A message would be printed on a slip of paper and attached to the pigeon in a message capsule. Many of the “hero” pigeons of WWI and WWII successfully delivered messages from the frontlines, often flying with wounds and injuries, and saved the lives of countless soldiers. Some of the hero pigeons are on display at the Smithsonian Institute.
Some researchers believe pigeons use the Earth’s magnetic field to map and locate, others believe they follow atmospheric odors and British researchers have shown that they use visual landmarks just like humans do to navigate. Depending on atmospheric conditions, they might use one or a combination of all of these methods. It took several days to home a pigeon so it would know where to return to its loft. For that reason, lofts were usually located at an Army Headquarters because the location was stable. The home loft could also be a moving vehicle during combat operations. Messages were written on thin slips of paper and put into aluminum tubes attached to the bird’s leg. Secret messages were cryptographed. Pigeoneers would then transmit messages by telephone.
Note: Come check out our booth at APG’s Armed Forces Day event on May 16th, 2013 – military and civilians welcome!