A pigeon who decided to use the red poppies from the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier to build her nest has caught the world’s attention. The bird made her nest from the red flowers in the alcove of a stained glass window at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The window depicts a wounded soldier.
Staff at the war memorial had noticed the fresh poppies they had been placing around the tomb for Remembrance Day (Armistice Day) had been disappearing and wondered who had been taking them.
“Each day the pigeon has been flying down…to steal poppies, carefully crafting a nest in the lead-up to Remembrance Day in an alcove above the stained-glass window of a wounded Australian soldier,” reads the website for the Australian War Memorial.
The pigeon surrounded herself with the red poppies – an image that juxtaposes death and rebirth. The pigeon’s appearance is also a reminder of the connection between pigeons and soldiers in times of war and their valuable contribution to saving lives.
“Pigeons have been in use in both war and civilian life for centuries,” historian Dr Meleah Hampton explained. “Whenever we talk about animals in war, they are fulfilling a purpose or performing a task that people can’t do easily on their own… we use pigeons as an answer to our problems with communication.”
Homing pigeons carried out dangerous missions as military messengers. They were frequently used during World War I and also used in World War II. Dr. Hampton revealed that pigeons were used by Australian soldiers in the Pacific because of the limitations of wireless radio technology of the time. Pigeons proved more reliable than the radios, which didn’t work well in the mountainous terrain and high humidity.
Pigeons were also used for aerial reconnaissance, carrying cameras to take photos of enemy areas. However, pigeons were far less frequently employed for this task. War pigeons saved many lives on the battlefield. One pigeon named Cher Ami lost a foot and an eye while delivering a message that ended up saving a large group of American infantrymen surrounded by the enemy in World War I.