from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Slang A person acting as a decoy or as an informer, especially one who is a spy for the police.
  • n. A pigeon used as a decoy.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A decoy or an informer, especially one who is a spy for the police.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. a pigeon used as a decoy to draw others within a net; hence, a person used as a decoy for others.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A pigeon fastened to a stool, and used as a decoy.
  • n. Hence A person employed as a decoy: as, a stool-pigeon for a gambling-house: such a fellow is generally a “rook” who pretends to be a“pigeon.” See pigeon, 2, and rook, 3.
  • n. One who looks over the hand of a card-player and signals its contents to a confederate.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. someone acting as an informer or decoy for the police
  • n. a dummy pigeon used to decoy others
  • n. someone acting as an informer or decoy for the police


From the practice of tying decoy pigeons to a stool to attract other pigeons.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From the act of tying or even nailing a pigeon to a stool to act as a decoy for hunters. (Wiktionary)


Sorry, no example sentences found.


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  • Alright, here is what the article says, clarifying the confusing Wikipedia statement. They would stick a dead pigeon on a stool, which would make other birds less wary, since the birds figure if one bird thinks it's safe, it must be.

    I never imagined this term meant something so archaic.

    June 30, 2007

  • More here: regarding the origins of phrase.

    June 30, 2007

  • Neither does the fact that gazillions of passenger pigeons were slaughtered for food (and thus went extinct), but that happened too, sad to say.... :-\ Never heard that story though, seanahan.

    June 30, 2007

  • This appears to be a pigeon which is not a homing pigeon, but is released with homing pigeons to distract the enemy. Wikipedia says,

    "The term "stool pigeon" was first coined when passenger pigeons were captured, had their eyelids sewn shut, and were tied to stools. The birds sitting on the stools would be used as live decoys so pigeon hunters would have an easier shot at their quarry"

    but the whole stool thing doesn't make any sense.

    June 30, 2007