This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The domestic or house pigeons have sprung from the Rock Dove or Rock Pigeon (Columba livia). It builds in the holes and crevices of rocks, its food consisting of grains. It is, however, also said to feed on snails, etc. The house pigeons, tumblers, fantails, carriers and jacobins are the chief varieties of the Rock Pigeon, and are well known as forming some of the most elegant of domesticated birds, and were employed by Darwin in his Origin of Species and his Animals under Domestication to illustrate many points involved in his theory of " descent by natural selection." The Blue Rock Pigeon is that generally kept for profit and marketing in farmer's dovecotes. This practice dates from the fifth Egyptian dynasty, about 3,000 B.C. In the time of the Romans, according to Pliny, immense prices were given for pigeons, "nay, they are come to this pass, that they can reckon up their pedigree and race." About the year 1600, pigeons were so valued by Akber Khan in India, that never less than 20,000 pigeons were taken with the court. "The monarchs of Iran and Turan sent him some very rare birds, and," continues the courtly historian, "His Majesty by crossing the breeds, which method was never practised before, has improved them astonishingly." The Dutch, about this same period, were as eager about pigeons as were the old Romans.
At the present time pigeons are less kept for profit than in former times, particularly by farmers, but the rage for the Carrier Pigeon has attained to little short of a mania. The Common Carrier Pigeon is a large bird with long wings, large tuberculated cere, and with a circle of naked red skin round the eyes. The practice of sending letters by pigeons belongs principally to eastern countries. The first pigeon used as a messenger some consider to be that which Noah sent from the ark, and which returned with the leaf of the olive. In the province of Irak (that is Chaldaea, Babylonia and Assyria), white pigeons are trained with least difficulty.
An actual post system, in which pigeons were the messengers, was established by the Sultan Noureddin Mahmood, who died in 1174. It was improved and extended by the Caliph Ahmed Alraser Lidiv-Allah, of Bagdad, who died in 1225. This flying post lasted till 1258, when Bagdad fell into the hands of the Mongols, and was destroyed by them. There were similar posts in Egypt in 1450. The use of pigeons as messengers, however, was not confined to the nations of the East. Decius Brutus, according to the Elder Pliny's account, sent despatches from Modena by pigeons, and in modern times they were made use of during the Dutch war by the inhabitants of Haarlem when besieged in 1573, and at Leyden in 1574, and by the besieged residents in Paris during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1.
The Carrier Pigeon is now used extensively by fanciers for what may be termed sporting purposes, the object being to attain the most striking development of the "homing" faculty, and accomplishing of the longest distances with greatest speed. The "fancy" varieties are named from their particular characteristics: the pouters from their inflated crops; the fantails from their expanded tail, consisting of no less than thirty-six feathers, the jacobins from the presence of a ruff or hood of feathers on the neck and head, and the tumblers from their habit of tumbling over in the air whilst flying.
The domestic pigeons are noted for their "love of home," and when regularly and abundantly fed they are not liable to fly abroad for sustenance, and this entirely prevents those frequent losses, from straying and by robbery, to which those who allow their pigeons to pilfer their neighbour's produce are so constantly subject. Pigeons, as a rule, do no harm in gardens, and in cornfields, though under pressing circumstances of hunger they will visit newly sown corn and pluck it up, also corn in sheaf, and even feed on tops of brassicas. The worst part of this plundering is that of the "pigeon clubs" being able to penalize those taking repressive measures against the depredating pigeons, and the owners of these not responsible for negligence in feeding and in keeping them at home.