Rock Dove-ster: An Afternoon at the American Pigeon Museum and Library

A fortnight ago, as my ladyfriend and I were traveling to Spencer to give the puppy I had recently adopted some vital vaccinations, driving down a barren NE 63rd, off to the side of the road we passed by a rather large red-bricked building that proclaimed it was the American Pigeon Museum. Like a bird that is easily spooked by its own shadow, I have to say that I was quite surprised.

Not only was I taken aback that this city is home to such a monument of avian ingenuity, but because, especially in backwoods Oklahoma, the word “museum” usually means an elderly gentleman showcasing his rusty junk around a typically dilapidated shack. But not here—this looked like a most professional museum to visit.

After a week of peckish wonder, last Saturday we decided to stop by the museum, located at 2300 NE 63rd. Seemingly well-funded, the admission was free which, if I’m being honest, was even more of a selling point; I mean, what if it wasn’t very good and I ended up wasting ten bucks on a couple of badly Xeroxed photos and dirty birdy skeletons found in the woods?

Of course, I was wrong, because the American Pigeon Museum is truly one of Oklahoma City’s hidden gems—very hidden—one that could reasonably gratify a family desperate for extracurricular entertainment with all the historical feats and modern wonders of our misbegotten feathered friends on display for all to learn and enjoy.

Often rudely referred to as a “rat with wings,” after spending a couple of hours in the museum, you’ll quickly learn just how inappropriate that name is; the pigeon is known in far more educated circles as the rock dove or bird of peace, with well over a thousand different species flying high on almost every continent—and it’s impossible not to fall in love with this resilient animal.

The “Library” portion of the museum’s name is due to their massive collection of books, magazine and educational papers about the famed bird, some dating back to the 1800s. As I went through a few collected tomes dedicated to the pigeon, a faux-sportsman’s respect began to outwardly emerge, especially when you learned about the long and lugubrious history of pigeon racing.

Started in 1973 by the American Homing Pigeon Institute in an effort to increase awareness of this sport, the Museum’s mission statement dutifully worked because I went in knowing nothing and left with a rudimentary knowledge of pigeon racing as, mostly through a film being shown in their small theater, I was educated and entertained about the gaming aspect of these birds, although I’ll probably never take it up myself.

But perhaps the most interesting story is how these valiant birds helped various military forces win different wars by delivering secret messages and other acts of winged espionage. The museum does a thorough job of exploring pigeon-based efforts in these battles, so the next time you see these typically pacifist pigeons in the park, stand up and salute or, even better, fire off some shots in the air to pay well-deserved tribute to these veterans.

We noticed that towards the back of the museum there were a pair of doors leading to a porch-like setting. In that area, out of the searing sun, were give-or-take twenty different varieties of pigeon, from the archetypical gray we all know and love to far more fanciful beasts, some with dazzling corkscrew plumage and some with fanciful leg-based accouterments, all looking like they were headed out for an evening of dinner and dancing in the parking lot of a local restaurant.

Almost out the door and on the way home, we were looking over the gift-shop—yes, there is a gift-shop—and on the counter was a large glass vase filled with monetary donations. For an afternoon that I won’t forget anytime soon, I reached into my pocket for a couple of dollar bills but, sadly, I had no cash like I thought I did. We quietly slinked out as some random birds started squawking at us in the parking lot.

Listen: the donation’s in the mail, I promise…just don’t send a crack team of militaristic pigeons to my house to rough me up.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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11 Responses

  1. “rusty junk” and “dirty birds”
    <could this be a name for my new band…?

  2. Jim Inhofe and his rich, gun-toting buddies like to meet up to slaughter pigeons that were caged and just released for the shooters’ bloody target practice. Clay skeet wouldn’t be good enough for them. Those guys likely would have happily finished off the last of the American passenger pigeons with their firearms. Because happiness is a warm gun, or so I hear.

    Why would anyone join in on a mindless slaughter like that? I have no idea. Perhaps they believe that it makes their male appendages larger?

    1. Were the Women that attended hoping for the same thing?

      1. Nope. Just there for the rusty junk

      2. Yes. For their husbands.

    2. Why would so many give your statement a thumbs down?
      I suppose they think slaughtering tame caged pigeons is fine sport as would be sending the last passenger pigeon into extinction.
      But that is like a bunch of rich guys. They didn’t like the required rules of fair chase hunts or the taboo of canned hunts going in the Boone & Crockett record book so they started Safari Club International that threw out all the pesky fair chase rules, never met an extractive industry too dirty not to support & as far as climate change…what climate change? Snowball boy gets a lot of money from them & the trump boys are members. I need not say anymore.

  3. So glad I saw your article!!
    Jim Inhofe (pigeon killer) can rot in hell!
    As for the APM, it’s now on my list of things to do. 🙂
    My dad and I raised fantail pigeons when I was a little girl, and it brought us such joy.
    My school even let me bring my prized pigeon (Peeper) to show and tell one day.
    My teacher and classmates loved him.
    Ahh, the memories.
    Thanks again Louis. 🙂

  4. Interesting that they would have such a museum. I assume it’s ran by volunteers
    and that donations go toward paying the overhead expenses.

    I’ll never forget seeing the exotic fowl one year at the State Fair barnyard, as I would
    have never guessed there are so many species of birds.

    Louis has a special flair for writing that draws you into whatever the subject matter.

  5. Cher Ami: The Pigeon that Saved the Lost Battalion

    “Cher Ami was hit in the chest soon after takeoff, as American soldiers watched in horror as their last hope hit the ground. Against all odds though, Cher Ami got up again! Wounded but still alive, the little bird took flight again, charging head-on into wave after wave of gunfire. By the end of the trip, he covered 25 miles in roughly half an hour. He arrived at base heavily wounded, but alive. croix de gurre
    The Croix de Guerre with Palm military decoration of France, awarded to Cher Ami.
    Army medics were able to save Cher Ami’s life, but his right leg was barely attached to his body and he was blind in one eye. However, because of Cher Ami’s delivery, the artillery stopped and took up new firing coordinates away from American lines. The next day, shells started to fall on German positions, relieving pressure on the bloodied 77th and the battle turned in America’s favor. On October 8th, one hundred and ninety-four men made it back to the American lines thanks to Cher Ami’s sacrifice.

    For his part in saving the 77th Division, Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre, one of France’s highest military honors for his gallantry in the field.”

    1. Thank you for reminding me of that story. When I was a kid, my grandpa & I spent a lot of time together talking about history (also science & politics) & he told me about this little hero bird.
      Reading the story brought back so many memories of him. I miss him.

  6. Several years ago we found a dazed pigeon wandering around our parking lot one morning after a thunderstorm the night before. Spend a couple days trying to nurse it back to health and checking it out. Googled the band on it’s ankle and eventually learned it was from a racing club in Wichita, and had been caught in a storm during a race from Wichita to Austin, IIRC.

    Through emails with the Wichita club it was determined we should contact the Pigeon Museum for temporary boarding and to facilitate it’s return to it’s owners. Staff was very nice and took it in quickly and easily.

    Nice and hidden gem in Oklahoma City.

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