Weekend Science Fun: Pigeon Watching

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.

1 Comment

  1. Alessandro Croseri

    Hi Roberta,

    I thought you may find my feature documentary film, “The Pigeoneers” starring Col. Clifford A. Poutre, Chief Pigeoneer, U.S. Army Signal Corps Pigeon Service, 1936-1943 of interest.

    Acknowledged the world’s outstanding military pigeon expert, Poutre is credited with having streamlined the U. S. Army homing pigeon training and services to keep pace with the latest developments in army aviation. Poutre has taught his homers numerous tricks unprecedented in pigeon history-to be ready for day or night messenger duty, to return to a mobile pigeon loft which moves ten miles away after the pigeon departs and to carry a canary piggy-back from New Jersey to a loft on the rooftops in New York City.

    Poutre also acted as a public relations person where pigeons were involved. This led to meeting Nikola Tesla, (1856-1943), the great scientist and inventor who had developed alternating current (AC) and who designed and developed many of the devices for the production and distribution of same. Tesla’s Coil (1891) and AC Motor is used in most electric devices today. Tesla was also the innovator of wireless transmission, with a radio patent filed in 1897 and at 72 years old, received a patent for a flying machine that combined elements of the airplane and helicopter. Poutre recalls fondly his friendship and visits to Mr. Tesla at the Hotel New Yorker in the 1930’s. Poutre dispells the longstanding myth that Nikola Tesla was not a “nut” and didn’t keep “filthy city pigeons.” Sure, Tesla may have fed or rescued an injured or lost pigeon but Poutre reminds us that that was a mere act of kindness not madness. Mr. Tesla was an avid homing pigeon fancier and the two enjoyed engaging in “pigeon talk”.

    Poutre discarded the old “starvation” method of training pigeons in favor of a system of “kindness”. Poutre’s experiments have proved that homers will now come home because they want to, and not, as in World War 1, because they were hungry.

    Poutre handled and cared for numerous World War I Hero Pigeons such as “Long John Silver” and “The Kaiser”, the famous captured German war pigeon. Poutre also reminds us of the tremendous efforts of the British Pigeoneers, Lt. Col. A.H. Osman and Mr. J.W. Logan, Esq., and the British War Hero Pigeons during the Great World Wars.

    Poutre kept army birds in training by racing them against civilian pigeons. One of the great Army racers was “Always Faithful”, 1935 winner of a 720 mile race from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to his loft at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in the time of 15 hours 39 minutes and 9 seconds. An average speed of 1343.8 yards a minute. This tremendous win earned “Always Faithful” the Hall of Fame Cup and Medal from the American Racing Pigeon Union in 1935.

    Poutre tossed the last bird in 1957 before the close-out of the Army Pigeon Service at Fort Monmouth, N.J. Colonel Poutre retired in 1960 as Commander, Signal Corps Supply Agency, Tobyhanna, P.A., after 31 years of loyal military service.

    Join Colonel Clifford A. Poutre in “The Pigeoneers”, slow down, think, and remember.


    Please visit the website for “The Pigeoneers” film trailer and further details: http://www.pigeonsincombat.com

    Kind regards,
    Alessandro Croseri

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