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Sunday, October 4, 2015

where are the young pigeons ?

In 2012, I had posted on ‘pigeons of Marina’ - Pigeons are commonly found on Temples – the walls of Sri Parthasarathi Swami Temple have them in large numbers.  Every morning at Marina beach, opposite the famous Vivekanandar House or to be precise opposite the Lady Willington teachers’ training institution,  pigeons assemble in thousands – to eat the feed spread by a group from Sowcarpet. 

Pigeons and doves constitute the bird ‘clade Columbidae’  that include some 310 species.  In general the terms "dove" and "pigeon" are used somewhat interchangeably. In ornithological practice, there is a tendency for "dove" to be used for smaller species and "pigeon" for larger ones. Pigeons and doves are stout-bodied birds with short necks, and have short slender bills.  The species commonly referred to just as "pigeon" is the Feral Rock Pigeon, common in many cities.

There are so many of them at Ramakrishna Mission at Mylapore too – they are found in many other places.  Visit any town or city, you are most likely to see them everywhere – the common noisy  urban bird.  Those grey, white, black and brown-feathered friends that sit or walk, bobbing their heads, on pavements, walls, parapets and buildings cooing sweetly, raining down their excrement and odd feather.But there is something odd about pigeons. We see them old and hobbling, mature and wise, young and a little foolish, playing a game of proverbial chicken with the oncoming traffic. Yet we never see their babies.

Which, given the abundance of pigeons, begs the question why? – Pigeons,  pigeons everywhere and not a baby in sight – says an interesting article in BBC of date. 

Obviously they are not born big – they are hatched from eggs and fledgling pigeons are everywhere, though they are not easy to identify. Feral pigeons – the ones we see in our cities – are descended from rock doves, and remain essentially the same bird. Their tastes might be a little more cosmopolitan, but when it comes to reproduction they still take after their wild rock dove ancestors, which are very secretive when it comes to situating their nests.  BBC writes that the rock dove Columbia liva likes to construct its nest on the ledges on cliff faces. “In its natural and wild state,” as stated  WilliamYarrell in A History of British Birds, the rock dove “inhabits high rocks near the sea-coast, in the cavities of which it lives the greater part of the year.”On the island of Orkney, in Scotland, UK, for example, 19th Century ornithologists observed that the rock dove “is very numerous, breeding in the crevices of the rocks, but the nests are placed at such a depth that it is impossible to reach them.”

When squabs (!) finally fly the nest they are fully grown.  Over the  Scottish island of Shetland, others noted rock doves occupying “deep subterranean caverns, the mouths of which are open to the sea.”Way back when humans spent more time hanging in and around caves, nobody would have batted an eyelid at the sight of a baby pigeon, often called a squab.In fact, the excavation of a cave in Gibraltar reveals that Neanderthals were keen on eating pigeons before modern humans even reached Europe. Much later, after Neanderthals had vanished and Homo sapiens took over this same site, they too were dining out on pigeon flesh. In prehistorical times then, it’s likely that baby pigeons, or squab, were not only often seen, but often on the menu.

But today, with an absence of edgy cliffs, rocky crags and dingy caves in our cities, the feral pigeon must make do, constructing its nest in whatever out-of-the-way, covered spots it can find,  in abandoned buildings or beneath bridges.

So it is not that juvenile pigeon is ashamed of its appearance, stay in the nest for a very long time: the nestling period from hatching to fledging typically lasts more than 40 days, roughly twice that of most garden birds; but that the adults keep them away from the view, feeding their chicks with a regurgitated “crop milk” rich in protein and fat. So when squabs finally fly the nest they are fully grown and virtually indistinguishable from adults.With a keen eye, however, it is possible to spot a fledged but still-juvenile pigeon.
In culinary terminology, squab is a young domestic pigeon, typically under four weeks old, or its meat.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
21st Sept. 2015.

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