Monday, April 28, 2008

Pigeons are Doting Parents

By Hannah Holmes

Maybe the old ones never die. My Portland flock could be the self-same bunch of birds that filched clams from the Abenaki Indians and pooped upon approaching Viking boats. In addition to adapting flawlessly to the total nature-fake of a human habitat, maybe pigeons have also adapted perfectly to life: It doesn't make them die.

But because that's improbable, and because I was terribly curious about what kind of guy intentionally associates with pigeons, I called John Heppner, president of the National Pigeon Association.

"Absolutely," he said in a sobering tone of voice when I asked if there is such a thing as a baby pigeon. "I've been raising 'em for fifty years." What he went on to tell me gave me a new respect for the grubby, shining, strutting, victorious pigeon.

First of all, unlike dippy little English sparrows or robins, pigeons hide their nests.

Heppner said that back when they emerged in Asia (evidently, they were nature-living animals, once), pigeons were cliff-dwellers. So now they balance their messy nests of sticks inside the guts of bridges, or atop tall buildings, or on top of your air conditioner. Secondly, pigeons are parents non pareil. They lay only two eggs at a time, and spoil those babies shamefully. "The parents will feed the babies until they're totally feathered out," Heppner reported proudly. "By the time they leave the nest, they'll be about the same size as the adults. You know when people eat squab, that's when they take 'em -- when they're nice and plump." Squab, for the culinarily challenged, being baby pigeon.

And the doting parents don't feed these butter-balls your typical bird baby-food.

These birdlets get something called "pigeon milk," and the faint-of-stomach may not wish to explore this paragraph further. Both parents manufacture in their crop, or throat, a rich, fatty "milk" that looks, Heppner says, much like yellow cottage cheese. They ralph this delicacy up and expel it into the throats of their darlings. "You can see this white stuff glowing in the crops of the squabs," Heppner says. "They're just full of it."
After eight or 10 days of this ambrosial diet, the parents begin mixing in solid food and water. "They'll eat heavily, then drink a lot of water to easily chuck up the grain," Heppner enthuses, and offering between these fascinating facts to send me photographs of fancy pigeons. "And did you know pigeons drink like horses? Hens will lift their heads up to swallow. But pigeons put their head down and just take a long draught."

And do the parents flinch at all this work, this cheese-making, this grain-chucking, this drinking-like-a-horse? Of course not. "If all's going along well with the first nest, they'll build another, right near by, and lay the next batch," Heppner says. "They'll take turns sitting on the next set, while the other feeds up the squabs." And they'll do that four to six times a season. So, not only are there baby pigeons, there are baby-pigeon assembly lines.

And when the fledglings do finally leave the nest, Heppner says, their plumage and size are so similar to those of the flock they hang around with that only the practiced pigeonophile would be able to pick out the babies.

Care to practice finding the youngsters? Look for them in the spring and summer.

They may have stray strands of down poking through their feathers.

They may retain a trace of the "lip" around their beak that gives the parents a wider ralphing target.

Their heads may be narrower.

They may be shy. "They're more timid," Heppner explains. "They won't be professional in going after the best food."
So if you really want to see a baby pigeon, throw down a fried clam. That'll separate the men from the boys.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pigeons and Cheers for Pope Benedict XV1

Cheers and pageantry for papal mass at Yankee Stadium
Karin Zeitvogel
Agence France-Presse

April 21, 2008

NEW YORK – Tens of thousands of Americans erupted in cheers Sunday, waving white and yellow handkerchiefs as they welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Yankee Stadium for the final event of his US visit -- a huge outdoor mass.

"Most Holy Father, welcome to New York," New York's archbishop, Cardinal Edward Egan, said from the purple, white and yellow platform dominated by the Vatican coat of arms set up on the baseball diamond, drawing a deafening roar from the crowd.

The pope rose from the white papal chair decorated with a golden cross at the top of the platform, and raised both hands to salute the crowd.

White-robed Roman Catholic clerics sat alongside a rainbow of baseball caps; Asians and Hispanics prayed next to African-Americans and white descendants of European immigrants in the stadium, which had been converted from a shrine to baseball to an open-air church for the mass celebrated by Benedict.

"In this land of freedom and opportunity, the Church has united a widely diverse flock in the profession of the faith," Benedict said in his homily, as sunshine cut through the layer of cloud that had blanketed New York since the morning.

The prayer of the faithful after the homily underscored the ethnic diversity so lauded by the pontiff as it was intoned in English, Italian, Polish, French, Croatian, Tagalog, the language of the overwhelmingly Catholic Philippines, and Igbo, a Nigerian dialect.

Benedict praised the United States as a land of religious liberty, and urged US Catholics to overcome differences and build on the foundation of the church left by their forebears, many of them "immigrants whose traditions have so enriched the Church in America."

"Today's celebration is ... a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations."

The rapt audience of more than 57,000 interrupted the homily to applaud as the pope urged them to defend all life, "including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother's womb."

The 81-year-old pontiff made no mention in his homily of the sex scandal that has rocked the US church, a subject he repeatedly raised during his US visit, urging priests and their flocks to help heal the wounds.

But outside the stadium, a handful of protesters were not letting the issue to be swept under the carpet.

They held up signs denouncing the church and the scandal of predator priests: "Roman Catholicism is the devil" read one sign, while another screamed out "Priests rape boys."

Secret Service agents, who had thrown a thick cloak of security over the stadium, were met by little more than calls of "Viva il papa" as they scrutinized the stadium bleachers during the homily.

New York City policemen on security detail folded their hands and bowed their heads as the pope gave his blessing.

After deacons and priests had served communion, Italian tenor Marcello Giordani sang a stirring "Panis Angelicus," struggling to turn the pages to hold the libretto as the wind picked up.

Earlier, nuns had clapped to the music as singer-guitarist Jose Feliciano belted out "Lean on Me" from the white, purple and yellow platform as part of the spiritual warmup for the mass.

A Mexican wave -- when row after row stand up and raise their arms in the air -- unfurled through the upper seating level, with Roman Catholic clerics joining in as readily as lay people.

*A flock of doves was released and soared skyward shortly before the pope arrived at the stadium in his popemobile, its windows open to allow him to wave at the crowd.

Benedict is the third pope to celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium, after Paul VI in 1965 and John Paul II in 1979.

As the mass ended, a radiant Benedict waved at the crowd as Ludwig van Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" echoed around the stadium and yellow and white handkerchiefs waved anew.

The mass was the last event on Benedict's six-day visit to the United States, which took him to Washington before New York.

*"I own a "white dove release" business. I have 15 "doves", white pigeons, all have names and birthdays, all love me and fly to me at will. True doves do not have the homing instinct."

Judy Miller
Armore Doves


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Army Retires Carrier Pigeons

Published 7 April, 2008
Spain News

The Army bade farewell to its last carrier pigeons last week when the five members of the Army’s now defunct Carrier Pigeon Section released 300 birds, who promptly returned to their lofts on the army base at Pozuelo de Alarcon on the outskirts of Madrid. They were delivered the next day to the Spanish Pigeon-Fancier Federation. The Spanish Army started using carrier pigeons in 1879 and they played an important role in JaĆ©n during the Civil War. Two hundred Guardia Civil who had joined Franco were holed up with 1,200 people in the Sanctuaury of the Virgen de la Cabeza and survived a 256-day siege by Republican forces thanks to the pigeons who were used to send information about needed food supplies to the Military Government in Government. One bird, No. 46.415, was wounded by a bullet but managed to get her message through before dying. She received a posthumous award for bravery and her corpse still reposes, somewhat desiccated, in the Army Museum.