Tag Archives: Pigeons

In The Eyes Of A Pigeon

By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

a vintage photo of a boy watching his homing pigeons exercise their wings after being released from their catch pen
Come Home Soon!

A willing and observant person can gather some extraordinary insights about the natural world in the most unlikely places. It can happen in the short time that it takes to blink an eye, no matter if that eye belongs to you, or to something else. Nature abounds with beneficial lessons and the teachers of true meaning are everywhere. I just happen to gain some of my clues from the clear-eyed and attentive stares of my backyard pigeon flock. You can learn a lot from an otherwise ordinary and common creature.

I spend a fair amount of time with this captive audience of one hundred in their outdoor aviary. I am their provider, and their lifeline from the outside lands. I supply them with their daily ration of grains and clean water, irregardless of the weather or the many other duties or time constraints I may have. I fill their pickpots with grit and minerals. I break ice from their bowls in the winter, and suffer the same stinging snows and biting winds of the day. I clean their flypen and pigeon-house, and keep a sharp eye out for the telltale signs of distress or disease. I study them closely, and through it all, they watch me too.

I am a constant in their lives, and a spoke in their wheel of life. I have come to know of them and their world just a little bit, and they of me. It could be said that they would rather prefer that I was not involved at all, but I am a necessary intrusion they must tolerate, at least for a brief time.

Yet, they wait for me each morning and afternoon, the anticipation building as I drive up to the entrance doors. They mill about excitedly as I approach, ready to perform just for me. I touch the door handle, and they begin their wild jig, dancing like ecstatic puppets on hidden strings. They hop about and swirl their wings like crazed whirligigs, or slap their wingtips smartly as they launch from their perch for a short flight across the pen.

They chant their pigeon talk and coo even louder as I step in through the inner doors, to become completely surrounded by frantic birds, eager to fill their crops before the other’s. They push and shoulder for each speck of grain as if their life depended on it. Perhaps they bicker and fight to establish or maintain some imperceptible pigeon pecking order, or maybe just to remind themselves that life can be a struggle. You would think that they would know by now that their will be enough food for all comers, but it is a wild ritual that they simply must abide for reasons known only to the pigeon.

We have repeated this madcap scene a few thousand times and more, the pigeons and I. It has become routine, with little deviation from the usual suspects. That is until yesterday, when our normal interaction abruptly and inexplicably changed.

It was immediately obvious when I pulled up in my truck. The absence of sound or flashing wings struck me first, and what pigeon heads I could see sat on top of outstretched necks, alert, with searching eyes. They crouched in the classic manner of all prey, with feet tucked under their bodies, coiled and ready to spring out and away from impending danger.

A close up photo of a common pigeon with eye

The birds stood frozen and paid me little mind as I entered and searched the ground for an animal intruder. I investigated the pigeon houses and the nest boxes and found nothing. I checked every nook and cranny of their limited world and came up empty. I paused to scratch my head, and ponder this puzzling circumstance.

Hand on chin, I stared at the closest pigeon and wondered, determined to discover just why he would not fly. And then he cocked his head, and I saw his eye focus on something high as he grounded himself more tightly to his perch. At that moment I spied a wide, dark shadow moving across the dirt floor, and smiled. I knew exactly what belonged in that kind of shadow, as did my fine feathered friends. All I had to do was look up, to see just exactly what it was that had struck such all-consuming fear in their hearts.

I had no doubt that the shadow maker was an eater of birds, but there were several possibilities in this category. A red-tailed hawk maybe, or a gleaming eagle from the nearby river. In this case the black shadow belonged to an animal of equal color, with a distinctively naked neck. It was not what I expected to see.

The Turkey Vulture, or Buzzard as it is sometimes called, is quite common to the American West and many parts of North America. A six-foot wingspan casts a long shadow across the land, and he covers a lot of it as he travels. That great red and bald head is immediately recognizable from afar, and known by all. His sentinel like posture and hovering demeanor create and perpetuate his iconic image. It is a form often associated with death, and it is a meaning not entirely lost on my domesticated, but anxious, pigeon flock.

The Vulture is classified as a bird of prey, after all, even though he finds most of his meals by smell after they are already dead. I suppose that it is a distinction utterly lost on the brain of a pigeon.

His generic name is Cathartes, which means “purifier”.  It is an appropriate name, as the Buzzard is the sharp-beaked “tearer”, and recycler of flesh and feather. He is part of nature’s cleanup crew, and a perfectly ordained sanitizing unit. His kind is often referred to as “carrion eaters”, as if it were a derogatory term used to define the sordid parameters of their defective character. Nothing could be father from the truth.

I, for one, am a defender of this homely yet beautiful animal. The manner in which he makes his living should not be used to demean or degrade his standing in the larger scheme of things. His shadow may strike terror in the souls of countless scurrying and furtive creatures, but he has not come for them. Not now. He is where our lifeless bodies might naturally go, may we all be so lucky. There are far worse fates to suffer than those borne through the belly of a bird.

Still, it makes me wonder about the sensibilities of the pigeons in my charge. None of this buzzard business should be of any concern to a bird so far removed from a natural environment. It may be true that their only protection from flying marauders is a thin, nylon mesh that forms the roof of their cage. But what of it?

Most of my birds have never known anything else than the limited boundaries of the aviary. They were hatched here, reared by their parents and brought to adulthood without having to worry about danger and death from above. They have never enjoyed a truly wild moment in their lives, and I doubt if the thought of escape and a different kind of life has ever occurred to them.

Likewise, their parents have grown up in much the very same way, as did their parents, and their parents, and so on and so on. In fact their domestic lineage goes back for thousands of years, to the days when the first man-made his first hopeful departures from the relative safety of the caves. They are mankind’s first domestic animal partner, and their history is our history. One would think that very little of the wild would be left in the soul of a pigeon. On the contrary, it would appear that the thin margin of safety above their swiveling heads provides little comfort.

It makes me wonder about the level of domestication in the so-called domestic pigeon. How much wild is left in an otherwise non-wild creature? What does he remember of his life on the cliffs? Is it some latent genetic memory, or something else that keeps him looking skyward? Something tells me that there are some wild yearnings left behind, and that it might not take them very long to surface if given some small opportunity.

Truth be known, the story of the vulture and the pigeon is a tale as old as time and one not so easily forgotten. Each has something to tell us in their own way. Their interactions remind us that the primordial spark of life burns on as brightly as ever. They beckon us to live fully while we are alive, no matter the circumstance or the crosses we bear.

They tell us that danger is but a heartbeat away, though we try to deny it by surrounding ourselves with shallow and petty distractions. The realities of life and death lie closely behind the delicate veil, no matter how hard we may try to separate and protect ourselves from the natural world with the cages of our own clever designs.

The Turkey Vulture occasionally wishes to feel like a master predator on the wing, and a hunter of live prey. Perhaps he flies over our birds to feel the power of his blood and history. He dares us to be watchful, yet hopeful, lest we gain the finality of his steady gaze. We all must eventually return to replenish the elements of the earth. We are needed, we are welcome, but perhaps not today.

The great purifier embraces the rising thermals and circles ever upward, hanging on the edge of consciousness to remind us that a little bit of wild remains in the most cowered and tamed of the earthly realms below. We shall all have plenty of time to rest, and to watch, in our time.

 

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) riding the air currents while searching for prey or carrion and something to eat
Patience Is A Virtue For a Vulture

By Michael Patrick McCarty

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Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan … And the World (Hardcover)

Why do we see pigeons as lowly urban pests and how did they become such common city dwellers? Courtney Humphries traces the natural history of the pigeon, recounting how these shy birds that once made their homes on the sparse cliffs of sea coasts came to dominate our urban public spaces. While detailing this evolution, Humphries introduces us to synanthropy: The concept that animals can become dependent on humans without ceasing to be wild; they can adapt to the cityscape as if it were a field or a forest.

Superdove simultaneously explores the pigeon’s cultural transformation, from its life in the dovecotes of ancient Egypt to its service in the trenches of World War I, to its feats within the pigeon-racing societies of today. While the dove is traditionally recognized as a symbol of peace, the pigeon has long inspired a different sort of fetishistic devotion from breeders, eaters, and artists—and from those who recognized and exploited the pigeon’s astounding abilities. Because of their fecundity, pigeons were symbols of fertility associated with Aphrodite, while their keen ability to find their way home made them ideal messengers and even pilots.

Their usefulness largely forgotten, today’s pigeons have become as ubiquitous and reviled as rats. But Superdove reveals something more surprising: By using pigeons for our own purposes, we humans have changed their evolution. And in doing so, we have helped make pigeons the ideal city dwellers they are today. In the tradition of Rats, the book that made its namesake rodents famous, Superdove is the fascinating story of the pigeon’s journey from the wild to the city—the home they’ll never leave.


New From:$44.57 USD In Stock
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In Defense Of the Pigeon

Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail: Upland Birds and Small Game from Field to Feast (Hardcover)

A comprehensive, lushly illustrated cookbook devoted to preparing and cooking upland birds and small game, both wild and domesticated, from the author of the award-winning website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

Game birds have always held a high place at the table, whether it’s a hunter’s prize of roast grouse or the turkey we all eat at Thanksgiving. Pheasants, quail, rabbits, doves, grouse and more – these are singular species with grand culinary traditions that offer the cook an unmatched range of flavors. Many cooks fear the fowl, however. Lean and athletic, game birds, rabbits and hares can dry out in a hurry. Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail shows you how to cook small game like a pro: perfectly crisp skin over tender breast meat, melt-in-your-mouth braises and confit, stews, sausages, and more.

Hank Shaw, an award-winning food writer, hunter, and cook at the forefront of the wild-to-table revolution, provides all you need to know about obtaining, cleaning, and cooking birds ranging from quail to pheasant, turkey to dove and beyond. Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail also covers a range of small game animals such as rabbits, hares and squirrels. You’ll find detailed information on how best to treat these various species in the kitchen, how to select them in the market, as well as how to pluck, clean and hang wild birds. Shaw’s global yet approachable recipes include basics such as Roast Pheasant and Buttermilk Fried Rabbit; international classics like Tuscan Hare Ragu, French Rabbit a la Moutarde, Mexican Turkey Tamales with Pumpkin, and General Tso’s Pheasant; as well as unique dishes such as Roast Woodcock Michigan. It also features an array of small game charcuterie, from fresh sausages to confit and terrines.

The most comprehensive guide to preparing and cooking upland birds and small game, whether domesticated or wild, Pheasant, Quail Cottontail will be a valued companion for hunters as well as home cooks looking for new ways to cook store-bought turkey, rabbit or quail.

What’s more, every purchase of this book helps our wild habitats. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold will go to help the non-profit conservation efforts of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, which will use the money to restore, maintain and expand habitat for all upland birds.


New From:$24.12 USD In Stock
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By Hank Shaw

“A pigeon, any pigeon, is a remarkable game bird. It is faster than any other bird we hunt, tougher than most, and is a treasure at the table. Call it “squab” and people will happily drop $35 for an entree at a fancy bistro. But call it “pigeon,” and people start judging you and your life choices.

I am here to say that pigeons, especially our native band-tailed pigeon, ought to be as cherished as the mountain quail and blue grouse they live among. All three are symbols of the Sierra, of early autumn days spent hiking dusty slopes, ears tuned, neck craned, shotgun ready. They are hard-won birds, to be cooked with reverence”.

You Can Read The Full Article Here  or at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

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And, let me add that I could not agree more. Pigeons of all kinds have always fascinated me, and to be honest they are largely responsible for my shotgunning skills, such as they are.

I have yet to hunt for band-tailed pigeons, but I can tell you I hope to try that sometime soon. They will be on the dinner table too, providing I can get lucky.

I’ll keep you posted…

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