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It is believed that Rock Pigeons (the kind you see cluttering around statues) originated in southern Asia. Some Japanese scientists have recently shown pigeons are better at self-recognition than three-year-old children. The birds can also tell a Van Gogh from a Chagall.

copyright 2016
by Lin Stone

Pigeons have thousands of color combinations, shapes and sizes to choose from."What kind of birds are those Grandpa?"

"Pigeons, son.  Plain old pigeons."

With all due respect to Grandpa's failing eyesight, there are NO plain old pigeons on this earth!  In fact, pigeons are kind of like snowflakes; it is almost impossible to find any two of them that are just alike.  Unlike your robin, or your jay or your scissortail flycatcher, pigeons strut around in thousands of different colors and those colors are compounded by various patterns. To this number add the permutation of personality which plays an important part in the way pigeons appear to the naked human eye.

Pigeon lovers can readily identify up to 28 different color morphs! Most of these color morphs include beautiful shiny neck feathers that reflect different colors like rainbows. This shine is quite similar to that seen with hummingbirds and is called iridescence.  Breeding pigeons for their distinctive colors and form can be almost as profitable as the breeding of distinctive koi. 

Pigeons that are all white are usually albinos.  That means, there are NO actual color pigments in their feathers. Polar Bears have the same distinction but no one is sure which one came first, the pigeon or the

The Bruner Pouter stands tall in any cote.

For a hobby some people raise all kinds of valuable pigeons. The breeds they raise have special names, such as rollers, Bruner Pouter, tumblers, and fantails. The names tend to describe the way the pigeons fly, or the way they stand or just the way they look.

 

Pigeon Facts

Pigeons usually only have one mate for their entire life, meaning they are monogamous. Unlike human beings they won't even look for another partner unless their first choice dies.

Like human beings, pigeons can see color.  But pigeons see BETTER than humans can. They are also known for their ability to see ultraviolet light -- a part of the light spectrum that humans can't see at all!  Pigeons can also hear sounds originating at much lower frequencies than human beings are aware of.

Pigeons generally weigh about a pound.  Boy pigeons are usually bigger than the girl pigeons they "marry."  They try to keep their love nests well-hidden and hard to find. Pigeons in the wild prefer to build their nests on covered building ledges, perhaps because they resemble cliffs.  If you start following pigeons home you will also see nests inside barn lofts and on the support structures under bridges along highways.

Pigeons build their nests with small twigs and bits of straw. The boy pigeon brings the nesting material to his mate, one piece at a time.  Like doves they usually only lay two eggs at a time.  However -- unlike doves -- they won't leave a nest just because it has been found and touched by a human.

Both the boy pigeon and the girl pigeons sit on the eggs to keep them warm.  They then work together to raise the little pigeons, known as squabs. When the baby pigeons are young they are called HATCHLINGS.  Their food is brought to them already semi-digested by the parents.  They open their mouths wide and the food is stuffed down their throats.

After about thirty days of growing they get big enough to be called SQUABS.  Squabs remain in the nest until they are almost completely grown.  Some of them are bigger than their parents when they finally do leave, but a life on the wing soon burns that excess weight off.

Have you ever noticed a blue jay or a sparrow take a drink? You have probably noticed they dip their beak into the water, then throw their heads back to let it drip down their throat. But pigeons are so dainty they suck their water right up their beaks, as if they were drinking through a straw.

Have you ever noticed a robin in the yard searching for worms?  They HOP from one spot to another.  Pigeons will WALK, or RUN on the ground.  They do not HOP.

In the air pigeons can fly up to 42 miles per hour.  Some people have races to see who has the fastest pigeons.  A typical race is about three hundred miles long and some are up to six hundred miles long. 

During the race the pigeons have to fly fast, and avoid the hawks out there on the thermals looking for Happy Meals.

Your Merlin hawk (falcon) eats so many pigeons it used to be called a Pigeon Hawk. Red-tailed and Cooper's hawks are also eager to take a pigeon home for lunch.

 Learn about some other birds.

It used to be that Americans thought pigeon meat was the very best tasting meat on earth.  Back in those days there was one specific kind of pigeon known as the 'PASSENGER PIGEON.'

It is estimated that back then there were as many as five billion Passenger Pigeons in the United States.Have you ever noticed a flock of blackbirds? They rest together, they roost together, they eat together and when blackbirds fly off they fly off together; if one changes direction or height, the whole flock will swirl until it is decided which way they are going.

Passenger pigeons were the same way, only there were a lot more of them. Back then American chestnut trees were bigger than oak trees, spreading and plentiful, made for lots of pigeons to roost in. The flocks they lived in were said to be up to a mile wide and three hundred miles long!  It is easy to imagine a flock of this size having two billion birds in it.

Euromerican hunters would go out in droves to kill the passenger pigeons and the bodies would be rushed to fancy restaurants where they would be prepared with fancy sauces. Like the buffalo, passenger pigeons were soon gone.  Unlike the buffalo, they won't be back.  Passenger pigeons are now completely extinct.  A concerted effort involving thousands of dollars and scientific direction failed to keep the species alive.

A pigeon named MarthaThe very last Passenger Pigeon ever seen alive was named Martha after Martha Washington.  She died in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. She was frozen into a block of ice and sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C..

After a while, Euromericans began to prefer to eat chicken, and soon the other kinds of pigeons began thriving.  There is hardly a park anywhere in America that doesn't have its share of pigeons.  There are so many pigeons that many cities are declaring them a nuisance and they are trying to get rid of them by any means, fair or fowl. 

Poison has been tried.  Then there are coatings that people put on ledges so that pigeons don't want to stand there or roost there.  In other areas the pigeons are captured in huge nets and hauled off into the country somewhere. 

Probably the best cure for the pigeon explosion is simply to begin capturing them for processing into cat food.  They could also be shipped to foreign countries where poor people are starving.

Pigeons can cause serious damage to the concrete structures of our overpasses and bridges.  They can spoil the appearances of buildings. The smell and mess they leave behind can cause a nuisance on people and statues of famous people.

On top of that, pigeons can carry potentially infectious diseases such as salmonella, tuberculosis and ornithosis (a mild form of psittacosis - pneumonia-like symptoms).

They are also a source of some of the dangerous allergens floating in our air that can cause  skin reactions -- and respiratory ailments as well.  Some scientists believe these illnesses can be passed on to people through contact with pigeon droppings, dandruff and pigeon feathers; pigeon parasites; and especially where dead infected pigeons fall into our food or water sources.

Wild pigeons can also carry viruses that can be spread to other birds causing their death.

Pigeon Ranking can be FUN!

Pigeon watching, and pigeon study, is a wonderful hobby that anyone in the world can take up with ease.  You probably won't even need a pair of binoculars. Search your neighborhood, looking for pigeons that gather in flocks and are accustomed to people. If a flock is fed on a regular basis, it should be easy to approach. Find a place to stand or sit, close to your pigeons. If you cannot get close to them you can always create your own Pigeon Site.

First, you will want to stick to a feeding schedule.  That way the pigeons will know when to expect you and your food. Pigeons are so smart they can tell time quite well and will be there on the dot for their handout.  You will want to keep notes on the colors and the kinds of pigeons that come to your station.  New pigeons are especially interesting.  Where did they come from?  Who told them you were there?  What kind of language are they using?

Raising pigeons is fun too, and it can be lucrative if you are good at it. In days gone by it used to be against the law for a common man to own pigeons.  No wonder some people feel like a Prince when they begin to raise pigeons. 

Unlike wild pigeons, domestic pigeons are raised in healthy environments and if given the chance, they will bathe every day. Studies have proven that raising pigeons is no more of a health risk than raising any other kind of bird.  Of course, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water after handling any kind of reptile or birds.

You can raise your pigeons in "lofts" or pens. Anything that provides your pigeons with a dry, draft free environment and room to move around in will work. The important thing is that the birds are protected from the elements while providing some much needed sunlight. To ensure that the birds are not overcrowded, allow at least two square feet of floor space per bird. This will help to build a comfortable and healthy environment and will allow the birds to flourish.

Nests can be furnished, or you can simply supply the building material and let them build their own.  Pigeons will want their nests hidden so you will want to provide dark corners or boxes for them to hide in. 

If you don't mind losing a few to angry pigeophiles (and if your city permits it) after a few weeks you can create an escape hatch in your enclosure so your pigeons can take off on an exercise flight. As long as you keep feeding them your pigeons will return home without fail. 

In fact, you can blindfold some pigeons and haul them off hundreds of miles away and release them. Seconds after they are airborne your pigeons will head straight for home! Hawks may take a small toll, but most pigeons will be flying 40 MPH all the way home. The fastest flying pigeons are champion racers and they are pedigreed.

Domestic Pigeons are Pedigreed and should be cared for just like thoroughbreds. Prices can range from $200 to $2,500 each for good pedigreed stock. Does that seem a little high for a bird you can find walking around loose in the park?

One pedigreed pigeon was recently bought for $132,517.00 by Louella Pigeon World. This three-year-old, one pound racing pigeon beat 21,000 other birds in a major long distance race and is now being used as a breeder just like it was a racehorse. The previous record price for a racing pigeon was $73,800.00

the end

About the author: Independently a few shades of iridescent gray less than wealthy, Lin Stone is an author, writer and photographer living in the center of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.

His writing has appeared in almost one hundred national magazines and SeaStoneBooks has published seven of his books so far with more in the works.  He writes about anything from the waterfowl of Arkansas to the Monsters of Moab. 

 

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