Monday, January 25, 2021

When My Baby Comes Home


Oil on Panel - 4 x 4 inches

    Love them or loathe them, pigeons have reputations.
    We humans are influenced by our upbringing, societal pressures, and certain events in our lives. Not growing up in a neighborhood where pigeons were present, my first personal association with them was in my early 20s when I was apartment hunting in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. While on a tour, the caretaker, or an associate thereof, showed me an apartment and opened the sliding glass door to the balcony. It wasn’t the neighboring view that I distinctly remember, it was the massive pile of pigeon droppings on the balcony floor. The mound was no smaller than a foot high. Even though I was shocked by the sheer size of the pile, my irritation was towards the tour guide who didn’t bother to clean up the feces prior to my visit. I harbored no negativity towards the pigeon(s) who found this particular spot ideal because that’s what they do. 
    Over a decade later in the mid-2000s, still having little association with pigeons, another memorable encounter with the species surfaced. In a shady blacktopped area on the north side of my Port Washington home next to the garage door, I noticed a pigeon. It was alone, confused, possibly injured, and in need of help. Even though I lived in a city dwelling, it wasn’t an area known to harbor lots of pigeons, so it was a bit odd to find one, much less in a precarious state. I watched it for some time and eventually came to the conclusion that something wasn’t right. After assessing my chances of capturing it, I decided it was worth a shot. I found a suitable blanket, approached the pigeon and flung the blanket over it. Remarkably, it was an easy feat, further solidifying my viewpoint that it needed help.
    Cradling the pigeon, I picked it up and brought it home. Without much of a plan other than to help it, I gave it temporary shelter using my blue, plastic, upside-down laundry basket as its cage, complete with ventilation holes. My two insatiably curious cats watched nearby, but were soon banished from the room. Slowly and gently, I placed some food and water under the basket and to my great relief, the pigeon responded to both.
    Now what? I spent several moments observing the bird, looking for signs of injury, trauma, blood, limping, anything. Visually, I saw nothing, but that didn’t mean the bird was without internal injuries or undetectable ones underneath its feathers; but I was no expert and had no training to make a proper assessment. The one thing I did notice however, was that the bird had a band on its foot. Reading a bird band isn't easy without holding the bird much less a magnifier, but I was eventually able to make out the alphanumeric code. So I wrote it down and wondered if the internet might lead me to the origins or owner of this bird.
    I walked over to my computer – keep in mind this was before the advancement of cell phone technology and WiFi – and I couldn’t believe my luck when the code turned up on a website about homing pigeons. The site listed the code, a name and a phone number. I called the number and left a message. A short time later, a man called back and said he was the owner of the pigeon. He asked me where I lived and if the bird was securely in my possession. He also wanted to know if the pigeon appeared healthy. Did it have broken or messy feathers? Was it skinny? I answered him as best as I could.
    The man didn’t sound overly concerned but said he’d stop by in a few hours to pick it up. He lived about an hour south in Racine, WI. When he arrived, he handled his pigeon like a pro, it was obvious he knew what he was doing. After examining its wing structure and feeling its girth, he told me he thought the bird was fine albeit a little skinny. We talked for a while and he gave me a brief overview of racing homing pigeons, which this bird was. It wasn’t his only pigeon. With a slight hesitation, the man said the pigeon probably would’ve found its way back home, but his confidence seemed shaken. I got the sense the owner knew this exact bird but wasn’t all that surprised it hadn’t returned home.
    So, it turns out I had stumbled upon a domesticated homing pigeon that belonged to a man carrying out the sport of racing pigeons.
    As the man drove away, I hoped the pigeon was in good hands, but I had more questions than answers about the sport of racing pigeons.
    It's not entirely known how Pigeons’ innate homing ability works, but it is excellent. Plenty of stories throughout history can be found pertaining to this exceptional trait. Pigeons have “an intense desire to reunite with their mate, their nest and the familiar comfort and food of their loft.” Their remarkable ability to find their way home has served them well for thousands of years.
    When it comes to the sport of pigeon racing, in order to create a pigeon’s intense desire to get back home, some owners first allow two mated pigeons to build a nest, then will remove the selected racing pigeon soon thereafter, only to drop it off hundreds of miles away to wait for its return. Another method is to introduce a competitor into the bird’s loft just prior to release. Is there any mystery why it would be highly motivated to get back home? As it turns out, both of these methods prove successful in getting pigeons to fly home on the double.
    I struggle to have any appetite to remove a bird from its mate only to see how fast it can return simply for the sport of it, regardless of the reward the owner receives, be it acquired or innate. Whatever self-gratification is obtained through the sport is misguided. To gain knowledge for scientific study and the betterment of the planet is one thing, but to remove a mate from its partner just to see how fast it can race is human selfishness, disrespect, and cruelty, all at the expense of another living creature. Just like cockfighting (illegal in all 50 states) and the waning of greyhound racing (illegal in at least 40 states), pigeon racing should be one of those activities whose days are numbered. Sadly, the activity continues.
    This little oil painting of two, wild, rock pigeons shows them huddled together on a frigid winter’s day in Duluth on January 13, 2018.


Butcher, Sterry. "The Art of Racing Pigeons." Texas Monthly, January 2020, Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

Capoccia, Stella., Boyle, Callie., and Darnell, Tedd. "Loved or loathed, feral pigeons as subjects in ecological and social research." Journal of Urban Ecology, 2018, 1-6. doi: 10.1093/jue/juy024, Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.

"Cockfighting." Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

"Greyhound Racing FAQ." Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

Griffin, Jonathan. "Cockfighting Laws" Vol. 22, No. 1, January 2014,,2007%2C%20is%20the%20most%20recent.&text=Although%20all%20states%20ban%20cockfighting,cockfighting%20and%20attending%20cockfighting%20events. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

Mehlhorn J, Rehkaemper G (2016) "The Influence of Social Parameters on the Homing Behavior of Pigeons." PloS ONE 11(11): e0166572. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0166572. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

Soniak, Matt. Nov. 14, 2016. "The Origins of Our Misguided Hatred for Pigeons." Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Becca - I liked your write-up and was very happy to get to the 2nd to the last paragraph where you voiced your objections about pigeon racing. I had no idea what it was until your post and I also found it disturbing and cruel. Nice job on the painting though.