The Fascinating Pigeon
YOU may have walked down the street of a large metropolitan city or visited a park and observed a flock of pigeons. Doubtless you noticed that they were quite fearless, possibly even eating from someone’s hand or at a very nearby feeding station. But something else you may also have noticed—the mess these creatures produce on statuary and sidewalks. So you may wonder, Why would anyone want to have these birds around? And why would anyone ever want to raise pigeons? Beautiful, graceful—perhaps but, oh, so dirty!
When asked the question, “Why would you want to raise pigeons?” a man who did so replied almost incredulously, “Why not?” To him, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. He established at the outset that he was of Belgian descent, as if this should be explanation enough. He pointed out that his father and grandfather had raised pigeons. “And you know,” he continued, “the pigeon is the bird of the Lord.” He felt that this gave real emphasis to the logic of raising pigeons.
The man’s enthusiasm was obvious from the way he described various kinds of pigeons, their traits and natural beauty. With a wave of his hand, he dismissed the cost for feed and care, explaining his love for the birds and the pleasures received from them.
Such fascination with pigeons is not new. There is evidence that for thousands of years the Chinese employed pigeons for liaison purposes. Akbar, a ruler of India in the sixteenth century C.E., reportedly had about 20,000 pigeons. Today, thousands of people breed pigeons for their beauty, humorous antics, for racing or for food. Young pigeons are marketed when they weigh from 12 to 24 ounces (340 to 680 grams).
Pigeons as Homemakers
Part of the interest in pigeons lies in the exemplary cooperation of male and female. At about four to six months of age the cock and hen mate, usually for life. Together they start to build a nest and take turns sitting on it. After the two eggs are laid, the female incubates them throughout the night, continuing until about 9:30 a.m. Next the cock takes his turn, completing his incubation duty about 2:00 p.m.
After about eighteen and a half days the newly hatched pigeons, known as squabs, emerge to be fed by both parents. Both hen and cock produce in their crops “pigeon milk,” a nutritious substance that is regurgitated and passed mouth to mouth from the parents to the babies. “Milk” feeding continues for about two weeks and then the squabs’ diet becomes the same as that of the parents.
Because of the pigeon’s soft, gentle appearance and disposition, it has become known as “the sheep of the bird world.” Its trusting nature has made it easy to train and to enjoy. Since this same trusting disposition could lead to easy entrapment, Jesus appropriately balanced his words about being “innocent as doves” with the counsel to be “cautious as serpents.”—Matt. 10:16.
Kinds of Pigeons
There are hundreds of pigeon breeds. Of special interest to us here are the following three categories: (1) racing homers, (2) performing pigeons and (3) fancy pigeons.
As the name implies, the racing homer is bred to use its instinct to race home. At speeds upward of a mile a minute, this bird, when released in unfamiliar territory, will circle once or twice and then streak home, flying distances of up to 500 miles (about 800 kilometers). How the pigeon is able to accomplish the feat of finding its nest at such great distances still remains a mystery.
The racing homer was first developed in the early 1800’s in Belgium, and, to this day, pigeon racing is a national sport there. It is so widespread that for every eight homes there is one pigeon loft. Sadly, in connection with pigeon racing, man’s greediness comes to the fore, as this activity is associated with gambling. In order to make the birds fly faster, it has been reported that in Germany pigeon breeders have interrupted the mating process shortly before its climax and have then taken the male to the point where he is released for the race.
In the United States over 20,000 persons raise nearly a million birds for racing competition. A recent newspaper article told of a pigeon fancier who paid $23,000 for one pigeon. Why? The man wanted the championship strain in his loft.
Besides racing, the homing instinct of these pigeons has been employed to relay messages. Before the advent of the telegraph, the racing homer served well in carrying stock exchange quotations back and forth across the English Channel, from London to Antwerp. A pigeon has been known to deliver a message over a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers), although a hundred miles (160 kilometers) is generally accepted as the maximum distance that should be attempted.
Performing pigeons fall, essentially, into four groups. The first group, the “Rollers” and “Flying Tumblers,” are indeed fascinating to watch. When released, a flock of twenty or so will rise in formation and then go into a precision act. They will fly a figure “8” up and down wind. At the cross wind of the figure, all the birds will flip over backward in somersaults. Pulling out of the somersault in unison, they continue the figure “8” until signaled to return to their nests.
The “Tipplers” and “Highfliers” have tremendous endurance. These birds have been known to stay in the air for over nineteen hours and to reach altitudes that will make them appear as mere dots when seen through binoculars.
“Parlor Tumblers” give many hours of amusement, as they do their stunts on the floor. These birds will take a step forward and then flip head over heels backward for two steps.
The real show-off is the “Swing Pouter.” This brightly colored bird balloons his crop and then, with wings lifted high above his head, swoops down at his admirers. Next the “Swing Pouter” flies upward, loudly clapping his wings. It would seem that the bird is trying to call attention to himself.
Fancy pigeons, like flowers, seem endless in variety, color and hue. The enjoyment comes from finding pleasure in their delicate beauty. It may be a special feather arrangement, a colorful decoration or a unique shape.
A Need for Balance
While there can be a certain delight in raising pigeons, it does involve a substantial sum of money to house and feed the birds. In the United States, fifty pigeons may require a monthly outlay of between $35 and $40 for feed alone. There is also work involved. To prevent disease, bird lofts must be kept clean and dry. The devices used for watering and feeding the birds must also be kept clean. To facilitate this, the housing must be properly designed. Cleanliness in the pigeon loft is absolutely a must, as it is known that pigeons can be carriers of diseases fatal to humans.
Sound management would also require isolating sick and newly purchased birds for a time. This can prevent their introducing disease to the rest of the flock.
Pigeons have brought delight to many people throughout the centuries. Even you may be surprised because of being able to get very close to these essentially wild birds without their taking wing. And what pleasure can come from watching the antics of performing pigeons! Adding to the fascination are the accomplishments of racing homers and the delicate beauty of fancy pigeons. Truly, the pigeon is an interesting, fascinating bird.