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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, November 3, 2004


Pigeon anecdotes are legion

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

While you're resting up from the election, consider an interesting question from reader Alvin Wong: "Where did the zoo pigeons come from?"

Ask an interesting question, and interesting things happen. I've learned a lot about pigeons in Hawai'i while trying to track down those at the zoo.

The best that Wong could come up with about white pigeons at the zoo is that they were brought in by somebody named S.Y. Chun from Canada for the dedication of Kapi'olani Bird Park during the reign of King Kalakaua. If you have better information, let me know.

What surprised me about pigeons is how their reputation has changed. Here's a headline from 1935: "Bird Hero of World War Dies At Schofield Today." It was a carrier pigeon named John Silver who had brought a message from the front lines in World War I through a barrage of bursting shrapnel in time to save the battalion.

A shell burst tore off John Silver's leg and cut into his body but he circled, got his bearings and flew straight to the coop. He lived 17 years and 11 months and was given a hero's funeral by the 7th Signal Company at Schofield Barracks. His body went to the Aeronautical Museum at Wright Field.

That's what people thought of pigeons in those days. Pigeon races became the rage. Five pigeons took off from from Luke Field and flew to the Territorial Fair in Kapahulu in 1927. In 1946, Hawaiian Tuna Packers sent carrier pigeons out on fishing sampans to bring back word of the catch.

In 1948, 200 birds flew in a pigeon race from 'Upolu Point on the Big Island to O'ahu. The following year, a carrier pigeon delivered the first Christmas Seal in Honolulu. Pigeon breeding was a popular hobby.

It wasn't until 1963 that the attitude toward pigeons began turning around. A doctor declared that the famous pigeons of Venice had become a public health menace. A New York columnist wrote that pigeons were making life in the Big Apple intolerable.

Honolulu's pigeons discovered high-rises and began pooping on pedestrians below. They afflicted the Financial Plaza, the Bethel-Pauahi Building and the Alexander Young Hotel. By 1991, officials said the zoo pigeons were the top suspects in Kuhio Beach contamination. The City Council outlawed feeding of the pigeons.

For some people, it was like a ban on smoking. I remember Margie, the Bird Lady of Waikiki, whose claim to fame was feeding the pigeons at Queen's Surf. In the good old days, she was written up by the Visa Travel Magazine, featured in the National Geographic and interviewed on TV as the Florence Nightingale of our feathered friends.

Then the sign went up. Margie said three policemen arrived in squad cars when she tried to feed the pigeons. One officer made her dump the feed into the trash can. Nothing ever stays the same.

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.