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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

doves and pigeons ........... and the 'spy pigeon' from Pakistan !!

Birds have been used since time immemorial for delivering messages – especially Pigeons.  Pigeons are commonly found on Temples – in the recent few years,  at  the famous Vivekanandar House or to be precise opposite the Lady Willington teachers’ training institution, one can observe thousands of them assembling in the morning.

Pigeons and doves constitute the bird ‘clade Columbidae’  that include some 310 species.  In general the terms "dove" and "pigeon" are used somewhat interchangeably. In ornithological practice, there is a tendency for "dove" to be used for smaller species and "pigeon" for larger ones. Pigeons and doves are stout-bodied birds with short necks, and have short slender bills. The species commonly referred to just as "pigeon" is the Feral Rock Pigeon, common in many cities.  They lay one or two eggs, and both parents care for the young, which leave the nest after 7 to 28 days.  Trained   domestic pigeons are able to return to the home loft if released at a location that they have never visited before and that may be hundreds of kilometres away.  A special breed, called homing pigeons has been developed through selective breeding to carry messages and members of this variety of pigeon are still being used in the sport of pigeon racing and the white release dove ceremony. The ability a pigeon to return home from a strange location necessitates two sorts of information. The first, called "map sense" is their geographic location. The second, "compass sense" is the bearing they need to fly from their new location in order to reach their home.  There are some competitions for the Pigeons testing the duration of their flight as also the distance that they travel back home.

The term ‘Stool pigeon’ means – a  decoy bird, or a police informer, or criminal's look-out or decoy. Then there is perhaps ‘spy pigeon’ there too !

With the strained relations with thy neighbour, even an avian is not above suspicion. Security agencies are in a flutter over a pigeon with “Pakistani markings” that was “caught” on the border in Pathankot district of Punjab on Wednesday. The “suspect”, now in police custody, was nabbed by villagers in the Bamial sector of Pathankot district, which is just a few kilometres away from the Pakistan border.  The fact that the avian 'intruder' bore a stamped message and had a wire-like object on its body made the security agencies take a closer look at its flight into India. The bird had “Shakargarh” and “Narowal” written on its body in English, along with some numbers and words in Urdu. Shakargarh tehsil is a sub-divison of Narowal district in Pakistan’s Punjab province close to the border. The numbers reportedly appeared to be that of a landline telephone in Pakistan's Narowal district. 

Indian Express and other news agencies report that the bird landed at the mud and brick house of barber Ramesh Chandra in Manwal village, 4km from Pakistan border, around 6.30pm on Wednesday. The suspicions of the barber's 14-year-old son were aroused by the Urdu markings, and he went to the nearest police post around 9pm with the "spy bird". His arrival there with the bird perched on a wire mesh along with Chandra's chicken created a stir.  The cops then took the bird to a veterinary hospital in Pathankot for an X-ray. This did not throw up any clues.

The bird from Pakistan getting spotted here is still stated as a rare occurrence. Though there have been spies and peoples crossing the border illegally, perhaps avians are not yet in to that !!    Reports state that the Cops at Bamiyal police post made a diary entry terming the bird as a "suspected spy", and sent a communication to BSF and IB. The bird was found on a day when an inter-state meeting on security was being held among officials of Punjab Police, Indian Army as well as those from Kathua and Jammu districts.
Though nothing suspicious has been found as yet,   the agencies are not taking any chances and it is believed that the bird could have been used to send across a message or a SIM card to a contact across the border.

It is stated that when World War II broke out, Britain was gripped by “Fifth Column Neurosis,” an almost universal belief that the country was riddled with enemy spies, not all of them human.  Those times pigeons were suspect, since it was widely believed that enemy agents had secret caches of homing pigeons around the country that they used to send messages back to Germany.  Pigeon paranoia was actually a logical response. By some weird accounts thousands of pigeons flew missions in World War I, including the heroic Cher Ami, a Black Check cock carrier pigeon, part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France. Cher Ami delivered 12 important messages within the American sector at Verdun. On his last mission, in Oct 1918, he was shot through the breast and leg, but still managed to deliver his message—which saved 194 troops of Major Charles S. Whittlesey’s “Lost Battalion.”

 “Animal-based espionage and sabotage was all the rage among Allied plotters,” – it is stated.  Pigeons are still useful in the modern age.  Criminals were found to be using carrier pigeons to smuggle drugs and mobile phones into a prison in Marilia in Brazil.  Kidnap gangs in Iraq reportedly used pigeons to collect ransom.

..... ~but, don’t look at them with suspicion, the one near you is still a beautiful, innocent little bird.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

29th May 2015.

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