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Weekend Science Fun is a bit late this weekend because it has been one of “those” weeks. Yesterday we spent the day at a FIRST robotics competition. The day before we visited the Pima Air and Space Museum. You get the idea…

Keeping with the bird theme, let’s take a look at….Pigeons! Have you ever really spent a few minutes and looked closely at a pigeon (also called rock dove)? Check out their plumage. The feathers around the pigeon’s neck are often gorgeous iridescent purple or green. They really are a glamorous as peacocks in their own way.

I can hear you saying now, is she really talking about pigeons? Maybe she’s been out in the sun too long at the FIRST competition. Aren’t pigeons pests?

I have to say I didn’t think too much about pigeons until a book came out called
Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew D. Blechman.

After my son and I read the book, our attitude changed a lot. In fact, one his favorite parts of our trip to Washington, DC last summer was checking out all the different-colored pigeons on the Mall. I have to say the variety of colors was definitely greater than anywhere else we have visited.

Pigeons came back to mind when I saw an article in the newspaper recently about how many different species of birds have the ability to see the color ultraviolet, which is invisible to humans. That was pretty cool to me, because I know that many insects can also see ultraviolet.

The article didn’t mention pigeons, but I had an idea those brilliantly colored feathers might have some ultraviolet. Sure enough, it turns out that some of the earliest studies on birds’ abilities to see ultraviolet were carried out with pigeons. More recent work has shown that the purple or green feathers have a complex mix of colors and ultraviolet.  Pigeons are walking billboards of color we can’t see.

If I’ve convinced you that pigeons might be worth investigating, then take a look at a cool project at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology called Project Pigeonwatch.

Here’s a quick link to the free educational resources.

I’ll dig up some pictures and add later this weekend if I get a chance. Have a good weekend.