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Solving a Century-old Pigeon Mystery

The most famous pigeon ever was a bird named Cher Ami. The homing pigeon worked for the US Army Signal Corps during World War I and was mentioned in the Neatorama article The Lost Battalion. Cher Ami was a genuine war hero.

In the fourth year of World War I on October 4, 1918, as the story goes, Cher Ami, an English-bred bird, was the last available pigeon for the American doughboys of the Lost Battalion, cut off and surrounded by German troops. On the afternoon of the fourth, the Americans found themselves being shelled by their own artillery. The commander of the Lost Battalion, Major Charles W. Whittlesey, hurriedly wrote a brief message: “We are along the road parallel 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake stop it.” The message was inserted into a holder on Cher Ami’s leg, and the pigeon went aloft amidst a hail of exploding shells and enemy rifle fire. When the pigeon reached its loft behind the front, either a bullet or shell fragment had almost completely severed its right leg and sliced across the bird’s breast. Miraculously the message capsule hung to the tendons of the severed limb. The capsule’s contents revealed the location of the beleaguered Americans and helped contribute to their relief on the night of October 7.

Cher Ami received the best veterinary care available, and even toured the United States, but succumbed to those devastating war wounds the next summer. The pigeon was given a taxidermist's treatment and was displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. But one mystery remained: was Cher Ami a hen or a cock? The military records referred the the pigeon as "she," but the Smithsonian's description gave the bird male pronouns. The different press outlets went with either one when describing Cher Ami's exploits. The taxidermist left no evidence or records of the bird's sex. More than a hundred years later, the Smithsonian leveraged the technology of DNA analysis to find out who was right, a story you can read at The National Museum of American History. -via Smithsonian

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