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Freedom Pigeons!

Wild Rock Dove

I had planned to tell you about how city Pigeons are all feral, having escaped, or been dumped by humans who kept them captive for thousands of years but it turns out that these ones are real live Wild Rock Doves, rare because they breed with the fancy feral domesticated ones and their offspring have weird human marks on them like colorful feathers or whiteness or strange ruffly things. You can tell this is a Wild Rock Dove from their 2 black stripes on their lovely grey wings. This is a freedom Pigeon!

Rock Doves, the ancestor of the Feral Pigeon, are cliff dwelling birds, this is why we see them in cities. Buildings are just man made cliffs that Pigeons can perch and roost on. It seems as though they prefer to stand in a row, like they would on the side of a cliff because I often see them on a hydro wire, but never in a tree. Trees must be to scribbly for Pigeons. 

Humans have lived symbiotically with Pigeons for thousands of years. I say that rather than saying that we domesticated them because they are one of the few animals we domesticated without imprisoning. Domestic Pigeons are trusted to come home. That’s one of the reasons we like them so much.

Pigeons have spectacular homing abilities. They will cross the earth from an unknown location to get home and they do it fast. We don’t completely understand how Pigeons are able to do this. Scientists agree that Pigeons are intelligent, but their sensory perceptions and navigation skills are mysterious. It seems that they navigate by using a complex series of perceptions and cognitions, including using the sun and stars as a compass, electromagnetism (probably felt by hematite in their cells) visual perception of polarized light- they can see North, they are very good at detecting olfactory gradients and probably know the smell of home, and the one I like best is subsonic. It’s likely that they listen to the sounds that the earth makes, the very deep geophony and they can hear these sounds bounce around the landscape revealing a topographical map like sonar.

If you lived before phones and fast cars and were going on a long journey, you would bring your homing Pigeon with you. When you arrived at your exotic destination you might write a little note saying that you had indeed arrived safely, or ‘wish you were here’ and tie it to the Pigeon’s leg and then release her. The Pigeon would fly all the way home and deliver the message to your house mates. Or you might keep the bird with you as a companion through out the journey, say a year at sea, and then release the bird as you came in to harbor to let your spose know you were almost home and to start making supper.

Sometimes a homing Pigeon will get distracted, or lost, or fall in love and go off and have a life of their own and then turn up at home 5 or 10 years later.

If you want to know more read Jennifer Ackerman’s Genius of Birds.

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