War and peace and pigeons: Miranda

Miranda, who is gentle and friendly, sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park. Photo by Faceboy

Miranda, who is gentle and friendly, sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park. Photo by Faceboy

BY FACEBOY | On Oct. 3, 1918, during World War I, more than 500 men of the 77th Infantry Division were trapped behind enemy lines in France’s Forest of Argonne. By the next day, now also under friendly fire, only about 200 of these predominately New York City-raised soldiers remained accounted for.

Their final hope for survival lay in the wings of a carrier pigeon named Cher Ami. Major Charles Whittlesey attached a silver canister to Cher Ami’s leg with a note that simply read, “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it,” and sent her on her mission.

The Germans saw her and opened fire. Yet despite being blinded in one eye and struck in her breast, and with one leg hanging by just a tendon, Cher Ami completed her mission and the men were saved.

Due to the recent birdnappings in Washington Square Park reported in The Villager and elsewhere, it seems time for a NYCritters article on these feathered friends of ours.

Miranda is, according to bird enthusiasts Tina Trachtenberg and Larry Reddick, the friendliest pigeon in Washington Square Park.

“People come to the park just to see her, because she’s so gentle and so personable,” said Trachtenberg. “You can hold her and she’s, like, looking at you and hanging out with you. She’s an amazing bird.”

“She likes to land on kids’ heads,” said Reddick.

“Yes, I guess she loves kids,” Trachtenberg concurred.

For the kids’ perspective, NYCritters interviewed 8-year-old Violet Hall, who is also your writer’s niece. To make sure we were speaking about the same critter, we first asked if Miranda is a monkey.

“She’s a pigeon,” Hall assured. “I met her in Washington Square Park and she’s very nice and gentle. When she lands on you, her claws don’t dig into you and she just comes up to everybody. It kind of feels like something light landing on you.”

Speaking of pigeons generally, Hall added, “They like when you hold food in your hand, and then they land on you and they like to be alone. When they’re on someone or if they’re getting fed, they don’t want other pigeons to come, and they’ll kind of hit them with their wing.”

When asked what myths she would most like to dispel, Trachtenberg responded, “that they carry diseases. This was a myth made up by the pest control people and is simply no true,” she declared.

Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre medal with a palm Oak Leaf Cluster for her heroic service. She died of her wounds on June 13, 1919, and was preserved and is on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

As for Miranda, she can be visited most afternoons near the Holley monument in Washington Square Park.

 

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