12 December 2008

Superdove, or Columba livia

I've been reading about pigeons this week. I don't think we have them here. I don't remember seeing any in Mendocino, Caspar, Fort Bragg. Maybe they prefer Ukiah. Mourning doves, yes, fat city pigeons, no.

I'm thinking pigeon because "Superdove, How the Pigeon Took Manhattan... And the World" flew across my desk recently. Science writer Courtney Humphries spent time with pigeon fanciers, scientists, collectors, hunters, historians and other assorted folk in order to bring us this story of the ubiquitous bird.

As other monographs on salt, gunpowder, scurvy, coal, rats, what-have-you demonstrate, we are fascinated by things common and yet unknown.

Pigeons are rock doves, Columba livia, meaning "dove the color of lead." Long before they starred in Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" they originated on cliffs near the sea. To this day they live on coastal rocks in obscure locations such as Capo Caccia on the island of Sardinia in Italy.

Whether fed on purpose or not, pigeons thrive in the urban scene. They eat our garbage and our discards. They nest on poles, window sills, arches, and any other convenient architectural refuges. Hawks and falcons, cats and raccoons, bother them very little.

When pigeons are regularly fed by hand they will begin to "structure their lives –where they nest, where they forage, and how often they reproduce – around their feeding schedule." As Humphries points out, they become dependent, and that's the first step to domestication. It's wrong, she says, to feed these urban birds without also giving them housing and cleaning up their mess.

The pigeon is so adaptable and so fertile that wiping out an entire airport or building of pigeons makes hardly a dent in the overall population. Food always is lying around, plus intrepid human life support from their surprisingly vocal fans.

"We create and destroy habitat," Humphries writes. "We shape genomes, we aid the worldwide movement of other species. And yet we seem disappointed and horrified when those plants and animals respond by adapting to our changes and thriving in them."

It was humans who cared for and spread pigeons to every continent but Antarctica. "Often they were brought for food, but not always. Decorative breeds of pigeons were swapped among breeders in different countries."

When settlers encountered America's vast flocks of native passenger pigeons, the birds were soon wiped out for food and sport. Passengers went extinct but the rock pigeons flourished. We cut down the forests in which the passengers lived and built great cities for the rock pigeons.

The merest glance through newspapers and the blogosphere turns up dozens of articles and comments on pigeons. They are not ignored, but neither have we come to terms with their presence.

In TV footage covering the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks you could see flocks of pigeons winging their way to and from the burning Taj Mahal Hotel. News reports ignored the plight of non-human creatures such as stray dogs and birds during the fighting. These comments from a Mumbai veterinarian:

"Ultimately, it is an ecosystem," said Dr. Khanna. "Everyone is connected to each other. If animals are not there, we are not there. So one must care for living creatures whether it is an animal or a human being."

The news continued, "By the end of the siege, the pigeons at the Taj (Hotel) had all but disappeared, adding to the anguish of many who saw them as a blessing. In India, pigeons are a symbol of peace. Within three days after the attack ended, they had returned.... hopeful signs for many here that Mumbai is returning to normal."

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"Superdove, How the Pigeon Took Manhattan... and the World" by Courtney Humphries. Smithsonian Books hardcover $24.95. ISBN 9780061259166.

Capo Caccia translates to something like "Cape of the Hunter" or "Cape Hunter" in Italian. In other words, a good place to go shooting birds, except it's a protected park these days with fences and 9-5 visiting hours.

The Mumbai pigeons: http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-12-10-voa40.cfm

Group Seeks to Preserve IDF Pigeons' Dovecote from 1948
by Noah Kosharek, Israel News
It's been 60 years since Shaul Sapir, 81, and Aharon Landsman, 73, met. Sapir served during the War of Independence in a Negev unit and established the carrier pigeon unit of the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish militia. Landsman, in his early teens at the time, trained the pigeons, delivered by Sapir, in the Haganah's dovecote at Kibbutz Givat Brenner and later served in the Israel Defense Forces' carrier pigeon unit. Yesterday, the men met again at the kibbutz, to work toward conservation of the kibbutz's IDF carrier pigeon dovecote...

Pigeon Show Is a Coup for Pickering
Hundreds of Britain’s top pigeons flew into Ryedale at the weekend when the British Pigeon Show Society staged its annual exhibition at the Pickering Showfield. The society, which also hosted the National Pigeon Society Show, attracted 2,000 pigeons.

Pigeon Control Efforts Increase
By Tom Schneider Current-Argus Staff Writer
Carlsbad Municipal Schools is stepping up efforts to control the harmful pigeon population on district campuses with help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
CMS operations director Erich Francke said that despite the district's best efforts, the birds have become increasingly difficult to manage...

There are laws against pigeon netting/poaching: http://www.peopleforpigeons.com:

Pigeon poaching: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/a-tip-off-a-reward-an-arrest-for-pigeon-poaching/

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tony: I'm sure some other bird enthusiast has let you know that
we do, indeed, have pigeons in "our park" in Mendocino. Ours are wild bandtailed pigeons and visit our house on Palette drive frequently but intermittently. They eat lots and are very skitterish but they are beautiful.


Always enjoy your WOB!!

Chet Anderson

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