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Moonraker

Parrots on the Eiffel Tower

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Moonraker

I support the charity Hearing Dogs for the Deaf which has just sent me its Spring magazine; this says that during World War One parrots were kept on the Eiffel Tower because their remarkable hearing detected enemy aircraft approaching. Ever the pedant,I did think that they must have been very clever parrots to have differentiated between enemy and friendly aircraft but I guess they squawked if they detected any aeroplane engine, alerting human observers who would then identify which side's machines they were.

This story is repeated on several websites; is there any truth in it?

Moonraker

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centurion

It would seem that parrots and corvids (ravens, crows etc) have about the same hearing as humans. What they are capable of is being trained to recognise particular complex sounds (but then so are humans!). A dog would be able to detect an airplane long before a parrot or a human (but you don't have to take parrots for walkies) but you might be able to train a parrot to recognise different aircraft if you had decent recordings to do this from (and its unlikely these would be available). On the whole I'd suspect another myth except that some particularly daft things were tried out in WW1

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Moonraker

At the risk of taking my own thread off topic before it's got going I believe that it's said that Britain used blind people to detect enemy aircraft because their hearing was more acute than sighted men and women.

Moonraker

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squirrel

Was a particular species of Parrot quoted?

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CGM

I haven't heard this before but applying my experience of living with parrots ( ;) ) to this idea I'd say there are two ways they could have responded to aircraft flying towards them.

Many parrots (even if of a nervous disposition) don't panic at the noise of loud motors / engines and, in the case of my aviary birds, at the noise from the sort of fireworks which send dogs and cats into blind panic. A common finding is that parrots become excited rather than panic when a vacuum cleaner is running. It has been suggested that it would be the same in the wild, during a thunder storm. (It's obviously best that they don't instinctively panic, and potentially hurt themselves, during thunderstorms.) This theory is partly supported by the way many parrots go and try to bathe in their water bowls when the cleaner is turned on (mine does :lol: )

However, as parrots are prey birds, they do panic if something dark approaches from above them.

So two different responses which could, possibly, have been utilised.

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Moonraker

Was a particular species of Parrot quoted?

Not on any of the websites I checked out; inevitably several used the same wording. (One might say "parroted" one another.)

Moonraker

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centurion

At the risk of taking my own thread off topic before it's got going I believe that it's said that Britain used blind people to detect enemy aircraft because their hearing was more acute than sighted men and women.

Moonraker

Said but I've yet to see any evidence

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centurion

However, as parrots are prey birds, they do panic if something dark approaches from above them.

As do chickens, however its a bit late for a warning when the aircraft are overhead! Moreover apart from the early Taube raids most air attacks on Paris were at night.

Again if the parrots reacted to loud aircraft noises it would also be a bit too late. To be of any use a Parrot would need to be trained to react to an aircraft noise when it was distant. To do this it would need to be able to be able to distinguish between the motor traffic noise in Paris and an approaching aircraft engine. An indication of direction would also be useful. Now I understand that parrots are particularly bright birds (almost as clever as some Premier League footballers) but one wonders if they were able to do this. I don't think one would be able to rely on the birds instinctive reactions.

It appears that some WW2 RAF aircrews' dogs were able to detect the return of the squadron before the aircraft were audible to the human ear. This I can believe as I have had dogs (and cats) that could distinguish the noise of the family car at some distance. [One of the cats will position himself by the front door ready to be let in]. However in such cases there would be an association with the incoming aircraft and the return of their owner (and perhaps a meal!)

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CGM

To be of any use a Parrot would need to be trained to react to an aircraft noise when it was distant.

This would require a succession of enemy planes flying over at suitable intervals while the trainer stood ready to reward a "reaction" and fail to reward "no reaction".

And if differention between friendly and enemy planes was required both types would have to fly over often enough for the lessons to be learnt.

I just can't see it happening, myself.

CGM

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centurion

I can see it now

"This aircraft detector is no good, it is a dead aircraft detector"

"Naw mate its probably just pining for the fiords"

and so on (only in French)

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bruce

I saw it a little differently.....with the parrots being taught to distinguish between different types of aircraft and to cry,

"Alors! C'est les Bosches!"

Bruce

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SiegeGunner

Was a particular species of Parrot quoted?

Undoubtedly Norwegian Blue ...

The advantage gained from 'sound mirror' detectors of the kind that survive to this day at Denge in Kent was of the order of no more than several minutes by comparison with visual detection by observers with high-powered optical aids, but was nevertheless considered worthwhile because it would give patrolling fighters vital additional moments to close in on the approaching threat. Assuming that the Eiffel Tower parrots were also an adjunct to visual observers, any advance warning they might have been able to give would presumably have been equally short but nevertheless valuable. Perhaps other creatures with more acute and discriminating hearing were found unsuitable for service on such an elevated platform. Canaries down mines were no doubt considered a daft idea until they proved their worth.

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Adrian Roberts

If they were going to use parrots or any other creature for this, wouldn't it have been better to position them some miles to the West of Paris, and not necessarily high up?

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peterhogg

How would one determine that the parrot was making an "enemy aircraft are approaching" squawk as opposed to any other squawk that parrots are prone to make?

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centurion

As I said the story seems improbable (but not as outré as that other WW1 myth of seagulls being trained to crap on U boat periscopes) but there were some daft schemes tried using animals as detectors. One involved training seals to dive after submarines (using a British sub with crates of fish tied to its decking) I think the eventual reaction of the seals is probably summed up in a quote from Douglas Adams on a different subject "so long and thanks for all the fish". These was also a scheme to use the tendency for sea birds to congregate over large dark submerged objects for U boat detection - if implemented it would have resulted in many depth charged whales and basking sharks.

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SiegeGunner

If they were going to use parrots or any other creature for this, wouldn't it have been better to position them some miles to the West of Paris, and not necessarily high up?

That is a very good point, Adrian, but perhaps too sensible for this discussion. My father, who was a veterinary surgeon, was a great supporter of Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, and I wouldn't like to think that they had been 'sold a pup' with this story. Perhaps the observers stationed on the Eiffel Tower just happened to be parrot fanciers and took their birds with them for company, as I believe some owners do. Whether they then proved to be any use in assisting the detection of German aircraft, who knows.

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centurion

If they were going to use parrots or any other creature for this, wouldn't it have been better to position them some miles to the West of Paris, and not necessarily high up?

Erm wouldn't to the East be better?

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truthergw

I don't suppose that Parrot was a name given to a device?

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SiegeGunner

Erm wouldn't to the East be better?

Doh, I missed that one ...

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Ed Woods

I watched a programme about pigeons being used in search and rescue helicopters

Found this article

http://www.uscg.mil/...nSARProject.asp

So although Parrots up the Eiffel Tower as aircraft detectors might sound odd there might be a grain of truth in it. Just need to find some contemporary articles on this avian early warning system.

Although once spotted what use was the information that aircaft were approaching as by the time the information was relayed to guns or an aerodrome the enemy airplanes would be over Paris dropped their bombs and would be heading home?

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centurion

I watched a programme about pigeons being used in search and rescue helicopters

Found this article

http://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/PigeonSARProject.asp

So although Parrots up the Eiffel Tower as aircraft detectors might sound odd there might be a grain of truth in it. Just need to find some contemporary articles on this avian early warning system.

No a totally different issue. Leicester University did similar studies in the 1960s using chickens and discovered many birds have excellent abilities to detect aberrations from a standard pattern - visually. This enables them to pick out food on the ground. As a result chickens were trained to spot flaws in hosiery as it was passed before them and peck a button (if correct in training they got a grain of corn). It was planned to introduce this into one of Leicester's biggest mills but the unions objected (not on animal welfare grounds but because some of their members would be replaced by low paid chickens).

During WW2 the US were working on a missile guidance system that involved a bird pecking different buttons as an image of a ship drifted to the left or right of a set of graticules I think it was a pigeon (if it had been a parrot it could have shouted Geronimo just before it hit).

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Tom Morgan

How would one determine that the parrot was making an "enemy aircraft are approaching" squawk as opposed to any other squawk that parrots are prone to make?

You're forgetting that parrots can talk.

Tom

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phil@basildon

but the unions objected (not on animal welfare grounds but because some of their members would be replaced by low paid chickens).

Naturally, they would have been paid chicken-feed.

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Dolphin

From Flight of 7 February 1918:

"Parrots early in the war were tried at the Eiffel Tower with the result that at first they gave warning fully twenty minutes before the aeroplane or airship could be made out by the eye, or heard by the human ear. These birds, however, appear to have grown bored or indifferent, as they could not be kept indefinitely at the work."

Gareth

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centurion

From Flight of 7 February 1918:

"Parrots early in the war were tried at the Eiffel Tower with the result that at first they gave warning fully twenty minutes before the aeroplane or airship could be made out by the eye, or heard by the human ear. These birds, however, appear to have grown bored or indifferent, as they could not be kept indefinitely at the work."

Gareth

I wonder how they trained them? Apart from the day light Taube raids in August and Sept 1914 there was nothing until the night time Zeppelin raid in mid March the next year. Perhaps that why they got bored - but hang on don't Parrots go to sleep when it gets dark?

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