The Pigeon (Columba Livia)
Although not a conventional oddity, you will look at Pigeons in a different light after this, enjoy.
Imagine a town, city or park without our little chappy the Pigeon. They are the birds that humans have utilised for thousands of years for food, fertiliser, and messengers but they are not always met with the thanks they deserve.
City Pigeons, Carrier (or Homing) Pigeons, Domestic Pigeons raised for meat, and Racing Pigeons are all the same species, descended from the Rock Dove of Europe, North Africa, and South Asia and are all members of the same species “Columba Livia”
The Feral pigeon is derived from domesticated pigeons that have returned to the wild. The domestic pigeon was derived from the rock dove that inhabited sea cliffs and rocky outcrops near the sea. Since the instinct to roost in high crevices and holes is still strong, they choose the next best thing, the buildings within cities and towns.
Pigeons have the ability to see literally millions of different hues and have around 15 times the amount of cone cells compared to a human. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_receptor_in_the_retina_that_allows_you_to_see_color this allows them to see food opportunities, predators and recognise subtle changes in the environment.
Another feature of the Pigeon is that they their brain and eyes work at a much higher FPS http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frame_rate meaning they see life much slower than we do, meaning they can fly with ease through the tightest spaces, land on the most precarious ledges and evade oncoming threats such as cars and Peregrine falcons… sometimes.
As a rather unorthodox clarification example I will try and explain a pigeons FPS rate, as no articles exist online; say you took a pigeon into a cinema and watched a film, you, the human, would see the film as a smooth seamless movie and would not be able to identify the join between each individual frame and the next; a pigeon however would see the movie quite literally like a rather boring “PowerPoint” presentation, with each frame taking around 4 seconds relative to the human mind to “flick” to the next.
See here for more on the eyes of a bird http://www.backyardnature.net/birdeyes.htm
Have you ever seen a Pigeon take off and have you ever wondered what that slapping noise was? Some thought it was the noise created by Pigeons as they rapidly respire http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080211153911AAtAbQs drawing in masses of oxygen for their muscles during takeoff (anyone interested in the avian respiratory system see here) http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=15+1829&aid=2721 . We now know that the sound is generated by the “Scapulars” http://birding.about.com/od/Bird-Glossary-S-T/g/Scapulars.htm or http://www.taxidermy.net/forums/BirdTaxiArticles/04/k/047B3FB5C6.html, “Primary” and “middle primary covert sections” http://www.infovisual.info/02/057_en.html of the wing striking the other wing when they are in the fully raised position above its head like so: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jackabob/3296372305/ see this video for clarification http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uviWnggSHDg .
This is an article about the structure and strength of birds wings compared to their function: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/46/2/219.full.pdf .
Some Quick facts about the Pigeon
Pigeons can fly at altitudes of 6000 feet or more and cruise at speeds of to 77.6 mph but have been recorded flying at an astonishing 92.5 mph!
Pigeons can fly between 600 and 700 miles in a single day, with the longest recorded flight in the 19th century taking 55 days between Africa and England and covering 7000 miles.
Pigeons are thought to navigate by sensing the earth’s magnetic field and using the sun for direction. Other theories include the use of roads and even low frequency seismic waves to find their way home.
Pigeons (and all the “Columbidae” family) drink by sucking water and using their beaks like straws. Almost every other bird collects water in the mouth and utilises gravity to drink.
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.
There are many theories as to how homing pigeons navigate, from iron deposits in the eyes to following landmarks and even smelling! Every one of them having a positive and negatives.
So why do they bob their heads you ask?
The Twitchers’ amongst us may know that pigeons are not the only bird to bob their head while walking, chickens, Parrots, Magpies, Quails, Cranes and many more Birds also bob their heads while walking but we simply see the pigeon more often.
Birds, in particular pigeons, bob their head as an “Optokinetic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optokinetic_reflex reflex” to movement around them. The head bobbing is much more precise that what it first seems, there are two stages to the head movement, the “Thrust” phase where the head is literally thrust forward, then there is a “Hold” phase where the head is again literally held stationary enabling the bird to focus on an object http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgaH8lES39E . This only occurs when the bird is in motion and the objects appear to move accordingly.
Pigeons were placed on a tread mill to prove this theory and were encouraged to walk, scientists suggested that they would not bob their head as the surroundings remained stationary and to everyone’s astonishment, they were right!
Here is some more information on the “Optokinetic reflex” http://www.biomotionlab.ca/bobbing.php
Thank you for the messages and do not forget to comment on what you think about my Pigeon post, any advice for next time, any opinions and any questions, I reply to everyone.
I said you would not look at Pigeons the same way again.