16 Reasons to Celebrate Pigeons by Novelist Kathleen Rooney

Doves get loads of love.

Pigeons get nada. Make that less than nothing.

Why?

As an animal lover since birth, the kind who was severely bitten by a dog when I was six yet, who still never feared them, pigeon haters have always mystified me.

Hmmm…

Doves: white

Pigeons: colored

Hmmm…

Doves: a little trimmer

Pigeons: a little stouter

Hmmm…

A glance at Wikipedia underscores how pigeons and doves are basically the same bird. Getting all lovey-dovey over doves probably has more to do with the same kind of discrimination that exists for humans, when it comes to weight and coloring.

So what does a penguin and a pigeon have in common? Sure, both are birds, and one might consider what I mentioned about doves vs. pigeons. In this case, however, that’s not what I’m getting to.

Marvelously, Penguin Books published Kathleen Rooney’s novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, about a heroic pigeon!

Kathleen’s novel called, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, sent me into such complete nirvana that I invited her to guest post on Happiness Between Tails—and she did!!—in this prior post. Now she’s back to tell us about her historical fiction novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

She’s a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a collective of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poems on demand. Her most recent books include the novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte. Her reviews and criticism appear in the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Chicago magazine.

Today Kathleen describes the inspiration behind Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, plus 16 reasons to celebrate pigeons.

This is a link to buy Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey from your own favorite local bookstore.

Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.
Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

On the Under-Appreciated Marvelousness of Pigeons by Kathleen Rooney

My novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey—a World War I story narrated in the first-person alternately by a homing pigeon and an American military officer, both of them real-life heroes—has just been released by Penguin. The fact that the publisher for this book is named after a bird delights me because penguins and pigeons seem like an auspicious pairing.

Of course, the story of World War I has been told often but never from the perspective of the courageous messenger pigeon who saved the Lost Battalion and helped to determine the war’s outcome. Cher Ami was so famous in her day that when she died as an indirect result of the injuries she sustained in the conflict, they had her taxidermied and put on display in the Smithsonian. You can still visit her there today in their Price of Freedom exhibit, where she sits in her glass case among other important communication equipment. My hope is that if you love pigeons and decide to give this book a read, then you’re in for a treat, and if you don’t, then you’re about to change your mind.

Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.
Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.

Penguin understands that not everyone shares my admiration for pigeons, so as part of their marketing campaign, they asked me to come up with a set of pigeon facts designed to endear the birds to other people as much as pigeons have endeared themselves to me. Thinking fondly of the pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon (as my spouse and I named them) who moved in under the eaves while I was writing my book, I set to work compiling those facts.

Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.
Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.

Coo and Walter and their babies Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald have long since moved on with their lives, but the pigeon facts remain, and I hope they’ll inspire you to look more closely at these remarkable birds and also to give my novel a read.

Coo and Walter's babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
Coo and Walter’s babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
  1. The word “pigeon” is a French translation of the English word “dove.” There’s no scientific difference between the two; they’re the same.
  2. The common city pigeon (Columba livia) is a descendant of the rock dove and is one of the first birds ever domesticated by humans, probably dating back to about 4,500 BCE in Mesopotamia.
  3. Humans and pigeons have lived closely together for millennia, thanks in part to the birds’ phenomenal homing skills, which allow them to return to their nests from up to 1,300 miles away.
  4. In addition to being good navigators, pigeons are extremely strong with high endurance and have been known to fly as far as 1,500 miles on a single trip. They can fly as high as 6,000 feet and average a speed of almost 77 miles per hour, with top speeds of almost 93 miles per hour having been attained by some birds.
  5. Because of pigeons’ homing talent, humans have called upon pigeons to carry the news throughout history, ranging from messages on flood levels up and down the Nile in ancient Egypt, to the results of the Olympic Games in Greece in the 8th century. As early as 500 BCE, the emperor of China used pigeons to receive messages in Beijing from outer provinces because a bird could travel in as many hours as it took a horse and rider days. Hannibal used pigeons during his siege of Rome, and Julius Caesar sent them to relay messages from his military campaigns in Gaul. Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan created a pigeon post that spanned a sixth of the world. Besieged Parisians relied on pigeon post in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and, of course, pigeons served as messengers in both WWI and WWII.During World War I, over 100,000 pigeons were used on the battlefield.
  6. Pigeons are included in the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park London in honor—as the dedication says—of “all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.” It was unveiled in 2004 on the 90th anniversary of the start of World War I.
  7. People didn’t start calling pigeons “rats with wings” until this false idea was popularized in the 1980 movie Stardust Memories; pigeons are actually quite clean and not at all disease-ridden.
  8. Pigeons do not migrate, but rather adapt to one environment and remain there year-round—a lot like humans.
  9. Pigeons are one of a relatively small number of species who pass the mirror test for self-recognition.
  10. Pigeons can distinguish different humans in photographs.
  11. According to a 2016 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pigeons can be trained to recognize dozens of words, with the most accomplished pigeon being able to learn as many as 60.
  12. According to a 1994 study published in The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, pigeons can successfully learn to discriminate between paintings by Monet and Picasso.
  13. When pigeons mate, they mate for life.
  14. Male and female pigeons share equal responsibility in raising their chicks. Both take turns sitting on the eggs and both feed the babies pigeon milk—a secretion that both male and female birds produce in their crops.
  15. Pigeons are still kept as pets, bred, and raced around the world; in 2019, a Belgian racing pigeon named Armando sold for $1.4 million. The auction house said that Armando’s athleticism made him, in soccer terms, the Lionel Messi of the avian world.
  16. The brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla fell in love with a white pigeon who visited him at the window of his room in the Hotel St. Regis in New York City: “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was purpose to my life,” he wrote.

Do you like pigeons? (It’s ok if you didn’t before this post.)

Part 2: Art in Sydney, Australia by da-AL

View of Sydney Harbor Bridge from Sydney Opera House by Khashayar Parsi.

Night or day, Sydney, Australia is beautiful and fascinating. For one thing, their Art Gallery of New South Wales is fabulous!

I love this statue — I think it’s a Jeff Koons, but am not sure — anyone out there know?

Our vacation began with New Zealand’s beautiful Auckland / Rotorua / Redwoods / Huka Falls / Craters of the Moon / Waitomo Glowworms Caves / Taupo / Pirongia / and Hamilton Gardens. In Australia, we met terrific family in Gold Coast / observed these exciting birds — and these too / hiked breathtaking views / enjoyed delicious eats at the beach / saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary / had fun with Rita Rigby / enjoyed a bit of the beauty and beasts of Brisbane / and then we got to Sydney where we began with this and loved the purring there!

Self-portrait by Margaret Preston of Australia, 1930.
“Western Australian gum blossom,” by Margaret Preston of Australia, 1928.
“Helen,” by Edward John Poynter of England, 1881 (Helen of Troy was a great beauty — the sitter for this is actress Lillie Langtry.)
“The sea hath its pearls,” by William Henry Margetson of England, 1897 (he did the frame too!)
“Study of a head: still as a bud whose petals close,” by Edward Onslow Ford of England, 1895.
“The sons of Clovis II,” by Évariste Luminais of France, 1880 (Interesting signage explains: “The rebellious sons os the7th-century Merovingian King of France, Clovis II, were punished by their mother who ordered them to be hamstrung and set adrift on the river Seine.”)
“The warrior, from the series Mubarizun – no more,” by Adeela Suleman of Pakistan, 2014.
My husband, as you can see, took some liberties as a photographer.

We ended our visit with a snack in their cafe — where we encountered some colorful company!…

A cute bird at MCA Australia.
Some more pretty birds at MCA Australia.
Those same pretty birds at MCA Australia close-up.

Come back soon to see more of Sydney! Meantime, what are you doing to have fun?…

Birds of Australia Part 2 of 2 by da-AL

When’s the last time you saw a bush Turkey at the beach?

In the history of where I live, I doubt wandering bush turkeys, or any variation of them was as plentiful as they are on the streets of Gold Coast, Australia. No bird specialist am it, but it only takes a few minutes of walking along the shore of Gold Coast, Australia, to conclude that they’ve got lots more types of birds than we do here in Los Angeles.

We were having a great time, enjoying our Australian family while bugging our eyes out at what they consider run-of-the-mill critters. Our vacation covered Auckland / Rotorua / New Zealand’s Redwoods / Huka Falls / Craters of the Moon / Waitomo Glowworms Caves / Taupo / Pirongia / Hamilton Gardens / then in Australia we met family in Gold Coast / established in Part 1 of 2 Birds of Australia that theirs love to dress up in color / marveled at the Spectacular Views in and Around Gold Coast / enjoyed a delicious meal on the beach / saw wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary / had fun with Rita Rigby / met the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there / and enjoyed Sydney this much and that much, as well as the purring there!

For instance, whereas here we have white swans (when we have them), over there black swans such as these are abundant. Wikipedia describes them: “…a large waterbird… Within Australia, they are nomadic, with erratic migration patterns dependent upon climatic conditions… They are monogamous breeders, and are unusual in that one-quarter of all pairings are homosexual, mostly between males. Both partners share incubation and cygnet rearing duties.”

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We have pigeons — they have ibis! Now, this is one impressive bird! Its pate is bald yet pleated and striped, it’s long bill curves, and it’s feet and legs are as sturdy as avian appendages come.

The back of an Ibis’ head is like nothing I’ve ever seen on a bird before!
Ibis are quite bold if they think you might feed them.

As natural habitats for ibis continue to recede, they move to cities — and thrive. They’re made for dredging their live food out of deep mud, which doesn’t tend to impress city humans (who mock them as ‘bin chickens’ and ‘trash turkeys’) when the birds dig through garbage.

My gorgeous cousin Hengi makes feeding look lorikeets easy (it isn’t!).

One evening, around twilight, when bugs come out, we happened by an extraordinarily noisy tree. Australian rainbow lorikeets are so picturesque that they hardly seem real — until they make this loud of a racket…

A resident Australian magpie

What bird do you wish you saw every day?

Birds of Australia Part 1 of 2 (and a cute black dog) by da-AL

California seagull by Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/).

Seagulls in California are like this — great to look at — and unmistakably made to blend in, not to stand out with color.

Traveling brings to my mind architecture, fashion, culture, food… stuff like that. Animals, not so much. After all, the city dweller that I’ve ever been, animals are just animals, right?

Not when it comes to Australia! After New Zealand’s Auckland / Rotorua / Redwoods / Huka Falls / Craters fo the Moon / Waitomo Glowworms Caves / Taupo / Pirongia / Hamilton Gardens / and then meeting marvelous family in Gold Coast, Australia / birds of Australia (Part 2 of this one) / seeing spectacular views in and around Gold Coast / eating a delicious meal on the beach / seeing wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary / having fun with Rita Rigby / meeting the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there / and enjoying Sydney this much and that much, as well as the purring there!

Aussie creatures come in attention-getting colors — here’s their seagull — red legs, beak, and eye rims! He’s just wetting your feet — In the next post, you’ll meet way more dramatic variations of birds.

Australian seagulls, decorated in red, are made to be seen!

Ok — their dogs are as doggy and as cute as ours…

I can’t resist medium-to-large black dogs! Here’s Nugget!

What color are your local birds?

Family, Vegemite, and Tai Chi in Gold Coast, Australia by da-ALi

Our first evening in Gold Coast, Australia!

Australia is a quick flight from New Zealand. Getting there marked the second half of our vacation, which began with Auckland + Rotorua + New Zealand’s Redwoods + Huka Falls + Craters of the Moon + Waitomo Glowworms Caves + Taupo + Pirongia + Hamilton Gardens, as well as the birds of Australia Part 1 of 2 plus Part 2 of 2 + Spectacular Views in and Around Gold Coast + enjoyed delicious meal on the beach + saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary + had fun with Rita Rigby + met the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there + enjoyed Sydney this much and that much, as well as the purring there!

We landed in Gold Coast to visit cousins who I’d heretofore not had the pleasure of meeting. Lovely inside and out, they were generous to us in every way!

What took me so long to meet these lovely family members?!
Good food, greater people!
Some of my Australian family is striped!

The following morning, a delicious breakfast awaited us — including yeast extract to spread on our buttered toast. Brands for the ‘acquired taste’ can be a heated topic: Australians generally vote for Vegemite, New Zealanders like Our Mate, folks in other places are partial to Marmite or Promite or Bovril or Cenovis or…

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After all the eating and relaxing, it was time to get moving!

Tai chi is healthy for all ages!

Admirably fit and flexible Rita (the beautiful lady with her arm around my waist) introduced me to a free tai chi class at the local park. If you’re ever in the area, Robina Tai Chi Club Secretary/Treasurer Yulan deSalve assured me that all are welcome to email her at yulandesalvo@gmail.com for particulars. Ask her nicely, and she might demonstrate the sitting koala pose!

Geckos are common guests in Gold Coast, Australia.

What animals do you have near your home that are unique to your area?

Art, Paradise, Fantasy, Productive: Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand

Chinoise Garden at Hamilton Gardens, NZ: How non-Chinese people think of Chinese design is not altogether authentic.

Without Vicky Apps’ (more about her here) recommendation that we visit New Zealand’s Hamilton Gardens and had we not followed it, I’d have missed what’s my new fascination: Chinoiserie, namely the idea of it. The term has to do with European imitation of Chinese design during the 1600s and 1700s, and then again in the 1930s.

Replication isn’t what fascinates me, however — it’s the revelation that I’m so accustomed to seeing European-ized versions of Chinese art — that the non-real stuff looks more real than what’s authentic!

In addition, thanks to the park’s Katherine Mansfield garden, I’ve discovered that she was a pivotal New Zealand short story writer, feminist, and activist for Māori rights.

Khashayar at Katherine Mansfield’s garden.

Vacationing from Auckland to Rotorua, from New Zealand’s Redwoods to Huka Falls, from Craters of the Moon and Waitomo Glowworms Caves to Taupo, my husband and I had the good fortune of meeting kind and wise Vicky in Pirongia. (Later in Australia’s Gold Coast, we visited family and birds of Australia Part 1 of 2 plus Part 2 of 2, we marveled at the Spectacular Views in and Around Gold Coast, enjoyed a delicious meal on the beach, saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, had fun with Rita Rigby, met the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there, and enjoyed Sydney this much and that much, as well as the purring there!

Created in the 1960s on an old rubbish dump, 1.1 million people a year visit Hamilton Gardens! The ongoing mission of the park is to tell the International Story of Gardens as it relates to the evolution of culture. The result is an expanding collection of gardens inspired by various nations, arts including story-telling, and our use of plants on a day-to-day basis…

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What comes to mind when you think of gardens?

Guest Blog Post: No Single Word Have Spoken I This Day by Ana Daksina

Cropped black and white photo of man with a bird in his mouth by Ryan McGuire of Gratisography
This is by Ryan McGuire of Gratisography

Listening requires attention and openness. Poet Ana Daksina reminds us how silence allows us to hear the beating of our own hearts…

** DEAR READERS, PLEASE NOTE ** I pay WordPress not to display advertising on my site. In the case of guest bloggers, if you click forward to their websites, be aware that I am neither directly associated with them, nor the ads there. ** ALSO ** When you see ‘amazing’ offers on the internet, rest assured that they are scams. For instance, of late I’ve encountered a quite slick one that purports that one has randomly won money from Google. Don’t allow yourself to be enticed into revealing information to strangers.

Timeless Classics

*****

Today I spoken have no single word
Nor have one spoken by another heard

Today I listened to a sighing breeze
Wistfully stroke the branches of the trees

Perhaps for the first time I fully heard
The language in the singing of a bird

Mid lovely silence, oh, so quietly
My Muses whispered many dreams to me

Today no single word hath passed my lips
Came seven poems from my fingertips

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Guest Blog Post: Reconnecting via Photography by Richard Keys

Puffin (Bempton)
Photo courtesy by Richard Keys of Photosociology.wordpress.com

Fellow blogger Richard’s photos are stunning! Here he describes his process and how photography can heal…

Dandelion: Photos courtesy by Richard Keys of Photosociology.wordpress.com

Introduction
Hey, I’m Richard, and my blog is photosociology.wordpress.com. To be honest, I’m surprised that my blog is followed by others, I’m just a guy with mental health problems, which photography helps me to cope with. Initially, it got me going outside when I was too scared to do so. Basically, I’m a middle-aged guy, trying to grow up and find a way to live in this confusing world.

Close up of a fly courtesy by Richard Keys of Photosociology.wordpress.com

Reconnecting
Although I am a student photographer and use photography to explore social issues, such as inequality, mental health, and diversity (and more), I also thoroughly enjoy photography. Macro photography and photographing birds are my joy and my peace, especially when I am having a day of intense anxiety, panic attacks, and paranoia.

When photographing birds, flowers, bees, and bugs, I have to slow down. I mean really slow down. I’m not here to take a quick photo and walk on. I want to make a great photo and that means searching. Seeking out the best angle, ensuring that the background doesn’t distract from the subject, checking the focus, and making sure the exposure is correct. When it comes to bugs, bees, and butterflies, I have to slow down even further, firstly to spot them and then to ensure great focus by getting close without scaring them off.

Having a mental illness brings challenges with living, over-thinking, analyzing, being busy because I’m scared of my feelings, and being suspicious and paranoid about people. At first, I was scared of slowing down because I thought these difficulties would overwhelm me, but the opposite is true.

Slowing down is vital for my mental health, it refreshes me, recharges me, helps me to stop running from my emotions and thoughts, and allows whatever is there to be allowed to be, as it is. The process of connecting with nature means that I reconnect with myself, and all is surprisingly well.

Richard Keys

Why Does a Bird Sing? by da-AL

Photo of Ostritch Face
Thanks Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com

“A bird doesn’t sing because he has an answer, he sings because he has a song.”

From “A Cup of Sun,” by American poet and children’s book author, Joan Walsh Anglund (born c. 1926). She’s sold over 45 million books worldwide.

President Obama and the U.S. Postal Service misattributed this quotation to Maya Angelou. All the same, it’s a great thought.

Here’s one of the sounds that ostriches make.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Winged Grace: Murmurations by da-AL

Murmuration: A flock of starlings.

I call a flock of starlings Supreme Grace — ballet, music, and nature soaring amid limitless sky.

Murmuration of starlings over a field
From National Geographic’s “Flight of the Starlings”

Yesterday while I was driving, stopped at a traffic light, I held my breath as I found myself gazing at a flock of birds dipping and soaring, looping and circling again and again.

I went online to find out why and how they do it, only to get more questions than answers. There was this about when they do v-formations, but little about their swirly kind of flying in flocks. No one knows whether each bird is flying solo, trying not to hit each other while capitalizing on safety in numbers, or whether they’re truly focused on unity.

Three short videos of starling murmurations I thought you’d enjoy…