As I continue reading Superdove, there are more great pigeon trivia tidbits I will be using to impress family members at Christmas dinner:
- Squab meat is low in fat and rich in iron. (Turns out I have a squab recipe I clipped out from a cooking magazine article called “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – I wish I kept the recipes for the drumming drummers, piping pipers, a-leaping lords, dancing ladies and a-milking maids.)
- When precocial birds like chickens, turkeys and geese hatch, they are immediately mobile. Altricial birds like pigeons are born weak, naked and blind.
- Pigeon fathers and mothers both secrete crop milk to feed baby pigeons.
- Pigeons as supermarket meat never really took off because pigeons can procreate about twelve times a year. Compare that to the 200 plus eggs a chicken can lay in a year.
- The US’s largest pigeon meat operation is the Palmetto Pigeon Plant* in South Carolina.
- According to British historian Joan Thirsk, alternative crops and livestock rise in popularity during periods of excess cereals. In post-Black Death Europe, the smaller human population meant grains could be put aside for feeding birds; similarly, the low grain prices in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries also translated into increases of raising pigeons.
- Fancy pigeons like the English short-faced tumbler have such short beaks that foster parent pigeons must feed their young.
- Pigeons don’t have X and Y chromosomes; just one sex chromosome, with females having one chromosome and males having two copies.
- The skin around a pigeon’s eye is called a cere.
- Pigeons cannot fly at night because they have terrible night vision.
- Pigeons will return to a home loft even after years (hence their use as messenger pigeons – “one-way communicators” as Humphries calls them. Pigeon racing, where pigeons are timed on how long it takes them to return home, “is the ultimate test of the bonds between people and domestic animals” (page 66).
- Noah sent out a raven from the ark before he sent out the dove/pigeon. The raven never bothered returning.
- Messenger pigeons were used in ancient Egypt to tell the downriver dwellers when the flood waters arrived; Julius Caesar may have used them in his Gaul campaign; the Crusaders used them; and during the 1870 siege of Paris, refugees escaping with their pigeons sent messages back to those still in the city on waxed paper attached to tail feathers.
- During WWI and WWII, military pigeons were divided into their own companies and even received medals for bravery (established in Britain in 1943). Some brave pigeons were Flying Dutchman, Beachcomber, Commando, William of Orange, Billy, Princess, and GI Joe (his stuffed body is now at the U.S. Army Communications Electronics Museum at Fort Monmouth, NJ).
- Two-way communicating pigeons travel between home lofts and food locations.
- Cher Ami was another pigeon hero: he was shot in the chest, lost a leg and an eye. After he died on June 13, 1919, his taxidermied remains went to the Smithsonian (click on link to see Cher Ami).
*The Palmetto Pigeon Plant has a pigeon cursor that freaked me out the first time I went to the site. As for the “House for Forced Matings,” why didn’t they just call it the “House for Non-consensual Pigeon Sex” or the “House for Pigeon Rape”? The company has diversified since 1989, now raising cornish hens, silkie chickens and poussin chickens.