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War Pigeons: They Got Their Messages Through

January 19, 2023 -- 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm

Elizabeth Macalaster, author of the book War Pigeons: Winged Couriers in the U.S. Military, 1878-1957, will join us for a presentation tracing the remarkable service of homing pigeons in the U.S. Military. For 75 years, through four wars on four continents, these one-pound birds were the military’s most reliable means of communication, carrying messages in and out of gas, smoke, exploding bombs and gunfire. They flew through jungles, across deserts, mountains and large expanses of ocean. Sometimes they arrived at their lofts nearly dead from wounds or exhaustion, but they got their messages through. Join us and learn about homing pigeons‘ superpowers and their invaluable communications role in every branch of the military. We’ll also be joined by homing pigeon enthusiast Jon Bernhard, who will be bringing several of his birds for you to meet. It’s going to be a very coo evening.

This program will take place in person at the library and will be streamed simultaneously on Zoom, for those wishing to attend virtually. If you plan on attending, please register for this program below so that we can send you a reminder on the day of the event, as well as an optional Zoom link to join us. All are welcome!

Please register by filling out the form below
and we’ll send you a reminder and a link to join us!

About Elizabeth Macalaster

Elizabeth Macalaster started out as a marine biologist. She turned to science journalism and worked for the Department of the Interior and the EPA on water quality issues.  She now writes primarily science and history articles for newspaper and magazines.

So why homing pigeons? While researching a young adult book about women spies,
she came across information about homing pigeons making reconnaissance flights with
cameras strapped to their chests. As the feathered spies flew over the countryside,
the tiny camera snapped photos of the landscape below. The swift and strong little
bird snagged her curiosity, and she began her foray into the world of homing pigeons.

Elizabeth is the author of Reckoning at Harts Pass, an adventure/thriller in which homing pigeons play a covert role. A sequel is underway where Naomi, the protagonist, is being hunted by extreme jihadists and the FBI. Elizabeth lives in Brunswick with her husband, but no pigeons.

About Jon Bernhard

Jon’s career with homing pigeons began in junior high school with a couple of white homing pigeons that he obtained from a lady who had a big farm in Camden. Jon made a make-shift loft for them in his barn in Rockport, where he lived, but they preferred to live high in the rafters. They had babies, and one year he showed them in the Common Ground Fair. He thought that was really special. Another time Jon’s uncle visited and when he left to go home, he took a bird with him to the Portland airport and let it go before his flight. The pigeon flew straight back to Rockport, about 80 miles. Jon was hooked. When Jon got to high school, sports, friends and other distractions led him away from his pigeon hobby.

Now in his mid-forties, Jon has the itch again. There are hundreds and hundreds of different breeds with all kinds of unique capabilities, but Jon’s always been just a homer guy. He has a small loft in his backyard in Westbrook, where currently he raises anywhere between 30 and 40 homing pigeons. In the future he’d like to try racing his birds in an official pigeon race. For now, he trains them regularly, looking to build them up to flights of over 100 miles!

Jon is an occupational therapist assistant and lives in Westbrook with his wife and two sons.


Program made possible by the Thomas Memorial Library Foundation


January 19, 2023
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
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