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Reader's Guide

1. What were your preconceptions about pigeons before reading this book? Do you have any concrete experiences that supported your preconceptions?

2. Blechman's introduction is a paean to the amazing abilities, attributes, and history of pigeons. Were you aware of their religious and historical significance? Why do you suppose he started his introduction with the story of the pigeon who pooped on his head during a job interview? Does the contrast between the reverence in which pigeons have been held for most of history and today's prevalent attitude that pigeons are filthy and germ-ridden work effectively to foreshadow the rest of the book?

3. Although the pigeon racers profiled in the book are fanatical about their hobby, they are not attracting new enthusiasts, so it is a dying sport. Why aren't young people interested in continuing this traditional pastime? As the children of today's pigeon racers become more assimilated into American culture, is it possible that the sport's immigrant, working-class roots are off-putting to them? Would it be possible for pigeon racing, like NASCAR, to expand beyond its original blue collar/redneck roots and draw fans from a higher socio-economic level?

4. Pigeon shooters are another group profiled. How well does Blechman manage to keep his liberal bias from coloring his account of the pigeon shoot that he attended? He announces "I find shooting any animal for target practice repellent", but participates in the event anyway, and is even upset when he doesn't kill a pigeon. What causes his confusion? What do you think of Bubbenmoyer's tirade against the "animalists" on pages 94-95? Are any of his arguments valid? Do urban animal activists have a right to impose their values on rural hunters? Is there a moral difference between shooting deer and shooting pigeons?

5. Blechman includes a brief history of how the passenger pigeon became extinct in the chapter about Dave Roth, a man who devotes his life to trying to eradicate pigeon poisoning. Is he trying to suggest the possibility that today's pigeons might become extinct? Do you think modern opinions about hygiene and sanitation might lead to a desire to exterminate pigeons entirely? Speaking of hygiene and sanitation, how is it possible for Dave Roth to live the way he does? Should certain standards of cleanliness be imposed for the good of the community, or should a live and let live attitude prevail?

6. Compare Roth's methods of controlling pigeon populations with those of the bird control experts profiled in the next chapter. Will the war on pigeons in Trafalgar Square ever result in a victory using the current methods (banning pigeon feeding, patrolling the area with a falconer)? Why don't all cities and governments adopt the Basel/PiCAS model to humanely regulate their pigeon populations? Who benefits from using traditional methods?

7. "Pigeons overbreed when people overfeed", is one expert's opinion on why pigeons overpopulate urban areas. Certainly, compulsive feeders like Sally Bananas (who distributes 40-50 pounds of birdseed a day in Manhattan) are part of the problem. Is this merely eccentricity taken too far, or criminal behavior? Should laws prevent citizens from feeding wild birds? Where does charity end and compulsive behavior begin?

8. "Mike and Me" chronicles Blechman's attempts to interview Mike Tyson, championship boxer and pigeon fancier. Although he is unsuccessful, he gives an overview of Tyson's long-term involvement with pigeons. How, if at all, did this information change your opinion of Mike Tyson? Does this chapter fit in with the rest of the book? Are there any similarities between Mike Tyson and any of the other pigeon afficianadoes profiled in the book?

9. Killing pigeons was covered in the chapter on pigeon shoots, and it is also covered in the chapter on the Palmetto Pigeon Plant, which processes squabs for the food service industry. How are the two chapters different? Does the author change his tone when he describes the factory as opposed to the shooting grounds? Do Kee Bubbenmoyer and Tony Barwich share any characteristics? Is there a moral difference between killing adult pigeons for sport and slaughtering 7,000 baby pigeons a week for profit?

10. At the end of "The Breast Farm" chapter, the author goes to the company kitchen and samples the product. How do you feel about the juxtaposition of the tour of the killing floor and the tasty snack of squab he enjoys immediately afterwards? Was the inclusion of the pigeon pot pie recipe a jarring note or the natural conclusion to the squab processing narrative?

11. Although Orlando's year of pigeon racing ends disappointingly, he is only briefly depressed. Almost immediately, he begins to plan for next year. His whole life is planned around his pigeons; moving to Tampa would mean pigeon racing year-round. Why would anyone live their life in such a way? Even if he won all the races he entered, would it be worth sacrificing a "normal" life for? Do you think the author's organization of this books by the seasons of pigeon racing works for this topic? Could he have organized the material another way ?

12. Blechman ends his book with his trip to London to attend a dinner in honor of the pigeons who served the British military in wartime through the centuries. Earlier chapters included stories of how pigeons saved lives by managing to get vital messages through enemy lines; this chapter includes one more. Why do you think he chose to end the book on this note? Has your opinion of "rats with wings" changed after reading "Pigeons?"

13. The author does not deny that pigeon droppings are unsightly and unsanitary, but nonetheless, he has become a pigeon cheerleader by the end of the book. Overall, how effective is Blechman in conveying his growing admiration for pigeons? Did his writing bring the birds and their admirers, whether racers, breeders or feeders, alive for you? What are the good and bad points of pigeon obsession overall?