Book Review: A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching
July 24, 2022
Subtitled “Getting to know the world’s most misunderstood bird,” this book will forever change your perspective on your city’s “flying rats” — and hopefully strike that insult from your vocabulary.
Cleverly written and charmingly illustrated by Rosemary Mosco, this finely produced book covers the surprising history of the birds, how to appreciate their diversity and situation, and how to interpret their behavior.
Here are just a few of the many tidbits that spoke to me:
- All pigeons are doves. Why are there two names? “Pigeon” derives from the French language, brought to England by the Normans. “Dove” derives from the Old English of the Celts and other first peoples.
- Pigeons, like dogs and cattle, are domesticated animals. The ones you see in the wild, around the entire globe (except Antartica), are all descendants of feral birds that escaped captivity.
- As far back as written records exist, pigeons were raised by humans for a variety of purposes, such as communication, sport, and meat. Their waste provided essential ingredients in gunpowder and fertilizer.
- Pigeons evolved from the T. rex and emerged as their own species about 60 million years ago.
- North America had its own local breed, the passenger pigeon, but they were hunted to extinction by hungry expansionists. (Much like the bison were, although those did (barely) survive the onslaught.)
- Although the finches of the Galápagos were instrumental in Darwin’s work, he raised pigeons in England to solidify his theories.
- Reuter (Yes, of Reuters news service) used carrier pigeons to span the gaps of where his European telegraph system couldn’t reach.
- The murky white swirls in pigeon poop are urine. That’s how birds (not just pigeons) pee.
This was such a fun book. Granted, I used to train and raise doves, so I might be slightly biased. But as an unappreciated cohabitant of our urban cities, pigeons deserve some respect. I bought my copy of the book at Barbara’s Bookstore, but you can get it from the Amazon too.