Did you know that pigeons (Columba livia) have a favorite foot? And that most of them are right-footed?
This was discovered by Harvey I. Fisher at Southern Illinois University in the mid 1950’s while he was looking for something else. In 1954-1955 he was studying the landing force that pigeons exert on a perch, so he recorded the actions of 11 pigeons landing a total of 4,000 times.
That’s when he noticed that most of them extended one foot and landed on it first, and that they had a favorite foot for doing this. He ran more experiments, tallying 7,259 landings.
Seven of the 11 pigeons were right-footed, three were left-footed and one didn’t have a favorite. That’s about 63% right-footedness. Read more here in his 1957 article: Footedness in Domestic Pigeons.
It can happen at any time of year but more often in the warmer months. People suddenly get fed up with the number of pigeons in their area and they want them gone … NOW!
Ideas for instant pigeon removal are usually bad and can be really bad for peregrine falcons who hang out near the pigeons. Last week I got an email from Patricia M. who needed good ideas for pigeon removal because someone in her town wanted to shoot them.
It really is possible to reduce the pigeon population at a specific location. I’ve seen it happen at the Cathedral of Learning in 2007 and at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square in 2014. The hardest part of pigeon control is changing human — not pigeon — behavior.
When we humans have time off, some birds go to work. In this video from Odolanów, Poland, hundreds of racing pigeons start on a race.
Racing pigeons are rock pigeons (Columba livia) specially bred and specially fed to be fast and athletic. Their owners know the birds must be fit and healthy to win. They take really good care of their birds.
On race day the pigeons are trucked to a central starting point and released to fly home. The trucks are specially designed to carry the birds and release them simultaneously. Race officials note the start time for each group and stagger the releases so the birds have enough space to circle up, get their bearings, and leave. As they circle, each pigeon figures out where home is — and then flies as fast as he can to get there.
How do they determine which bird wins? Race officials note the time the bird was released. The bird wears a band that’s electronically read when he arrives at the loft and notes his finish time. The racing organization calculates the distance from the release point to the loft. The fastest bird in miles/kilometers per hour is the winner. Ta dah!
For more information on pigeon racing, click here.
Wild turkey calling (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
In mid July, Mary Ann Pike had an unusual experience with wild turkeys in her back yard in Washington County, PA. She wrote:
We have had a flock of turkeys wandering around our property for a week or two. I’ve usually seen 3 hens and 6 chicks, although my daughter says she’s seen twice that many. Last night my husband went out on the porch to start the grill for dinner and his sudden appearance scattered the flock into the woods. Suddenly, the air was filled with this sound:
The South Carolina DNR web site refers to it as Kee Kee, the call of lost young turkeys. It was incredibly loud, and it sounded like there were 20 of them in the woods less than 100 feet behind our house, but it was probably only 6 or 8 of them. We have never heard anything like it.
Click on Mary Ann’s link and you’ll hear the sound of lost turkeys. Did you know their calls change as the birds get older?
Baby turkeys are precocial when they hatch so as a safety mechanism they imprint on the first thing they see — their mother — and listen for her instructions. As the family forages together they use sound to keep in touch and announce danger.
At first the babies make peeping sounds but by seven weeks of age the peep becomes a whistle which they use to make contact after being scattered by a predator. Later the whistle drops in pitch (the kee-kee-kee call) and later still they add a yelp (kee-kee-run call). Adult turkeys drop the kee and merely yelp to assemble the flock.
If you hear the kee-kee calls in summer, chances are it’s some lost young turkeys calling their mother. But be careful if you hear it in Pennsylvania in May or November. Those months are turkey season when hunters use turkey calls to attract their prey.
I love the title but … What the heck is Selective Attention and who cares about it in chickens? (Don’t worry, there’s fun at the end.)
Selective attention — the ability to focus in the midst of distractions — is something we humans do well. For instance, we can listen to one person in a crowded noisy room and focus completely on what they’re saying, tuning out everything else. This is useful!
Selective attention has been studied extensively in primates. Do birds possess this skill?
Anecdotally, I’d say “Yes.” I’ve watched red-tailed hawks keenly focused while hunting next to busy roads. They tune out all the traffic and successfully catch their prey. Unfortunately some are way too good at ignoring traffic and are struck and killed by vehicles.
No one had proven selective attention in birds until researchers at Stanford University’s School of Medicine gave chickens quick visual cues to see if they would peck outside the (virtual) box. Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014, “The results show that chickens shift spatial attention rapidly and dynamically, following principles of stimulus selection that closely parallel those documented in primates.”
Watch the chicken peck the X in the middle. Then a quick flash of light attracts his attention. Birds and primates both inherited this cognitive skill.
And now a quiz for you: Remember how I said red-tailed hawks are sometimes hit by cars because they’re focusing so much? Watch this video to test your own selective attention.
… and you’ll understand the red-tail’s problem.
(chicken photo by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)