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It is not often that you see a pigeon of this colour:

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This poor roller pigeon was found in a garden and brought to my work (a veterinary practice) for assessment. As soon as I saw him I could see that he was very thin and needed care. We placed him in a warm cage with food and water, and left him to settle. The pigeon perked up after a while but was too weak to be interested in the food and water. I dipped his beak in the water to tempt him and he took the most pitiful little sip. My heart was breaking. I willed him to stay strong and survive his ordeal.

After examining him I found him to be in sound condition, no breaks or injuries, but simply extremely thin as if he had been lost for a while and unable to find any food (I’m not a vet, by the way, but I have worked with wildlife casualties, especially birds). It is a miracle that this pigeon wasn’t caught by a predator – his colouration making him an easy target (but I guess that some predator species do not see the same colours we do). The heat pad did its magic and the pigeon started eating a bit and looked livelier, however, it will take some time for him to regain his health and have strength to fly.

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The unusual thing is that this pigeon doesn’t have a metal identification ring on, only a plastic ring (ok, the second most unusal thing about him after being pink). I assumed that all fancy pigeons were ringed after they hatched so that their owners or breeders could identify them. So finding the owner of this pigeon will be impossible as the plastic ring hasn’t got any identification numbers on it.

I did manage to speak to someone at a roller pigeon club and they told me that roller pigeons are sometimes dyed different colours so that the owners can tell them apart when they are flying and doing their acrobatics. So that explains the pink dye.

We will have to find this pigeon a new home since he’s not a feral pigeon and won’t survive out in the wild. I shall keep you updated once I have more news on his progress.

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Previous posts about painted pigeons: Painted pigeons – is it right?, Pretty in pink?, and Promoting feral pigeons – by painting them?

26th June UPDATE:

“Pink” pigeon has gone to Blyth Wildlife Rescue for long-term care and rehabilitation. He is now in an aviary with other pigeons, settling in well, although looking the odd one out. :) We are grateful for everyone at Blyth Wildlife Rescue for taking him. Please visit their website and Facebook page to support them.

 


The subject of predators is always a touchy one. Many people don’t like to see animals being killed by others, especially when it isn’t a quick, clean kill. However, the fact of life is that there are species born to be predators and species born to be their prey. And pigeons and doves are definitely a prey species.

Witnessing the attack, or aftermath of an attack, of a predator on a pigeon is traumatic, especially if it is one of your own. No one wants to lose their pigeon in such a horrific manner. When I worked at a wildlife rescue centre I saw the results of such attacks, and thankfully we were sometimes able to mend and rehabilitate the victims. But each case was heartbreaking and people would often say to me how cruel predators are. I actually disagree. I don’t see animals as being cruel to one another when they are hunting for food. They do what they have to do. Doesn’t mean I like to see it happen (or the results of an attack), but I don’t hate predator species.

There are many species that predate on pigeons and doves. Birds of prey, such as peregrine falcons and sparrowhawks, are the main ones, however, domestic cats, foxes, rats, corvids, snakes and dogs can all do their fair share of harm. If you have an aviary that isn’t predator-proof, then you only have yourself to blame if a predator gets in. It is the responsibility of the animal carer to ensure the safety of their animals. So please don’t blame the fox when it breaks into a flimsy chicken wire cage and kills all your chickens or pigeons. By containing birds in a small enclosed space you’re essentially taunting the predators with what they must view as a box full of goodies. Of course they are going to attempt to eat those goodies. Predator proof your aviary!!

Of course, many will state that most domestic cats don’t kill to eat anymore and therefore are cruel, however, cats are still a predator species. They may not have the need to kill for food, but most cats definitely have the urge to hunt. It is in their DNA. Simply domesticating a species doesn’t necessarily change that. However, for some reason cats often get off lightly when they kill birds. Is it because so many people love cats and have them as pets? Sparrowhawks, on the other hand, are usually the target of hatred, particularly here in the UK and certainly amongst the pigeon racing clubs.

Last week I watched in horror as a sparrowhawk chased a feral pigeon in the air, catch it then drop to the ground right in front of me! I was in my car, driving slowly down my street, so when this happened I stopped. The sparrowhawk and I stared at each other for a second. Before I could get out of my car the sparrowhawk released the pigeon, who flew away quickly. He didn’t look injured but I knew he would have some painful puncture wounds on his body from the hawk’s claws (I’ve held sparrowhawks before and had one sink its claws into my hand so I know from experience how painful it is), and it upset me that I couldn’t help the pigeon further. I have to hope the wounds heal quickly. The sparrowhawk flew away too, most likely to hunt another bird.

Now, I’ve never actually seen the chase and capture before so it was a shock to witness it (both birds flew incredibly quickly). There was no way I was going to allow the hawk to rip open a pigeon right in front of me. I know that it has to eat but I don’t want to see it happen. I will always stop it from happening if I can – and I’ve interrupted a few sparrowhawks from killing pigeons and doves in the past (there was one that visited the rescue centre every now and then to have a go at the local birds) – but it doesn’t make me hate sparrowhawks. Even after everything I’ve seen from injured birds, I still don’t dislike birds of prey. They are beautiful, skillful and amazing birds. They are built for speed and agility. And do you know what? Pigeons are also built for speed. Pigeons are amazing flyers and can escape from the chase of a sparrowhawk. In fact, predators usually have to hunt many times a day in order to get just one kill. Most of their prey escape, therefore predators have to try harder.

Of course, certain domesticated pigeons, e.g. fancy pigeons, do not stand a chance against predators, what with their unusual feathers or body shape. Erecting a pretty white dovecote with pretty white fantail doves in the garden is simply asking for trouble. Fantails are not good flyers and will be easily killed by most predators.

Free flying pigeons are also going to be targets of predators. Hand-reared tame pigeons are more vulnerable because many lack an awareness of the threat of predators (especially if they have been hand-reared with dogs and cats). So if you let your pigeon fly freely then you have to accept the fact that a bird of prey may one day attack. It will be up to you to decide whether the risk is minimal compared to the gains and joys of freedom and make the choice that you feel comfortable with. My choice is easier to make since both my pigeons cannot fly properly anyway, so they stay indoors and any time outside is heavily supervised.

I have hand-reared, cared for and rehabilitated many bird and mammal species at the wildlife rescue centre, both predator and prey species. I have fallen in love with the warning clicks of a baby owl, the adorable look of a baby magpie, the insistent squeaks of a baby pigeon, as well as the stubborn, defensive glares of a sparrowhawk chick. Ultimately, all baby species are adorable so for me it was inevitable to fall in love with them. :)

A few photos of sparrowhawks cared for at the wildlife rescue centre I worked at. They have piercing stares, even the juvenile one!

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Juvenile sparrowhawk

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Adult sparrowhawk

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Adult sparrowhawk


Carrying on from my last post about the feral pigeons in my garden, I noticed a larger and suspiciously “noble” looking pigeon amongst the flock. Upon closer inspection I saw that the pigeon has a white ring around its leg. This threw me a bit since I’ve never seen a checkered racing pigeon before, only blue bars, although I know racing pigeons can come in a variety of colours.

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Checkered racing pigeon

The racing pigeon looks healthy and strong (and very beautiful!), with no signs of any problems with his flight and I can only speculate that he became lost during a race and decided to team up with the feral pigeons for safety, companionship and intel on the good food locations. I don’t know how long he’ll stay with the feral pigeons before deciding to return to his home. He may never return if he falls in love with a feral. :)

Racing pigeons generally do well in the wild if they join a feral pigeon flock, unlike fancy pigeons that may have some unusual feather shapes that make it hard for them to fly away from predators quickly (please read my post about the welfare of fancy pigeons). This is one reason why you should never release a fancy pigeon into the wild. Racing pigeons, however, are bred to fly fast and strong, and I’ve seen racing pigeons stick with feral pigeons so I believe that they are capable of surviving in the wild. Maybe their genetic contribution to the feral population helps with the overall genetic health of wild pigeons? I have seen feral pigeons that look like they have racing blood in them (it’s often the shape of the head and beak that gives them away: very “Roman nose”).

I wonder: If I go out into the garden and hold some food in my hand, would the racer fly down to me?

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Can you spot the racer?

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology were conducting research into feral pigeon behaviour and colour distinctions/morphs, however, they have now discontinued it. I don’t know what the results of their research is, but I’d be very interested to know. However, this website has taken up the challenge of finding more about pigeon colour variation: Feral Pigeon Project

Pigeon colour morphs:

pigeon color morphs


I discovered a useful and insightful website by Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) about the genetic welfare problems of companion animals: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/geneticwelfareproblems.php

UFAW is a charity dedicated to promoting and developing improvements in the welfare of all animals, mainly through scientific and eductional activity.

The website is an information resource for prospective breeders and pet owners, and highlights which breeds of domestic animals have genetic welfare problems. Included in their list is a selection of fancy pigeon breeds: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/PIGEONS.php

The two main issues with fancy pigeons they write about is Abnormal Feathers and Rolling and Tumbling behaviour.

The website is worth a read to understand the problems these fancy pigeon breeds have and what are the welfare implications. You will find information on the clinical and pathological effects of the condition, the intensity and duration of welfare impact, number of animals affected, diagnosis, genetics, how to determine if an animal is a carrier, as well as methods and prospects for elimination of the problem.

Abnormal Feathers

Breed examples: Bokhara Trumpeter, Dresden Trumpeter, English Fantail, English Pouter, English Trumpeter, Ghent Cropper, Hungarian Giant House, Indian Fantail, Jacobin, Lahore Pigeon, Old Dutch Capuchine, Old German Cropper, Reversewing Pouter, Saxon Fairy Swallow, Tiger Swallow, Trumpeter

Condition: Abnormal Feathers

Related terms: feathered feet, hoods, fantails

Outline: Various breeds of pigeons have been selected for a range of plumage abnormalities: abnormalities of feather size, position and number. Examples include: a hood or mane of feathers covering the head and eyes, feathered legs and feet (“muffs” or “leggings”), and fantails. These variously compromise capacities for locomotion (walking, perching and flight), for mating and rearing young, for feeding and probably also for maintaining thermal comfort. The effects these have on the birds’ quality of life is difficult to assess but it seems likely that they are negative.” (From: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/ABNORMALFEATHERS.php)

The extreme feathering on some pigeon breeds interferes with their normal behaviour. Fantails, for example, have tail feathers that are held constantly fanned out which severely affect the aerodynamics of the pigeon, compromising their ability to fly and escape predators. Breeds with hoods or manes are often unable to raise their own young, which have to be fostered by pigeons with normal plumage. Long leg and feet feathers interfere with normal walking, perching and flying (by acting as aerial brakes during flight). Abnormal feathering can also become more easily soiled and lead to disease and parasites if the pigeon is unable to keep its feathers clean.

The below photo is of a rescued Indian Fantail who has broken tail feathers from improper housing. He was rehomed but has difficulty preening and often his tail and leg feathers have to be washed by hand to keep them clean.

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Indian Fantail

The below photo is of a fancy pigeon with extra long leg feathers which restrict his movement and perching abilities, as well as being easily soiled. Another problem with such feathering is the danger of them becoming damaged or broken, which can lead to bleeding if a blood feather is broken.

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Notice the long white feathers on this pigeon's feet.

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Rolling and Tumbling

Breed: Roller and Tumbler Pigeons – For example: Armenian Tumbler, Australian Performing Tumbler, Berlin Short-Faced Tumbler, English Long-Faced Tumbler, English Short-Faced Tumbler, Iranian Highflying Tumbler, Komorner Tumbler, Parlor Roller, Parlor Tumbler, Syrian Coop Tumbler, West of England Tumbler

Condition: Rolling and tumbling

Related terms: backward somersaulting, rolldowns

Outline: The roller and tumbler breeds of pigeon have been selected for tumbling behaviour in flight, to the extent that some tumblers can no longer fly but, instead, tumble as soon as they intend to take wing. (This abnormal behaviour is exploited in competitions in which owners of these pigeons compete to find whose bird covers the most ground by tumbling over it.) The consequences to the birds are difficult to assess but are clearly adverse when they lead to injuries due to hitting the ground or tumbling over it.” (From: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/ROLLINGTUMBLINGPIGEONS.php)

 

More videos of this behaviour and activity: Video Friday: Rollers and Tumblers

Besides the obvious welfare issues of injuries caused by tumbling and rolling behaviour (e.g. from collisions with the ground or objects), it is also disturbing their natural desire to fly normally, especially as a flight response to danger, thus possibly being a cause for fear-related stress and distress.

Below is a photo of Turk, who we believe to be a tumbler pigeon, possibly a Turkish Takla. I have witnessed him do backflips in the air when he tries to fly down from a perch to the ground in the aviary where he lives. Each time his behaviour indicates that the backflips are not voluntary and seem to inconvenience him. He always hesitates each time he wants to fly down. An indication of a lack of desire to fly because of how the backflips make him feel? This may be my subjective point of view but as pointed out on the website, it may be a source of frustration if the pigeon is unable to control the tumbling behaviour.

Turk

Turk, the Turkish Takla pigeon


Late last year two fancy pigeons were brought to my work because they had been found in the wild unable to cope with being out of captivity (they had either escaped or been stupidly released). They came in separately, but once they were put in an aviary together they promptly fell in love. :)

One is a male West of England Tumbler and the other a female of unknown breed (possibly a mix. Any ideas?).

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West of England Tumbler pigeon on the right

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Unknown fancy breed on the left

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They love each other!

We found them a forever home since the resident aviary at work is full, and the day I put them in their carrier to wait for their transporter was a loud one. As soon as the male Tumbler started cooing to his mate all the other pigeons in the Intensive Care Unit started cooing too. He also set off the baby pigeons we had in there. Just listen:

What darlings!! :)


Remember Davey pigeon’s foot injury? (See: Davey pigeon in care) Well, it healed up nicely, no infection or other complications, so we removed the stitches and put him back into Dora’s aviary. All the male pigeons came down to greet him and Davey got straight to work in establishing his territory after having been away for a week and a half. :)

Last week it was rather wet and windy so it was a relief to have Dora’s aviary cleaned and given dry bedding (the pigeons love fresh bedding. I love watching them pick up bits of straw to take to their nests). But of course it rained today so the aviary is a bit wet again. The pigeons don’t mind the rain to be honest (they do have shelter in the aviary). I often see them with their wings up to let the rain wash their “wing-pits”. :)

I went over to check for eggs to replace with fake ones and to do a quick visual check of all the pigeons in there. Everyone looked fine and healthy, which was of course a relief after the scare when Davey injured his foot.

I managed to take a few videos of Dora and the other pigeons for your viewing pleasure. As usual, Dora had fun attacking my fingers while her mate, Pidge, thought they were worthy recipients for mating.

Here’s a list of all the current resident pigeons (fancy or disabled) at my work:

  1. DORAfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Pidge)
  2. PIDGEmale - feral pigeon (paired with Dora)
  3. GERTIEfemale - racing pigeon (paired with Marmaduke)
  4. MARMADUKEmale - Archangel breed (paired with Gertie)
  5. FLEURfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Marmalade)
  6. MARMALADEmale - Archangel breed (paired with Fleur)
  7. MADDIEfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Lord Nelson)
  8. LORD NELSONmale - West of England Tumbler breed (paired with Maddie)
  9. PEACHESfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Stanley)
  10. STANLEYmale - feral pigeon (paired with Peaches)
  11. SPECKLESfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Horatio)
  12. HORATIOmale - Highflyer/Tippler breed (paired with Speckles)
  13. LUMIfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Turk)
  14. TURKmale - Turkish Takla breed (paired with Lumi)
  15. MOUSIEfemale - racing pigeon (paired with Rudderford)
  16. RUDDERFORDmale - feral pigeon (paired with Mousie)
  17. DAVEYmale - feral pigeon (single)
  18. BUTTONmale - feral pigeon (single)
  19. BIRDIEfemale - feral pigeon (single)
  20. TUXfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Burko)
  21. BURKOmale – feral pigeon (paried with Tux)

A few days ago I spent a bit of time in Dora’s aviary at work – to check up on the resident pigeons there (a mixture of fancy, tame, and disabled pigeons), as well as to spend some time with Dora who used to live with us at home.

One thing I noticed immediately was that all the nesting pigeons (on fake eggs) were male pigeons, except for Dora! She was the only female to be incubating eggs. I don’t know why her mate, Pidge, wasn’t on duty – maybe Dora is a pushy girl and didn’t trust his commitment? Maybe Pidge isn’t as broody as he should be? Whatever the reason, it was quite funny to see the girl in her nest bowl, cooing away to Pidge while he pranced about on the perch to me (Pidge likes people as well as pigeons).

And as soon as I put my hand over to stroke her, Dora gave me the usual greeting:

Here’s Horatio (paired with Speckles) on incubating duty:

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Horatio in his nest

And the new pigeon, Burko, (paired with Tux) is a very good mate – protecting his fake egg from my intruding fingers:

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Burko in his nest

Rudderford has been through a moult and his new tail feathers aren’t as tatty as the previous ones, although I suspect they will soon fray at the ends again since he has trouble standing up properly (due to an injury).

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Rudderford


Last week at work I noticed that one of the disabled pigeons in Dora’s aviary was sitting down a lot and was very reluctant to move about. It was Teresa, an old girl with a broken wing (old injury). After examing her I found that she had hurt one of her legs, however, there wasn’t anything obvious (no breaks, cuts, etc.). She was just reluctant to use it. So I took Teresa into the intensive care unit (I.C.U.) to receive the care and bed rest she needs.

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Teresa in a hospital cage

Teresa is still in I.C.U. on medication (pain relief, etc.) and bed rest, and she’s eating lots and her droppings are normal. I’m hoping she’ll be on her legs and back in the aviary with her friends soon.

In other news, we have two new resident pigeons to join Dora and the gang! :)

Burko

Burko, a tame feral pigeon

Burko is a grey checker feral pigeon that was found on the ground in February. He was healthy but was simply not flying. It is thought that he had just fledged and maybe got dazed and confused. After a bit of care Burko started flying again.

Tux

Tux, a tame feral pigeon

Tux is a black and white pied feral pigeon. She was found in March, all wet and oily with a damaged left wing. The wing healed within a few months, by which time Burko had wooed his way into Tux’s heart, since the two had been living in the same house together (with a few cats too). Both are a bit too friendly towards people and cats so they cannot be released and were brought to my work for rehoming.

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Burko and Tux in their new home

Tux and Burko settled in fine in Dora’s aviary and I’m sure they’ll be sitting on eggs soon (fake ones when I sneakily replace them). I cannot wait to get to know them better. When they were in the isolation pen Burko kept attacking my fingers in a playful manner, so I can see he’s a very feisty pigeon, however, Tux was not so keen to interact with me. I think she’s a bit more timid and may take a while to get used to me and her new surroundings.

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Some of the pigeons in Dora's aviary

Remember Birdie girl? Unfortunately, she hasn’t chosen a mate yet. Neither Button or Davey have stolen her heart. :( I’m afraid she may never choose a pigeon mate, rather preferring a human companion. If she seems unhappy I will have to rehome her to a loving home, however, at the moment she doesn’t seem unhappy with the pigeons. I will keep an eye on her and assess the situation later. On a happier note, Birdie’s feathers are growing back so she should look like a proper pigeon soon. :)

List of all the current resident pigeons (fancy or disabled) at my work:

  1. DORAfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Pidge)
  2. PIDGEmale - feral pigeon (paired with Dora)
  3. GERTIEfemale - racing pigeon (paired with Marmaduke)
  4. MARMADUKEmale - Archangel breed (paired with Gertie)
  5. FLEURfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Marmalade)
  6. MARMALADEmale - Archangel breed (paired with Fleur)
  7. MADDIEfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Lord Nelson)
  8. LORD NELSONmale - West of England Tumbler breed (paired with Maddie)
  9. PEACHESfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Stanley)
  10. STANLEYmale - feral pigeon (paired with Peaches)
  11. SPECKLESfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Horatio)
  12. HORATIOmale - Highflyer/Tippler breed (paired with Speckles)
  13. LUMIfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Turk)
  14. TURKmale - Turkish Takla breed (paired with Lumi)
  15. MOUSIEfemale - racing pigeon (paired with Rudderford)
  16. RUDDERFORDmale - feral pigeon (paired with Mousie)
  17. TERESAfemale - feral pigeon (single)
  18. DAVEYmale - feral pigeon (single)
  19. BUTTONmale - feral pigeon (single)
  20. BIRDIEfemale - feral pigeon (single)
  21. TUXfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Burko)
  22. BURKOmale – feral pigeon (paried with Tux)

Birdie

Birdie girl

We want you to welcome “Birdie girl” into Dora’s extended family.

Birdie girl, as she’s named by her carers, was found as a baby last spring and was hand-reared. She seemed to be a slow developer or maybe she was simply so happy with her carers, but she only started eating for herself after 6 months of being hand-fed!! She then began making nests and laying eggs in the usual female way and seemed quite happy in her home, however, a month or so ago Birdie became stressed and started to pluck out her feathers. Her carers thought that it may be a lack of a mate that was stressing her so they contacted my work to see if we could find her one.

Birdie is too tame to be released, and since there are two single males in the resident fancy and disabled pigeon aviary at my work, we decided to give her a home with the hopes that she will pair up with one of the single boys.

And here’s the two boys, Davey (the white pigeon) and Button (the grey feral), cooing and dancing to Birdie on her first day in her new home (the boys stop when Birdie comes close to me):

I hope Birdie likes her new home and finds either Davey or Button a suitable match. I’m sure both the boys will prance about like little clowns to attract her attention. I’ll keep you posted if I see a romance blossoming. :)

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Pigeons eating


I’ve received and read the three pigeon books I ordered a while back (see: Pigeon books on order). I now have eight books solely about pigeons and although a few of them have the same things written in them, they are all good books for information and references. The following books are the ones I have:

For information about fancy and racing pigeon housing and care:

  • Encyclopedia of Pigeon Breeds by Wendell M. Levi (1965)
  • Fancy Pigeons by Aad Rijs (2006)
  • Pigeons: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual by Matthew M. Vriends and Tommy E. Erskine (2005)
  • Understanding Pigeon Paramyxovirosis by H. Vindevogel and J.P. Duchatel (1985)

For information on the history and current situation between people and pigeons:

  • Pigeon by Barbara Allen (2009)
  • Pigeons by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (1997)
  • Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird by Andrew D. Blechman (2006)
  • Superdove: How the Pigeon took Manhattan… and the World by Courtney Humphries (2008)