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The following information is from a fantastic book about hand-rearing birds. It includes rearing guides for a variety of different species.

Hand-Rearing Birds

by Laurie J. Gage and Rebecca S. Duerr

2007, Blackwell Publishing

Chapter 20: Pigeons and Doves by Martha Kudlacik and Nancy Eilertsen

The number and variety of hand-feeding diets being used in rehabilitation and captive breeding are such that they cannot all be covered in a short chapter. The underlying principle is to mimic the natural diet as much as possible.

The first 2-3 days of life, columbids are fed crop milk, which is high in protein and fat. About day 3 or 4, small amounts of regurgitated seed are added to the milk; crop milk production ceases about day 7-9 and regurgitated seed is fed throughout the fledging period.

Table 20.1. Mourning Dove tube-feeding schedule (weights based on California population). Feed hatchling diet to chicks of weights in bold. Birds on the hatchling diet may not require as frequent feeding as is listed. Check the crop at the interval and feed when crop empties.

Weight (grams) Quantity (ml) Hours between Feeds
10 1 1
15 1.5-2 1-1.5
20 1.5-2.5 2
25 2-3 2
30 2.5-3.5 2
35 4 2
40 5 3
45 5 3
50 6 3
55 6 3
60 6-7 3

Above 65 grams, skip meal if any seed in crop

65 6-7 3-1/2

Newly admitted juvenile mourning doves over 70 grams will usually self-feed unless debilitated, emaciated, or otherwise compromised.

70 8 4
80 8 4

Above 90 grams, do not tube-feed unless bird is debilitated. Healthy juveniles will almost always self-feed at 90 grams.

90 9 3x/day
95 9-10 3x/day

Expected weight gains of hand-reared Mourning Doves and Rock Pigeons.

A week has gone by since I’ve posted something. After a year of non-stop blogging I felt the need to let go for a bit, to not feel the pressure of having to post something every single day. So I logged out of my blog page and let it float away into the distant while I munched on crisps and watched Come Dine With Me.

Eventually I had to crawl out of my lull and face the blog again. But now I feel refreshed and buzzing with new stories. Just need to get the camera out and video some rather silly videos of Georgie and Elmo. They really are such characters and keep me smiling all day (except for breakfast and dinner time when Georgie insists on standing on my plate!).

So, a few things I’ve observed of our dear darling pigeons this week:

  • Elmo has learnt to open doors! “Amazing”, you say? Well, he cannot open them if they’re completely closed, but if there is the tiniest gap, he’s learnt that he can get to the other side if he puts his head through and use his body to push the door open. Many a time we’ve been surprised to see Elmo in the same room as us when we were sure the door was closed. It’s actually quite funny to see Elmo peek his head through and then push the door open. (I’ll try to capture it on video for you.)
  • Georgie is addicted to bread. Oh dear. What have we done?! We’ve been baking bread lately and I think the smell and taste of freshly baked bread has made Georgie a bread-junky (ok, I admit I’m using the royal “we” here! In fact, all the credit goes to my lovely hubby). Every time I have bread Georgie insists on having a piece too. I have to hold the bread in my hand so she can peck at it and gobble pieces down. Sometimes I fear for her when she gets a big one and tries to swallow it. I have to quickly grab it from her to stop her.
  • Elmo cannot stretch properly. Due to his slight balance problems Elmo cannot seem to stretch out his wing with the leg (which is one way pigeons stretch) and keep his balance on the other leg. So to stop himself from falling over he does a sort of a half stretch which looks quite funny because he stumbles a bit when he does it. Poor boy. Imagine not being able to stretch properly?! He does do an impressive shoulder lift stretch though. Looks very satisfying. (This is another behaviour I need to be alert to to capture it on video. Hard though because who knows when he’ll stretch?)

I leave you with promises of videos and photos to come. Tune in to the next installment of pigeon love – whenever that may be. I may get used to having breaks from the blog! :)

(Ok, that’s my lazy side speaking. I mustn’t drift away!)

I’ve never seen a stock dove in the wild. They are beautiful birds (love their black eyes) and I will have to go search for them once I know where to find them. :)

Poor pigeon! I’m sure it wasn’t his idea to smuggle the drugs! I wonder if he’ll get time for it?

18 January 2011

Colombia police catch drug-smuggling pigeon

Close up of pigeon as policeman tries to take the package off of his back
Pigeons have been used before by inmates

Colombian police say they have captured a carrier pigeon that was being used to smuggle drugs into a prison.

The bird was trying to fly into a jail in the north-eastern city of Bucaramanga with marijuana and cocaine paste strapped to its back, but did not make it. Police believe the 45g (1.6oz) drug package was too heavy for it. The bird is now being cared for by the local ecological police unit, officers said.

“We found the bird about a block away from the prison trying to fly over with a package, but due to the excess weight it could not accomplish its mission,” said Bucaramanga police commander Jose Angel Mendoza. “This is a new case of criminal ingenuity.”

The pigeon is thought to have been trained by inmates or their accomplices. Police said carrier pigeons had been used in the past to smuggle mobile phone Sim cards into the jail.

From: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12220886

Not writing a proper pigeon post today. Got too many things going on.

So I’m asking you all to do something nice for a pigeon, either your own or a wild one.

Just remember, pigeons are the best! :D

Elmo has a love/hate relationship with my stuffed toy rat, Templeton.

The other day he loved Templeton:


Today he doesn’t like him:

It’s been a very good weekend for us here with Georgie back to good health. She’s been snuggling up to me a lot and stealing food from my plate whenever she’s had the chance. She managed to run away with a piece of my tortilla yesterday, dragging cheese, corn, lettuce, tomatoes and salsa across the sofa. Lovely.

Elmo has been his usual wonderful self, cooing and twitching and loving. He loves shredded cabbage and lettuce so I’ve been dropping pieces on the kitchen floor whenever he’s in there keeping me company. He likes to keep an eye on things. And he loves his mineral pick-pot! The kitchen floor is covered with the pieces he’s been throwing about. He has very messy eating habits.

There are so many wonderful quirks of Elmo’s that I want to record. I think I need to hire a film crew to follow him about all day so they can capture his funny behaviours. A documentary about Elmo and Georgie would be a good idea.

Another project for me, I guess. :)

This is a question I’ve often wondered. The way pigeons walk was the first thing that attracted me to them when I was a little girl. I love the head-bobbing and strut of a pigeon. It entertained me endlessly while I would wait for a bus to take me home after school.

Firstly, I want to explain what the so-called “head-bobbing” movement really is. It is characterised by a rapid forward movement, called the thrust phase, which is followed by a hold phase. The backward movement is in fact an illusion. As stated by Necker (2007) “the head position is kept stable with regard to the environment while the body moves continuously forward. In this way head movements during walking are characterized by a hold phase and a thrust phase.”

So in layman’s terms: as a pigeon walks it thrusts its head forward and holds it while its body walks past that point and the pigeon then thrusts its head forward again. To us this looks as if the pigeon is moving its head forward and backward as it walks.

Most birds, pigeons included, have poor stereoscopic vision or depth perception (pigeons have lateral eyes with only minor binocular overlap). So, “during the hold phase [of the head-bob] the image of the surrounding world is stabilized for a short while on the retina, which increases the time to recognize and identify objects, especially moving ones” (Necker, 2007).

I think Wedderburn (2009) put it nicely when explaining why pigeons head-bob: “…it allows them to more clearly observe their surroundings for predators. The relative head holding phase provides a more stable picture; it would be far more difficult to identify very subtle movements of a cat if the bird’s eyes were moving relative to their surroundings.

“The head bob offers another advantage to birds: since their eyes are on either side of their heads, they have little binocular overlap (where both eyes can see the same object) resulting in poor depth vision. When head-bobbing, objects further away will seem to move more compared to objects that are close-up. … This is called ‘motion parallax’ and it allows birds to judge distances more effectively.”

The head-bob is not just a pigeon thing. Other species do it too.

The Orders of head-bobbing and non-bobbing species (well known species in brackets).

Head-bobbing: Columbiformes (pigeons, doves), Galliformes (chickens, pheasants, quails, peafowl), Gruiformes (cranes, rails) and Ciconiiformes (herons, storks, ibis).

Non-bobbing: Sphenisciformes (penguins), Phoenicopteriformes (flamingos), Pelicaniformes (pelicans, cormorants), Anseriformes (ducks, geese, swans), Falconiformes (hawks, eagles, vultures), Strigiformes (owls) and Psittaciformes (parrots, cockatoos, budgerigar).

Mixed: Charadriiformes (gulls, plovers, puffins) and Passeriformes (crows, starlings, sparrows).

Please go to the following website for more details on head-bobbing. It has videos and graphs to explain head-bobbing: Head-bobbing of walking birds – a review

It is not really known yet why some species head-bob and others do not.

The following publications are an interesting read, but good luck as a few are quite long! :)

Another interesting article on head-bobbing:

Why do hens and pigeons walk with bobbing heads?

By Pete Wedderburn

Last updated: June 25th, 2009

When I met a specialist  in biomechanics at a social function recently, I asked him if he knew the answer to a puzzle that has intrigued me for years: why do some birds bob their heads backwards and forwards as they walk? Pigeons and chickens are the best examples of this odd behaviour. Were their necks connected by sinews to their legs? What was going on?

He had no immediate answer for me, but like all good scientists, he has an appetite for knowledge and the determination to find the truth. He did some research, and this week, he sent me an email that explains what’s going on with this head-bobbing birds.

The subject was analysed by a Canadian scientist in 1978, using a high speed camera to measure the movement of a pigeon’s head, breast, wingtip and foot, when: (i) walking on the ground, (ii) when walking on a treadmill, and (iii) when being carried by a person who is walking along.

Firstly, by closely examining the bird walking on the ground, he confirmed the precise nature of the movement involved. This rhythmic action of the head bob involves a rapid forward ‘thrust’ of the head and what appears to be a slower backward movement. However, the backward movement of the head is an illusion, as the head in fact stays stationary relative to the bird’s surroundings, while the body actually ‘walks past it’. This backward moving phase would be better described as a ‘relative head-holding’ phase, where the head is held (almost) stationary relative to the bird’s surroundings.
When the pigeons walked on a treadmill (which must have taken some time to train) the head bobbing stopped, since the pigeon’s body was not moving relative to its surroundings.

When the person carried the pigeon while walking, the thrust and relative head-holding phases reappeared as the pigeon was again moving relative to its surroundings.
Other scientists took this work further, training birds to walk on the ground when blindfolded. These birds did not bob their heads, further confirming that the head bob is prompted by seeing the surrounding environment moving relative to the bird.

So why do birds use this thrust and relative head-holding action? The best guess is that it allows them to more clearly observe their surroundings for predators. The relative head holding phase provides a more stable picture; it would be far more difficult to identify very subtle movements of a cat if the bird’s eyes were moving relative to their surroundings.

This is easy to show. Ask a willing assistant to stand with a bright object in their hand (representing a predator) while you stand 10m away. See if you can detect when your assistant moves the object just a few centimetres (about 5 cm is observable). Ask them to repeat this while you are running parallel to them and you will see it is nearly impossible to identify when the bright object is being moved this small amount.

The head bob offers another advantage to birds: since their eyes are on either side of their heads, they have little binocular overlap (where both eyes can see the same object) resulting in poor depth vision. When head-bobbing, objects further away will seem to move more compared to objects that are close-up. (Try holding your finger in front of you and move your head from side to side, and you’ll see what I mean.) This is called “motion parallax” and it allows birds to judge distances more effectively.

I thought that it would impress readers if I could duplicate the scientific research in my own back garden, so last night I took some video footage of one of my own hens walking on her own, then being carried by my daughter.

It’s a good demonstration of the walking head bob, but it’s less easy to see the bob when the bird is being carried.

Scientists are willing to study anything; they are sometimes driven simply to understand, even if there appears to be no real benefit to us. And now you too know why hens use that much-mimicked head-bobbing chicken-walk.

We’re so happy to report that Georgie is back to normal! :D

She’s eating as normal, poops are normal and there are no signs of any infection or illness. Georgie is still on the thin side but she’s putting on weight again (we’re weighing her every day). We are very relieved and happy. Thank you all for your well-wishes and love. Georgie appreciates it too!

Here’s some photos of our darling pigeons, Elmo and Georgie:




Doesn't Georgie look stylish?


Where's your head, Elmo?


There it is!! :)


Elmo with my ratty, Templeton.


Relaxed and sleepy!


A wing out for comfort.


Sleepy boy!


And that famous "sitting on wing" pose that pigeons love to adopt.

All birds spend a lot of time and care in keeping their feathers in good condition. Pigeons preen often and mated pairs will also preen one another, as well as their babies. I love watching them do this. I find it soothing.