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Cool Facts About Pigeons

—The pigeon is the world's oldest domesticated bird. Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets mention the domestication of pigeons more than 5,000 years ago, as do Egyptian hieroglyphics. The vast majority of today's feral pigeons can trace their roots to the proliferation of dovecotes across Eurasia. Ancient Rome was populated with feral pigeons nesting on its monuments and homes.

—French settlers imported the Rock Dove to the New World for meat in the early 1600s. Now they populate nearly every city in the Western Hemisphere.

—Pigeons have been utilized by every major historical superpower from ancient Egypt to the United States of America. It was a pigeon that delivered the results of the first Olympics in 776 B.C., and a pigeon that first brought news of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo more than 2,500 years later. Nearly a million pigeons served in both World Wars and are credited with saving thousands of soldiers' lives.

—Noah's dove was a pigeon. The bird's message of subsiding waters, and thus new beginnings and hope, lent the pigeon its role as Bird of Peace.

—Pigeon droppings were once considered a semi-precious commodity. In ancient Egypt it was highly prized manure, and for centuries in England pigeon feces were declared property of the Crown. The valuable dung was used to manufacture saltpeter, a critical ingredient for making gunpowder.

—Julius Reuters parlayed the use of pigeons into what would become the world's largest newsgathering organization. He created an empire literally on the backs of pigeons

—A fancier, Darwin heavily relied of the study of his pigeons to support his theory of evolution.

—Picasso admired pigeons, painting them frequently, and naming his daughter, Paloma, which is Spanish for pigeon.

—B.F. Skinner, the behavioral psychologist, taught his pigeons to play a crude form of ping-pong using their wings as paddles.

—Pigeons are athletes of the highest caliber: While racehorses receive all the glory with their 35 mph sprints around a one-mile racetrack, Homing Pigeons—a mere pound of flesh and feathers—routinely fly more than 500 miles in a single day at speeds exceeding 60 mph, finding their way home from a place they've never been before, and without stopping. Pigeons can reach peak velocity in seconds and maintain it for hours on end. One was recorded flying for several hours at 110 M.P.H.

—Pigeon racing is an internationally popular sport that can count the Queen of England among its enthusiasts. Winning birds can bring home millions of dollars in prize money and fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction.

—Baby pigeons ("squab") are called the milk-fed veal of the sky, and are treasured by chefs the world over and served rare at many of the finest restaurants.

—Pigeons don't nest in trees, but prefer nesting on rocky ledges (although a window ledge will do just fine). They mate for life.

—Pigeons populate every continent on Earth, with the exception of Antarctica. In America alone, you'll find them in the arid deserts of Arizona and the frigid climes of Alaska. Pigeons do not migrate but rather adapt to their chosen location year-round.

Humane Pigeon Control

—Pigeons are now routinely poisoned, and tormented with caustic gels and electrical devices. Tens of thousands are poached and sold to gun clubs for use as live practice.

—Starvation, poisons and nesting deterrents don't work in the long run. In fact, such measures often rejuvenate and strengthen the pigeon population.

—One thing alone leads to an overpopulation of pigeons: overfeeding. When food is scarce, the mating routine is put under stress and drops dramatically as a flock anxiously forages for food.

—Responsible bird control is actually quite simple. It's already being practiced with great success in cities across Europe, many of which have witnessed a 50-percent drop in their pigeon populations.

—Experts recommend building attractive lofts around a city, and designating them as places where feeding is encouraged. (Some cities even hold design competition for dovecotes that double as public art.) Not only do the dovecotes offer the birds a safe and comfortable place to roost and engage with the public, the controlled environment enables caretakers to routinely cull eggs, which is a far more effective and responsible way to manage the bird population. The flocks are diminished, the birds are treated humanely, and the policy is popular with the public. Why not promote dovecotes in your city?