Monday, December 10, 2012
The Pigeon Parents
Eugene rolls up a desk chair and sets a roll of toilet paper on the glass-topped coffee table. You never know when or where Troy, Nini and Lucky are going to let one fly.
Pigeon poop, Eugene explains, isn't the squishy stuff you see smeared on car windshields. No, if you feed the birds the proper food, pigeon seed, the poop pops out like plump raisins.
There's always a lot of it. "It's easy to pick up," Eugene says.
This is important shit to know because Eugene and Kaori are housing two dozen rescue pigeons in their one-bedroom apartment. Troy, Nini and Lucky, who are their pets, are the only ones allowed free flight. The others are in cages or carrying cases and will be released once they are well enough to wing it.
"People think pigeons are rats with wings, but they are charming creatures," says Eugene in all seriousness. "Each one has its own character."
It's people, not pigeons, who have given the birds a bad rap, Kaori adds. "The birds are the innocent ones," she says. "People treat them badly and harm them without even knowing it."
Something as insignificant as a piece of string or a strand of hair can cripple pigeons when it gets tangled in their webbed feet.
Troy, a blue bar, has a crushed right wing so he can't fly long distances; Nini, a grizzle, has been with them since she was a baby and doesn't know how to survive in the wild; and Lucky, a checker, has neurological problems -- watch her long enough and she'll start twisting her head like a corkscrew for no reason. That's why Eugene and Kaori are keeping them.
Something stirs the trio, and they take a swift swoop, fluttering with all their might. If anyone ever films a sequel to Hitchcock's The Birds, these guys should get starring roles.
Eugene, thin and tall, and Kaori, petite and pretty, remain unflappable during this spontaneous flight.
The 36-year-old Eugene, who was born in Chicago to Japanese parents, has lived all over the world.
Kaori, 37, is a native of Japan. They met at Boston University, where they earned degrees in international relations. After they married, they moved to Astoria, where they make their living as stay-at-home freelance translators.
They never paid much attention to pigeons until a couple set up housekeeping in their neighbor's air conditioner.
"It looked so beautiful," Eugene says. "The male brought the branches, and the female made the nest."
They met their first injured pigeon three years ago. It had taken refuge under a food-vendor's cart, and they decided to take it home. For care instructions, they sought help from the Wild Bird Fund, but the bird didn't make it.
"It was very sad," Kaori says. "We buried it in Astoria Park under a small tree." Soon, they were picking up other pigeons.
"It started as a hobby," Eugene says, adding that they recently became New York State licensed wildlife rehabilitators. "But it became a mission for us." Of course, there were adjustments that had to be made. The apartment had to be pigeon-proofed. They removed the sharp objects, books, decorative items and even the ceiling lights and their bulbs.
The sick birds are quarantined in the bedroom, so Eugene and Kaori sleep on a futon in the living room. It doesn't seem to bother them. And they had to change their schedules. They get up to the sound of coos at 5:30 a.m. By the time they feed the flock, change the newspaper carpets in the cages, dole out medications and do rehab on little limbs and wings, it's close to 8. "Some of the birds can't eat on their own," Kaori says. "And the babies need food every three to four hours."
In between work projects, they pick up poop and clean the apartment, which is kept operating-room clean. By 10 p.m., they are more than ready to head to their futon.
"We don't go out much, and we have no regrets," Eugene says, adding that they've never added up the costs of the care. "This is our only entertainment and pleasure."
Eugene and Kaori usually keep 10 pigeons, so with 24, it's getting a little crowded. They dream of the day when they can give the birds more wing room. They'd like to build a bird sanctuary in Astoria.
"We're going to keep going," Eugene says. "We want to save as many as possible."
Troy, Nini and Lucky stare at him approvingly from their living room perches.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The Pigeoneers film will premier at Cinema Village in New York City
Featuring Colonel Clifford A. Poutre, Chief Pigeoneer, U. S. Army Signal Corps Pigeon Service
"The Pigeoneers" is an homage to the bravery of homing pigeons who saved thousands of lives in combat in the Great World Wars. Their achievements embodied the attributes of service, endurance, loyalty and supreme courage. Here, their memory is evoked by Colonel Clifford A. Poutre, Chief Pigeoneer, U. S. Army Signal Corps Pigeon Service, 1936-1943. Poutre enlisted as a Private in 1929, soon after, became a Pigeoneer stationed at the 11th Signal Company, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii until 1936In this debut film, director Alessandro Croseri delivers a stunningly beautiful ode to combat pigeons and their pigeoneers. The documentary follows Col. Clifford Poutre at age 103 during the final year of his life and examines his innovations in the training of homing pigeons for combat missions during World War II.
Drawing on a rich array of archival footage, the film tells the story of Poutre's thirty-one years of military service as former Chief Pigeoneer of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, his successful rejection of "starvation" methods of training in favor of a system defined by kindness and care, his pigeons' remarkable feats both in combat and in civilian races, and his notable friendships with the likes of Nikola Tesla, himself an impassioned pigeon handler in the later years of his life.
Through a collection of intimate interviews and black and white photography set to the nostalgic tunes of Glenn Miller, The Pigeoneers serves up a one-of-a-kind tribute and heartfelt exploration of the complex, interdependent relationships between humans and the birds we so often overlook.
The Pigeoneers film premier will be at Cinema Village.
Opening on Friday, June 8, 2012
Ending on Thursday, June 14, 2012.
Cinema Village Box Office
22 East 12th Street (between University Place and Fifth Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 924 3362
Friday, December 23, 2011
How Smart Is This Bird?
By James Gorman
By now, the intelligence of birds is well known. Alex the African gray parrot had great verbal skills. Scrub jays, which hide caches of seeds and other food, have remarkable memories. And New Caledonian crows make and use tools in ways that would put the average home plumber to shame.
Pigeons, it turns out, are no slouches either. It was known that they could count. But all sorts of animals, including bees, can count. Pigeons have now shown that they can learn abstract rules about numbers, an ability that until now had been demonstrated only in primates. In the 1990s scientists trained rhesus monkeys to look at groups of items on a screen and to rank them from the lowest number of items to the highest.
They learned to rank groups of one, two and three items in various sizes and shapes. When tested, they were able to do the task even when unfamiliar numbers of things were introduced. In other words, having learned that two was more than one and three more than two, they could also figure out that five was more than two, or eight more than six.
Damian Scarf, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, tried the same experiment with pigeons, and he and two colleagues report in the current issue of the journal Science that the pigeons did just as well as the monkeys.
Elizabeth Brannon, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, and one of the scientists who did the original experiments with monkeys, was impressed by the new results. “Their performance looks just like the monkeys’,” she said.
Score one for the birds. The pigeons had learned an abstract rule: peck images on a screen in order, lower numbers to higher. It may have taken a year of training, with different shapes, sizes and colors of items, always in groups of one, two or three, but all that work paid off when it was time for higher math.
Given groups of six and nine, they could pick, or peck, the images in the right order. This is one more bit of evidence of how smart birds really are, and it is intriguing because the pigeons’ performance was so similar to the monkeys’. “I was surprised,” Dr. Scarf said.
He and his colleagues wrote that the common ability to learn rules about numbers is an example either of different groups — birds and primates, in this case — evolving these abilities separately, or of both pigeons and primates using an ability that was already present in their last common ancestor.
That would really be something, because the common ancestor of pigeons and primates would have been alive around 300 million years ago, before dinosaurs and mammals. It may be that counting was already important, but Dr. Scarf said that if he had to guess, he would lean toward the idea that the numerical ability he tested evolved separately. “I can definitely see why both monkeys and pigeons could profit from this ability,” he said.
No testing has been done with numbers greater than nine, so whether a pigeon can count large numbers of bread crumbs or popcorn kernels is a question still open to investigation.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
12 Amazing Facts You Didn't Know About Pigeons
by EVOLVE! Campaigns
How old are pigeons?
Pigeons have lived alongside man for thousands of years with the first images of pigeons being found by archaeologists in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and dating back to 3000 BC. It was the Sumerians in Mesopotamia that first started to breed white doves from the wild pigeon that we see in our towns and cities today and this undoubtedly accounts for the amazing variety of colors that are found in the average flock of urban pigeons. To ancient peoples a white pigeon would have seemed miraculous and this explains why the bird was widely worshipped and considered to be sacred. Throughout human history the pigeon has adopted many roles ranging from symbols of gods and goddesses through to sacrificial victims, messengers, pets, food and even war heroes!
The first biblical reference to the pigeon (or dove) was in the Old Testament of the Bible in the first millennium AC and was the story of Noah and the dove of peace. Later, in the New Testament, the pigeon was first mentioned during the baptism of Christ where the dove descended as the Holy Spirit, an image now used extensively in Christian art. These early biblical references have paved the way for the many different ways that the urban pigeon is viewed in modern societies worldwide. Perception of the pigeon through the centuries has changed from God to the devil and from hero to zero!
Pigeon poop – foul or fantastic?
Although pigeon poo is seen as a major problem for property owners in the 21st Century, it was considered to be an invaluable resource in the 16th, 17th and 18th century in Europe. Pigeon poop was a highly prized fertiliser and considered to be far more potent than farmyard manure. So prized in fact that armed guards were stationed at the entrances to dovecotes (pigeon houses) to stop thieves stealing it! Not only this, but in England in the 16th century pigeon poop was the only known source of saltpetre, an essential ingredient of gunpowder and was considered a highly valued commodity as a result. In Iran, where eating pigeon flesh was forbidden, dovecotes were set up and used simply as a source of fertilizer for melon crops and in France and Italy it was used to fertilize vineyards and hemp crops.
The pigeon as a war hero
In modern times the feral pigeon has been used to great effect during wartime. In both the first and second World Wars the pigeon saved hundreds of thousands of human lives by carrying messages across enemy lines. Pigeons were carried on ships in convoys and in the event of a U-boat attack a messenger pigeon was released with details of the location of the sinking ship. In many cases this lead to the survivors being rescued and lives saved. Mobile pigeon lofts were set up behind the trenches in the First World War from which pigeons often had to fly through enemy fire and poison gas to get their messages home. The birds played a vital role in intelligence gathering and were used extensively behind enemy lines where the survival rate was only 10%. In the Second World War pigeons were used less due to advances in telecommunications, but the birds relayed invaluable information back to the allies about the German V1 and V2 Rocket sites on the other side of the Channel.
The pigeon as a messenger
The earliest large scale communication network using pigeons as messengers was established in Syria and Persia about 5th Century BC. Much later in the 12th Century AD the city of Baghdad and all the main towns and cities in Syria and Egypt were linked by messages carried by pigeons. This was the sole source of communication. In Roman times the pigeon was used to carry results of sporting events such as the Olympic Games and this is why. Games and this is why white doves are released at the start of the Olympic Games today. In England, prior to the days of telegraphs, pigeons were often taken to soccer matches and released to carry home the result of the game. Their use as a messenger in war time resulted in many pigeons being awarded honors by both the British and French Governments. Incredibly, the last ‘pigeon post’ service was abandoned in India in 2004 with the birds being retired to live out the rest of their days in peace.
'Rock Dove' or 'Pigeon
The feral pigeon that we see in our towns and cities today is descended from the Rock Dove (Columba livia), a cliff dwelling bird historically found in coastal regions. The word ‘pigeon’ is actually derived from the Latin word ‘pipio’ which meant ‘young bird’. The word then passed into Old French as ‘pijon’ and thus the English name ‘pigeon’ was derived and is now used the world over as a common name for the Rock Dove. Other common names include ‘domestic pigeon’ and the ‘feral pigeon’. In 2004 British and American Ornithologists officially re-named the bird the Rock Pigeon.
Mating habits of the pigeon
The feral pigeon mates for life and can breed up to 8 times a year in optimum conditions, bringing two young into the world each time. The frequency of breeding is dictated by the abundance of food. The eggs take 18/19 days to hatch with both parents incubating the eggs. Young dependant pigeons are commonly known as ‘squabs’. Both parents feed the young with a special ‘pigeon milk’ that is regurgitated and fed to the squabs. Each squab can double its birth weight in one day but it takes 4 days for the eyes to open. When squabs are hungry they ‘squeak’ whilst flapping their wings and as a result they are also commonly known as ‘squeakers’. At approximately 2 months of age the young are ready to fledge and leave the nest. This much longer than average time spent in the nest ensures that life expectancy of a juvenile pigeon is far greater than that of other fledglings.
How do pigeons navigate?
There are many theories about how pigeons manage to return ‘home’ when released 100’s of miles from their loft. A champion racing pigeon can be released 400-600 miles away from its home and still return within the day. This amazing feat does not just apply to ‘racing’ or ‘homing’ pigeons, all pigeons have the ability to return to their roost. A 10-year study carried out by Oxford University concluded that pigeons use roads and freeways to navigate, in some cases even changing direction at freeway junctions. Other theories include navigation by use of the earth’s magnetic field, visual clues such as landmarks, the sun and even infrasounds (low frequency seismic waves). Whatever the truth, this unique ability makes the pigeon a very special bird.
Pigeons as lifesavers
Although pigeons are one of the most intelligent of all the bird species man has found limited uses for the birds other than for the purposes of sport, food and as a message carrier. A team of navy researchers, however, has found that pigeons can be trained to save human lives at sea with high success rates. Project Sea Hunt has trained a number of pigeons to identify red or yellow life jackets when floating in the water. The pigeons were not only found to be more reliable than humans but they were also many times quicker than humans when it came to spotting survivors from a capsized or sinking boat. The pigeon can see color in the same way that humans do but they can also see ultra-violet, a part of the spectrum that humans cannot see, and this is one of the reasons they are so well adapted to lifesaving.
Pigeons in the news
One of the world’s most famous news agencies, Reuters, started its European business by using trained homing pigeons. The service was started in 1850 with 45 pigeons carrying the latest news and stock prices from Aachen in Germany to Brussels in Belgium. Although a telegraph service between the two countries existed, numerous gaps in the transmission lines made communication difficult and slow. The birds travelled the 76 miles in a record-breaking two hours beating the railway by four hours.
Why do you never see a baby pigeon?
Most small birds rear and fledge their young in 2/3 weeks with young birds sometimes leaving the nest after only 10 days of life, but pigeons are different, their young remain in the nest for up to 2 months before fledging. This gives the young pigeon an advantage over many other species of bird. It leaves the nest as a relatively mature juvenile, allowing the bird to cope better in the first few days of its life, a dangerous time for all youngsters. Juveniles can be told apart from adults but it takes an experienced eye. A juvenile’s beak often appears to be far too long for the size of its body and the cere (the fleshy area at the top of the beak) is white in adults and greyish pink in juveniles.
Are Pigeons Intelligent?
Pigeons are considered to be one of the most intelligent birds on the planet with pigeons being able to undertake tasks previously thought to be the sole preserve of humans and primates. The pigeon has also been found to pass the ‘mirror test’ (being able to recognise its reflection in a mirror) and is one of only 6 species, and the only non-mammal, that has this ability. The pigeon can also recognise all 26 letters of the English language as well as being able to conceptualise. In scientific tests pigeons have been found to be able to differentiate between photographs and even differentiate between two different human beings in a photograph when rewarded with food for doing so.
Friday, September 2, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Pennsylvania Senate committee approves bill to ban live pigeon shoots
The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11 to 3 today in favor of legislation to end target shoots with live pigeons once and for all. Pennsylvania holds the dishonor of being the last place where such cruel spectacles are regularly and openly allowed. SB 626, Sen. Pat Browne – District 16, now goes to the full Senate.
Pigeon shoots are bloody, wanton events where trapped birds are launched from boxes. Prizes are granted for shooters who kill the most.
“We thank Sen. Patrick Browne for tirelessly pushing this legislation to end cruel contests outlawed in most states, and Sen. Stewart Greenleaf and members of the Judiciary Committee for passing this legislation onto the Senate,” said Heidi Prescott, senior vice president for the Humane Society of the United States.
Today’s committee approval represented the first legislative vote on the issue in 11 years despite widespread opposition to these events.
Sen. Browne’s measure specifically states that traditional hunting activity is not included in the ban.
About pigeon shoots:
•Other supporters of SB 626 include the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies, The Pennsylvania Bar Association and the ASPCA.
•A small circuit of pigeon shoots exists in Pennsylvania, attracting out-of-state shooters who cannot participate in the activity considered animal cruelty in their home states.
•In pigeon shoots, the birds are launched one at a time from traps in front of shooters who blast away at close range.
•Typically, 70 percent of the birds released in pigeon shoots are wounded rather than killed outright, with some wounded animals escaping into the area to suffer for hours or days before dying.
•Like dogfighting and cockfighting the shoots are invitation-only events with participants said to bet large sums on the outcomes.
•In 1999, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that pigeon shoot participants could be prosecuted for animal cruelty leading to the ending of the annual Hegins Labor Day Pigeon Shoot. But shoots have continued at private clubs.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Living at Peace with Pigeons (pigeon lofts)
Living at Peace with Pigeons
How pigeon lofts are good news for birds – and also for cities
By Marleen Drijgers.
(Editor’s Note: In her previous post, Marleen Drijgers, the founder of the European Council for Humane and Effective Pigeon Control, described how many cities across Europe have stopped treating pigeons as pests and started to treat them as the beautiful birds they are. Now she explains how to create a good living space for them.)
In the late 1990s, the city of Rotterdam, Germany, laid out a plan to kill all its pigeons. I had already had success in persuading several town, in Holland, where I live, that mass killings do not reduce the population in the long term and are not only cruel but a waste of taxpayer money. So I was invited to address the council in Rotterdam. The majority of the council agreed with me and they vetoed the plan.
At the same time, I met a German artist, Stefan Gross, who was living and working in Rotterdam. Stefan told me that in two cities in Germany, pigeons were not being killed anymore. Instead, they were living in pigeon lofts donated by well-wishers. After our meeting, Stefan proceeded to design a modern loft for the pigeons of Rotterdam, and local bird associations began organizing with city councils, volunteers and private donors to have them installed and maintained.
When pigeons get a beautiful loft where they can eat and sleep, they also get a makeover in peoples’ minds. Because the lofts are good-looking, modern and practical, people stop thinking of their inhabitants as dirty, ugly, flying vermin. Good food results in good-looking, healthy birds of which a city can be proud. And the lofts themselves are artistic pieces of architecture.
The pigeon lofts
The lofts are made of aluminum, so they are not heavy. They are also insulated, so they’re cool in summer and warm in winter. And they’re attached to the rooftop of a building in a way that ensures they are storm-proof.
Not every city pigeon needs a loft. Lofts are for places where the birds gather in flocks, creating a nuisance. A pigeon loft is a humane solution that reduces complaints that droppings and nests are polluting buildings and apartment blocks.
The loft must be built close to places where the pigeons are already sleeping and nesting. A loft in a park does not solve the problem. Pigeons like sitting high on rooftops, so rooftops are good places for lofts.
Caring for the pigeons
To prevent a pigeon loft from becoming overcrowded, volunteers remove eggs and replace them with plastic eggs. Only when female pigeons brood very often do they leave a single egg that will hatch. In a loft where 150 pigeons sleep and brood, more than 300 eggs and more than 600 pounds of pigeon droppings will be removed each year. (Pigeon eggs are edible by humans, so I like to think the pigeons are paying the “rent” for their house in eggs.) We also provide them with a good mixture of cereals and seeds and fresh water daily.
Caring for the pigeons obviously takes some work. As I mentioned in my previous post, I became interested in pigeons through my neighbor, who used to put out food for them on her roof. I began to do the same thing, putting out a big bowl of drinking water and a small tub for bathing. It was lovely to see the pigeons splashing in the water and also grooming and looking after each other. Once a week, I had to clean my rooftop of pigeon dung, but I didn’t mind – the pleasure exceeded the nuisance.
In some European cities where pigeon lofts are taking hold, the people who look after the pigeons and clean the lofts are paid for their work. In others, this work is done by volunteers who love pigeons. It just takes a little organization to make sure the routine is maintained. And the small investment of paying someone to do this work is far less than the cost of pigeon extermination.
The new lifestyle we provide for the pigeons also increases their lifespan. Without a loft, a pigeon’s life expectancy is about 3 years. Pigeons living in a loft live longer because of the good food and the shelter from rain, snow and wind.
Also, for racing pigeons who get lost during the races, the lofts are a true sanctuary where they can live for the rest of their lives. (Most pigeon keepers are not interested in having them back, because there are no longer any prizes to be won with them.)
Here in the Netherlands, there are now pigeon lofts in five cities, and plans are in motion for three more cities. In Germany, there are lofts in almost 40 cities and there are also some in Belgium, France, Italy and the U.K. I’ve also had some inquiries from Athens in Greece.
More and more cities are seeing that this humane method is also effective, and more and more cities are discovering that installing lofts is far preferable to the senseless and cruel killing.
I hope that cities in the U.S. choose for pigeon lofts as well. They are peaceful birds, so we should let them live in peace.
Marleen Drijgers is the founder of the European Working Group for Effective Pigeon Control. You can contact her directly there for more information about creating a pigeon loft, or introduce her work to your local bird protection group.
There are no organized city programs in the United States yet to create lofts for city pigeons. For more information about helping pigeons in the United States, visit the New York Bird Club.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
World's Largest Pigeon!
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Avitrol Corp Discontinues Sale of Avitrol
A poison, Avitrol was used to reduce the number of birds at industrial, agricultural and urban sites. Use of the product was limited to licensed pest applicators and usually resulted in dead or dying birds. Introduced more than 25 years ago, Avitrol has long been opposed by animal welfare and conservation groups.
See letter from Avitrol Corp: