Three pigeons were awarded a military medal in 1943.

  • WWII Carrier Pigeon
WWII Carrier Pigeon
Photo credit: Hoberman Publishing/ Alamy Stock Photo

Pigeons have always gotten a bad rap, especially when you consider the disparity between their reputation and that of the dove — which is actually just a pigeon with a better PR team. In addition to being much more intelligent than you may have realized, some members of the Columbidae bird family are even war heroes. This includes the three pigeons who were awarded a military medal in 1943, all of whom served in the U.K.’s Royal Air Force. White Vision, Winkie, and Tyke were the inaugural recipients of the Dickin Medal, which was created by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) to honor animals who aided Britain’s efforts in World War II; the carrier pigeons delivered lifesaving messages that led to the rescue of ditched aircrews.

All three decorated pigeons traveled great distances to complete their duty, with Winkie flying some 120 miles in order to alert the RAF Leuchars air base of his handlers’ predicament. The flight crews were located within 15 minutes, and all of them were saved. The birds’ medals, meanwhile, included this citation: “for delivering a message under exceptionally difficult conditions and so contributing to the rescue of an Air Crew while serving with the RAF.” In the 80 years since the Dickin Medal was created, a total of 32 messenger pigeons have received the medal alongside as many as 38 dogs, four horses, and one cat. The bronze medallion is inscribed with the words “for gallantry” and “we also serve.”

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