Archives for the month of: November, 2012

It was fantastic to read the review of citizen science that was commissioned by the UK Environmental Observation Framework (UK-EOF).

You can see details of the review here:

http://www.ceh.ac.uk/news/news_archive/Citizen-Science-Review-Guide_2012_59.html

As with any method there are positive and negative points associated with citizen science, but thankfully it is become more widely recognised as reliable method of data collection.

Personally, I feel the major benefit to this work is the connection to both science and the natural world that it cam instil. Many people go about their lives without giving a second thought to the fascinating world of urban ecology that is right in front of them.

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Pigeons allow anyone to witness amazing behaviour close up

Pigeons are often one of the first wild creatures children come in to contact with.

I also firmly believe that children can benefit immensely from being introduced to the natural world and that such early lessons can instil a life long love of the natural world. Citizen science can add an element of fun and even friendly competition to aid engagement.

Who hasn’t witnessed a child chasing a pigeon in a town centre?  I believe children taught from an early age to respect pigeons, rather than chase them may develop respect for the creatures we share our planet with.

Recently I heard a quote that I believe summarises the situation perfectly,

“Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.”

If we are to raise a generation of children willing to protect the rare and the unusual, we need to start at home with the familiar, and in my view, equally wonderful.

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After my post from a few days ago about the volume of food a pigeon flocks requires being far greater than that dropped by people, the wonderful Rev at Pigeons as Pets posted a very topical blog post:

http://www.pigeonsaspets.co.uk/2012/11/04/pigeons-on-the-windowsill/

The blog shows a photo of a feral pigeon enjoying berries in much the same was as their larger cousins, the wood pigeon (Colubma palumbus).

Feral pigeons munching on berries is something I’ve never witnessed but it must happen more often than we realise. Many pigeons outside the UK regularly fly to and from feeding grounds outside of the city/town to feed, especially on fields of peas. Although peas are not a ‘wild’ food, it clearly shows they have the instincts and ability to make the most of any opportunity.

Does anyone else have any photos of pigeons eating ‘wild food’? I’d love to see them.

Do check out Pigeons as Pets… The wonderful Elmo and Georgie are legendary.

Living with an animal allows a unique insight into behaviour that would often go unseen, equally, it also allows behaviour to be seen in a unique context and with minimal outside interference.

One such behaviour is the flight intention movements of pigeons. The term ‘flight intention’ was coined by Lorenz, but now isn’t used as regularly as some believe the phrase implies too much concious thought. Personally, I question this as, living closely with a pigeon, it is clear that flight intention movements are not used with the regularity and predictability one might expect if they were not under concious control.

A flight intention movement is a ritualised moment or set of movements, used to signal to other birds in a flock that an individual is about to take flight. This allows the other flock members to be aware of who is about to leave and who has no intention of leaving. In that way, if a flock member takes off unexpectedly  without having used flight intention movements beforehand, the other flock members will immediately follow. An assumption can be made that the bird that took off in a hurry may have spotted danger and therefore the others should follow its lead to be on the safe side.

Some flight intention-like movements can be seen on fellow blogger ‘Brian Pigeon’s’ blog here: 

http://pigeonblog.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/olga-wins-gold-in-the-wing-stretch-final/

This got me wondering, what circumstances do pigeons need to use flight intention moments to stop others from flying? An experiment by Davis (1975) showed that birds shocked into rapid flight with an electric plate immediately induced flight in other flock members, however, occasionally unnecessary alarm flight can occur. This may be due to birds failing to read the flight intention movements of a fellow flock member. However, given the complexity of needing to forage, watch for predators and monitor all surrounding birds, it is clear that mistakes must occasionally be made. If these moments are under concious control, do some birds simply forget to give then at the correct times?

This leads me on to the use of vocal alarm calls – from my own experience, pigeons utter an alarm ‘coo’ upon seeing a predator such a bird of prey. This is often combined with a tall and upward stance. Strangely, I have seen this behaviour uttered in response to both aerial predators and ground predators. I had wondered if this sound may have been conveying the message “Danger! But stay put, don’t fly!” but its use on seeing a cat may say otherwise.

I’d love to know if anyone has witnessed the response of other pigeons to this ‘alarm coo’.

 

 

J.Michael Davis, Socially induced flight reactions in pigeons, Animal Behaviour, Volume 23, Part 3, August 1975, Pages 597-598,IN7,599-601