most of the young fledglings of the next generation also found themselves blown out to sea. However as in every society there were those lucky enough to be born lazy and these just stayed on the ground eating and getting fat. Subsequently further generations of lazy pigeons became even too lazy to grow into proper pigeons and succeeding generationsd gradually evilvolved into a juvenile form which nevertheles could still breed. Anyway they has plenty of time on their hands (I mean stumpy vestigal wings) Then passing sailors of the sixteenth century christened this weird and wonderful creature the DODO.
Sadly, various hungry crews seized on this bonanza of stupid ‘squabs’ immediately cooking some and salting down the rest for the journey home – until that is they discovered this fat free take away tasted like sh..! Consequently the modern expression “Dead as a dodo” which is likely to be expanded in the future to, for example, “dead as the wolf”? or deas as just about anything else we exterminate.
A few dodos had their portraits painted and at least a couple got stuffed (in a sense the whole species got stuffed)and placed in museums. It’s sadly ironic that most talented high school kids today could draw you a picture of a dodo. So what is next for the musem…?
So that is the scientific word for it, retrieverman, pedomorphic. I recall also then the pedomorphic salamander called the axolotl (if I’ve spelled that correctly) I believe this was a river cave dwelling amphibian which also decided not to grow up. When I was very young I tended to hang around pet shops and you could then buy these axolotls looking like large late stage tadpoles with strange external breathing apparatus, and again like the dodo they could breed in that juvenile form. Some were sold in the wild green colouration and some had been bred as albinos I recall. Maybe they are still sold in the pet trade?
I read that as an experiment some scientist had gradually reduced the water level in an axolotl’s tank until the animal must have thought it was time to catch up with proper evolution again and promptly turned into an adult land living salamander – of a known salamander species. This is all from memory so I may have got some of it wrong, correct me anyone.
The axolotl species has the dubious distinction of being found only in the lakes in the Valley of Mexico, where Mexico City is located. One of the lakes where it was found has since been drained, and the only other lake where it is found, Lake Xochimilco, has been reduced to nothing more than a series of canals.
It’s one of the weird things. Here, we have found an unusual endemic species, but it just so happens to be found where there is a huge population center, which continues to grow. The axolotl is critically endangered in the wild.
This isn’t the only endemic urban species of amphibian. There was a recent discovery of a new species of leopard frog that is only found in New York.