Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

January 24, 2008

Coo, roo c’too-coo Mrs. Robinson

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:58 pm

  I was going to title this entry something like “Pigeons Suck,” or “Pigeons Have Bad Taste,” but I didn’t because that would have conveyed the wrong message. Both of these statements are true, but not for the reasons you think. You see, almost everyone views the lowly pigeon through a looking glass darkly.  They are widely held in disregard as art critics, beggars, or flying rats except by fanciers, of course.  I am neither a fancier nor a hater of these birds, but the sight of a dead pigeon along a city street yesterday ignited an odd feeling within.

  For some reason I felt that the forgotten bird deserved some recognition.  It looked so abandoned laying there on the frigid blacktop. Though the flow of traffic moved me well beyond the scene, I eventually was able to turn my car around.  I pulled into the parking lot closest to the curbside where it lay and walked over to retrieve it. A lone bundled bike rider pedaled down the walk just as I picked the stiff little feather bundle up. “Aw, that’s too bad,” his muffled voice cooed, “it’s a pretty thing.”  I agreed with a semi-embarrassed nod. At least here was a person who thought my act somewhat sensible and possibly slightly nobler than just a guy picking up just any old dead bird. I don’t know what the passing motorists thought.

 It was a really pretty bird.  I took the casualty home, propped it into a semi upright position and proceeded to draw its portrait in color pencil.  My primary mission immediately became one of capturing the subtleties of feather iridescence and intricacies of beak detail.  My secondary task was to document the unique form of this one particular individual. Take a look at my finished product and give me the satisfaction of knowing that this pigeon didn’t die in vain.

  You might like to know that the bird was 12 inches in length, had a wingspan of 25 inches, and weighted 11 ounces.  There were 11 tail feathers arranged five to each side and one down the middle. The bright reddish pink feet were tipped with two inner black toenails and two outer white toenails and the wings each had ten primaries (those stiff outer wing feathers).  I guess it’s worth noting that the first four feathers on each set of primaries were solid white. These are rather dry stats, aren’t they? Well, let’s put this bird into wider perspective then.

  Up until 2004, the scientific world dubbed these city dwellers as “Rock Doves” but has since switched to the more proper sounding name of “Rock Pigeon.” This is, of course, one of many names proffered over the 5,000 plus years we have been associated with them.  The original birds were native to the cliffs and rock faces of Europe, North Africa and Southern Asia but the domesticated ones have spread across the planet.  It is believed they arrived here in the New World sometime in the 1600’s. Leaving the issue of caged fancy pigeons aside (I believe I said I’m not a fancier), the feral birds have developed some fairly consistent color patterns, or color morphs over the years. This is akin to the color variety you see in farm ducks, domestic dogs, or-God forbid -cats. I believe domestic chinchillas also come in different flavors, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, the noble pavement pigeon in my possession could aptly be called a representative of the “Pied” morph style of avian couture.

  Please believe me when I say this, but according to a group called Project Pigeonwatch (an international group dedicated to the study of feral pigeon colors) there are 28 different color morphs found among wild pigeons. For the sake of humankind, the group has boiled this variety of choices down to 7 primary color schemes, but the terminology is a bit confusing. First there is the “blue bar”, which is the original gray with black wing bars; the “red bar” where the blue, which is really black, is replaced by rusty brown, which is not really red; “checker” with speckles all over the body; “red” which is where the body is mostly brown (hmmm); “spread” which rhymes with red but means solid black for some reason; “white” which means white, oddly enough; “pied” which means endowed with patches of white.

  My bird is “pied” (in reality this is short for the term pie-bald – really it is) due to the white wing feathers, white eye spot, and four white toes. You could say the rest of his body is basically “blue bar” but I don’t know why you’d say that other than to sound like a fancier. The single most distinctive trait on any dark colored pigeon is the wonderfully iridescent set of feathers surrounding the neck – a region called the hackle. Male birds proudly display these shimmering feathers for the adoration of the females while cooing.  The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the same folks who sponsor Pigeonwatch, authoritatively state that this breeding sound is “coo, rooc’too- coo.”  I for one will not refute this, although I believe the spelling might change from bird to bird.

  I trust I have at least done some justice to this anonymous dead dove. There is far too little space to get into family history, some of which is pretty noble. I’ll leave it up to you to probe the story behind a hastily scrawled note which read: “Our artillery is dropping a barrage on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it!” (Hint: “Cher Ami”).

  There is really nothing else to say about this pigeon except to note the bright white “cere” or fleshy area around its nostrils.  This is a feature found on all members of the pigeon family – including Mourning Doves. Another unique thing possessed by all those of pigeon persuasion is their ability to suck water. Most birds are required to throw back their heads in order to down a gulp of water, but pigeons can use their beak like a straw. Now you know why I say that pigeons suck. 

  On this note, I came across another totally useless fact regarding pigeon taste buds.  I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this, but apparently pigeons have only 37 taste buds in their mouth.  We have 9,000 taste buds.  This is the reason pigeons eat dry corn while we feast on roast pigeon squabs. Who says pigeons have bad taste.

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Coo, roo c?too-coo Mrs. Robinson

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:58 pm

? I was going to title this entry something like ?Pigeons Suck,? or ?Pigeons Have Bad Taste,? but I didn?t because that would have conveyed the wrong message. Both of these statements are true, but not for the reasons you think. You see, almost everyone views the lowly pigeon through a looking glass darkly.? They are widely held in disregard as art critics, beggars, or flying rats except by fanciers, of course.? I am neither a fancier nor a hater of these birds, but the sight of a dead pigeon along a city street yesterday ignited an odd feeling within.

? For some reason I felt that the forgotten bird deserved some recognition.? It looked so abandoned laying there on the frigid blacktop. Though the flow of traffic moved me well beyond the scene, I eventually was able to turn my car around.? I pulled into the parking lot closest to the curbside where it lay and walked over to retrieve it. A lone bundled bike rider pedaled down the walk just as I picked the stiff little feather bundle up. ?Aw, that?s too bad,? his muffled voice cooed, ?it?s a pretty thing.?? I agreed with a semi-embarrassed nod. At least here was a person who thought my act somewhat sensible and possibly slightly nobler than just a guy picking up just any old dead bird. I don?t know what the passing motorists thought.

?It was a really pretty bird.? I took the casualty home, propped it into a semi upright position and proceeded to draw its portrait in color pencil.? My primary mission immediately became one of capturing the subtleties of feather iridescence and intricacies of beak detail. ?My secondary task was to document the unique form of this one particular individual. Take a look at my finished product and give me the satisfaction of knowing that this pigeon didn?t die in vain.

? You might like to know that the bird was 12 inches in length, had a wingspan of 25 inches, and weighted 11 ounces.? There were 11 tail feathers arranged five to each side and one down the middle. The bright reddish pink feet were tipped with two inner black toenails and two outer white toenails and the wings each had ten primaries (those stiff outer wing feathers).? I guess it?s worth noting that the first four feathers on each set of primaries were solid white. These are rather dry stats, aren?t they? Well, let?s put this bird into wider perspective then.

? Up until 2004, the scientific world dubbed these city dwellers as ?Rock Doves? but has since switched to the more proper sounding name of ?Rock Pigeon.? This is, of course, one of many names proffered over the 5,000 plus years we have been associated with them.? The original birds were native to the cliffs and rock faces of Europe, North Africa and Southern Asia but the domesticated ones have spread across the planet.? It is believed they arrived here in the New World sometime in the 1600?s. Leaving the issue of caged fancy pigeons aside (I believe I said I?m not a fancier), the feral birds have developed some fairly consistent color patterns, or color morphs over the years. This is akin to the color variety you see in farm ducks, domestic dogs, or-God forbid -cats. I believe domestic chinchillas also come in different flavors, but don?t quote me on that. Anyway, the noble pavement pigeon in my possession could aptly be called a representative of the ?Pied? morph style of avian couture.

? Please believe me when I say this, but according to a group called Project Pigeonwatch (an international group dedicated to the study of feral pigeon colors) there are 28 different color morphs found among wild pigeons. For the sake of humankind, the group has boiled this variety of choices down to 7 primary color schemes, but the terminology is a bit confusing. First there is the ?blue bar?, which is the original gray with black wing bars; the ?red bar? where the blue, which is really black, is replaced by rusty brown, which is not really red; ?checker? with speckles all over the body; ?red? which is where the body is mostly brown (hmmm); ?spread? which rhymes with red but means solid black for some reason; ?white? which means white, oddly enough; ?pied? which means endowed with patches of white.

? My bird is ?pied? (in reality this is short for the term pie-bald ? really it is) due to the white wing feathers, white eye spot, and four white toes. You could say the rest of his body is basically ?blue bar? but I don?t know why you?d say that other than to sound like a fancier. The single most distinctive trait on any dark colored pigeon is the wonderfully iridescent set of feathers surrounding the neck ? a region called the hackle. Male birds proudly display these shimmering feathers for the adoration of the females while cooing.? The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the same folks who sponsor Pigeonwatch, authoritatively state that this breeding sound is ?coo, rooc?too- coo.?? I for one will not refute this, although I believe the spelling might change from bird to bird.

? I trust I have at least done some justice to this anonymous dead dove. There is far too little space to get into family history, some of which is pretty noble. I?ll leave it up to you to probe the story behind a hastily scrawled note which read: ?Our artillery is dropping a barrage on us. For heaven?s sake, stop it!? (Hint: ?Cher Ami?).

? There is really nothing else to say about this pigeon except to note the bright white ?cere? or fleshy area around its nostrils.? This is a feature found on all members of the pigeon family ? including Mourning Doves. Another unique thing possessed by all those of pigeon persuasion is their ability to suck water. Most birds are required to throw back their heads in order to down a gulp of water, but pigeons can use their beak like a straw. Now you know why I say that pigeons suck.?

? On this note, I came across another totally useless fact regarding pigeon taste buds.? I can?t vouch for the authenticity of this, but apparently pigeons have only 37 taste buds in their mouth.? We have 9,000 taste buds.? This is the reason pigeons eat dry corn while we feast on roast pigeon squabs. Who says pigeons have bad taste.

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