Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two Pigeon Spies Are Arrested

Iran arrests two spy pigeons near nuclear facility
by James Exelby
Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Pigeons have been flying military missions for at least 850 years. Two spy pigeons have been arrested in the vicinity of the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz, and handed over to the country's security services, local press reported on Monday.

Iranian paper E'temad-e Melli quoted an informed source as saying that one pigeon carrying a wired rod fixed to its body with the use of invisible threads had been caught near the Mihan Rose Water Company in Kashan, Isfahan province.

He added that the second bird, a black pigeon carrying a blue wired rod fixed to its back by invisible threads, had been caught at the beginning of the month.

The Natanz nuclear plant is alleged to be Iran's central facility for uranium enrichment to be used to build an atomic bomb, although there is some speculation that the site could be a front, while expansion of the centrifuge program goes on elsewhere.

The facility is located some 30km from the town of the same name, which itself is 70km from Kashan.

The use of pigeons in military operations dates back to at least the 12th century, originating in the Middle East.

The first recorded use of messenger pigeons was in 1150 in Baghdad and the great Mongol Genghis Khan made use of them soon after.

In 1860, Paul Reuter, who later founded Reuters press agency, used a fleet of over 45 pigeons to deliver news and stock prices between Brussels and Aachen. The outcome of the Battle of Waterloo was also first delivered by a pigeon to England.

In 1994, a medal awarded to a British pigeon working for British Intelligence during World War II sold for 9,200 pounds ($15,755).

The PDSA Dickin medal, the animal equivalent to the UK's highest military award for bravery, the Victoria Cross, was awarded to Commando the Pigeon, who had flown vital information, the location of German troops, industrial sites and injured British soldiers, out of occupied France in 1942.

Commando received his medal in 1945 for his "conspicuous bravery and devotion" before he was put out to stud.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pigeons Deserve Respect

Pigeons deserve respect: Animals in the News
Posted by Donna J. Miller/Plain Dealer Reporter October 17, 2008

Ever cursed a pigeon? Called the urban dwellers dirty and dumb? Shooed them away like dandruff on a lapel?

Maybe Mr. Pigeon will change your view.

He lived in a cage, in a house full of cats, with an elderly lady who died last year. Cleveland Animal Protective League humane officers took the cats, but wondered what to do with the caged bird. Winter was approaching. The pigeon was accustomed to indoor temperatures.

They called me, knowing I care for rescued chickens and other farm animals.

Mr. Pigeon moved into my semi-finished basement. He didn't seem to mind the cage, but I hated it. I let him loose in one room, where he flew about and perched on shelves and a ceiling fan.

Occasionally, a cat sneaked in. I panicked, but Mr. Pigeon strode up to full-grown felines without fear. He got beak to nose. He pulled tails. He scurried between their legs and pinched their bellies, sending them fleeing.

I stopped worrying about keeping him from cats and enjoyed the winter months watching him rule the room.

In spring, I let him go.

He wouldn't leave.

He soared from tree to tree to the garage roof. Ate cracked corn with ducks and geese. Slept on the door opener mounted to the ceiling of the garage. Hopped down steps and pushed through a cat door to nap in the cool basement on hot days. Ate face-to-face with cats, whom he could read.

He swooped away from Louie and Taxi, who would do him harm. He went for walks in the woods with Thomas. He wrestled with Bruno. Yes, wrestled. I wished I had a video camera.

When I got home from work, Mr. Pigeon would swoop into the garage and land on my car, cooing. One day, he didn't.

I scanned the trees. There sat a bird-eating Cooper's hawk.

But maybe Mr. Pigeon's story can bring better treatment to the birds of Cleveland this winter, where they struggle to survive, not among natural predators, but among people and cars.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Love a Pigeon Week

A delightful article on pigeons by Alicia. Love a Pigeon Week surpasses National Pigeon Day.

I am definitely not a bird lover. I tolerate small birds, like house sparrows, finches, whatever. In fact small ones can be rather cute. I like how sparrows in public places have the guts to hop close and try to steal your lunch, or whatever you happen to be carrying. Parakeets are even okay as far as other birds; i think they’re really pretty and they are usually in cages which helps. But it seems to me that the sheer ominosity (is that a word?) of the bigger birds such as ostriches seems to drown the impact of the number of small birds present in the world. I mean, no matter how many small and harmless ones exist, the big ones just look so menacing that it totally disregards how few they are. (Have you ever had an emu chase you? I have * shudder * and that’s probably why i have this problem with birds. Even seagulls look threatening up close, good grief.)

But there is one bird that i think is largely misunderstood and under appreciated, and that is the pigeon. Now before you leave my blog for good, consider my arguments. Pigeons are not aggressive. They make a pleasant cooing sound (at least some think it is pleasant). It is not their fault that they poop all over your car either. They can be rather funny at times, since they are supposed to act like small birds but are quite fat. They add alot of atmosphere and character to a city (at least I think so - when my family went to Chicago, i cannot tell you how much cooler the city was to me just because it had pigeons running around everywhere). Feeding them from your hand is also like the biggest world tourist thing ever, so they also provide entertainment for many crowds - not only for the ones feeding them, but also for those watching people feed them. Without pigeons, the song “Feed the Birds” in Mary Poppins would not have been made possible in front of the Notre Dame. Okay, maybe it is just a movie, but that is my favorite song from that film and it was also one of Walt Disney’s personal favorites, so pigeons are VERY important.

Plus, anyone who has been subjected to the PBS kids version of Curious George loves pigeons automatically, all thanks to Compass the homing pigeon who doesn’t really home. Compass is a representative for the true will of pigeons everywhere; and the true will of pigeons really has nothing to do with bothering us bipeds.

So, i say we should declare a national holiday: “Love a Pigeon Week.” It should be a week long because some people need six days to find a pigeon to love, and others need six days to work up the courage and tenacity to love one they already found. (Pastor Kevin is a step ahead right now - he just needs to find the pigeon that is so “annoyingly” cooing outside his office every day and give it a big hug so it will coo louder.)

So, there is my thought for the day. Not very profound, granted, but hopefully interesting nonetheless. Now go out and love a pigeon!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Pigeon Intelligence

Bird's-eye view of big pictures
Chris Fulton | October 02, 2008

ART critics beware: when it comes to appraising the works of Monet and Picasso, the humble pigeon can give you a run for your aesthetic money.

The surprising discovery by Japanese neuropsychologist Shigeru Watanabe at Keio University adds to earlier research revealing that the multi-talented birds can also hear the difference between Bach and Stravinsky.

Watanabe put the pigeons to the artist challenge as part of his study on how pigeons think and process information. He says the work may provide important clues to the mystery of how humans see and interpret art.

According to Watanabe, who reported his findings in the journal Animal Cognition, birds, like humans, rely on their eyesight to find food, make a home and avoid their predators. Such selective pressures give pigeons and humans a heightened visual ability, which by chance enables both species to appreciate the subtle nuances of artistic style.

"These observations suggest the visual functions of pigeons are comparable (with those of) humans," Watanabe says.

Commenting on the research, visual neuroethologist Jochen Zeil, from the Australian National University, says the findings are no laughing matter. "I'm not surprised that they found pigeons could distinguish the fine details of paintings," he says.

Zeil notes that people often underestimate how well other animals can see. "This research gives us a better appreciation of how amazing animals other than ourselves are in terms of their visual abilities," he says.

In order to tease out the critical faculties of pigeons, Watanabe and his colleagues first showed a pigeon 10 paintings by Monet. Then they asked the same pigeon to identify -- peck out -- a different work by the same artist from a mixture of paintings by Monet, Renoir, Matisse and Delacroix. The pigeons were able to do this for a range of other artists as well, including Picasso, Van Gogh and Chagall.

After testing 21-year-old psychology students with the same paintings, Watanabe found that pigeons and humans were on a par with their artistic detective work.

Even when the paintings were converted to black and white, both the pigeons and the students could still identify the artist correctly. And when other aspects of the images were changed, such as blurring of the finer brushstroke details, both groups got the answer wrong.

According to Watanabe, the results suggest that pigeons and people assess multiple characteristics of an object when making a judgment, such as the particular combination of colour and pattern.