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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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PIGEONS. The City Council at its July 6, 1880 meeting approved to destruction of all the pigeons in the city and the issue was turned over to the city marshal. (1) This action led to the following response from the writers of the Dubuque Herald: (2)

              This is a legitimate "fly" item. The city marshal has been
              instructed by a resolution of the city council to enforce
              the ordinance in relation to pigeons, which means he is
              presented with an excellent opportunity to become a crack
              pigeon shootist. If he ain't able to pick the eyes out of
              a pigeon on sight before the summer is over we think he has
              missed his aim for one season at least.
                      Shoot now boys, shoot with care,
                      Shoot tame pigeons everywhere,
                      Go for 'em sharp, it's just the thing,
                      Take 'em sitting, or on the wing.
                      Shy sticks and stones at their head,
                      For the city council says they must be dead.

Sportsmen in the late 1800s used live birds in competitive shooting. An article published the Dubuque Herald in 1900 linked the rise in the number of shooting clubs to "a genius from Illinois" who discovered that glass balls could be used "so that spectators might see pieces of material fly." Clubs were no longer forced to trap pigeons. (3)

The reputation of pigeons rose around 1905 as stories of them being used to carry messages appeared in the news. In 1906 an article in the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald was entitled "Some of the Many Things Your Young Folks Want to Know" and addressed the subject of pigeons-raising. (4) Carrier pigeon races were held in the 1920s. In 1927 a flight between Davenport and Platteville, Wisconsin was struck by a heavy storm just after the race began. "Birds valued at thousands of dollars were lost by owners." Some began disoriented and took up residence in Dubuque. (5)

Special breeds of pigeons including Stassart, Bircoux, Sion and Souffle found use during WORLD WAR I and WORLD WAR II as message carriers. Flying at nearly 1,000 yards per minute, a pigeon could be trained to keep up that pace for more than 500 miles. Fort Sam Houston was the training center for these pigeons during World War II. Patriotic pigeon fanciers loaned their birds to the military for breeding purposes after which the birds were returned. Beginning at the age of 28 days, the birds were disciplined and reached their peak performance at the age of three. (6)

Faced with the accumulation of pigeon droppings that threatened the roof of the ORPHEUM, FIVE FLAGS CIVIC CENTER committee members approved the expenditure of $20 in 1974 to purchase rubber snakes to scare off the birds. The committee had considered the purchase of barbed wire until informed that rubber snakes had worked effectively in other cities at much less cost. (7)

Rubber snakes were considered but then rejected by members of the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors in 1981. Among the other rejected proposals for keeping pigeons off the roof of the DUBUQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSE were poison perches at a cost of $5,025, spreading glue over the roof at a cost of $18,000, and catching the birds in traps and charging the county ten cents per bird. It was finally agreed that paper owls were the best idea at a cost of $3.95 each. (8)



1. "City Council," Dubuque Herald, July 7, 1880, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18800707&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, July 8, 1880, p. 4. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18800708&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "Trap Shooting is a Sport That is with Us," The Dubuque Herald, July 15, 1900, p. 14

4. "Some of the Many Things Your Young Folks Want to Know"," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, September 16, 1906, p. 21

5. "Stranded Carrier Pigeons Are Making Home in Dubuque," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, May 17, 1927, p. 3

6. "Pigeons Still Assist Army," Telegraph-Herald, May 26 1942, p. 6

7. "Five Flags' Pigeons Problematic," Telegraph-Herald, December 19, 1974, p. 1

8. Woods, Jeff, "County Chooses Scare Tactic for Pigeons," Telegraph Herald, February 3, 1981, p. 2