The Not So Common, Common Pigeon

Common Pigeon
You may think that pigeons are more of a nuisance than anything else. Many of us have had to scrub pigeon droppings off of statues or home decorations. The sheer number of pigeons that we see in our cities can make us take these birds for granted. Discover magazine for August 2018 published a dossier of the unique features of the common pigeon, also known as the rock pigeon or rock dove. These features show it is incredibly well-designed to survive in almost any environment on Earth. Here are some interesting characteristics:

Pigeons are one of only three kinds of birds that have an enlarged crop which is an extension of the esophagus. They use this crop to store food which they eventually give to their young.

Most birds drink by taking in water and then putting their heads back to allow the water to run into their stomach. Pigeons have a unique beak that acts like a straw enabling them to suck up the water.

Wing muscle makes up about 60% of a pigeon’s body weight making pigeons excellent flyers. They can cover 500 miles a day and can reach speeds of 50 mph.

Pigeons can navigate in ways that are still poorly understood by scientists. Experiments have shown they can use sound, magnetic fields, landmarks, the Sun, and even smell. Like the Arctic Tern, the common pigeon seems to possess multiple navigational tools.

Pigeons have a concept of self and can recognize themselves in a reflection. There are only six other animals that can do that.

Pigeons are more capable than babies and toddlers in recognizing the letters of the alphabet.

Pigeons use “fright molt” which is the ability to shed feathers when attacked.

Humans have used pigeons for food, for carrying messages, and for psychological testing. In fact, the famous psychologist B.F. Skinner taught pigeons how to play ping pong. Our most abundant birds like pigeons and crows were designed to do remarkable things. God frequently advises us to learn from His creation–including all life forms. (For example, Proverbs 6:5, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise.”) We can also learn from the common pigeon which is not so ordinary after all.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Bird Brainpower

Bird Brainpower
In the February issue of National Geographic, there is a fascinating article about what birds can do. The skills of bird brainpower include puzzle solving, using tools, studying others, vocal learning, socializing, remembering, and social playing.

These abilities are all related to the size of the forebrain compared to the total brain mass. Bird brains vary enormously. Some species such as ravens have very large brains with 80% of the brain involving the forebrain compared to a pigeon having a very small brain with only 48% in the forebrain. In some cases, birds work together pooling their bird brainpower with each having a different role. Some birds prefer certain kinds of music while others seem to show empathy.

It is important to understand that some scientific questions could be raised about the claims that the article makes. In one case, for example, when air was blown on a chick’s fathers, the mother’s heart rate increased. The investigators claimed that shows empathy. A strong wind can be dangerous to any bird. So the question is whether the mother was feeling empathy for the chick or was she concerned over the cause of the wind and what it might do to her.

The article also mentions a cockatoo who rocks in time to the Backstreet Boys tune “Everybody” and a starling who “is happiest when his owner is playing a classical movement on the piano.” The article says the starling likes Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Bach. However, it doesn’t say how you measure starling happiness, or what the owner likes and repeatedly plays in the bird’s presence.

It is a fact that birds show high levels of certain kinds of intelligence, and they can do things that seem almost human-like. However, the things birds can do are not attributes which the Bible ascribes to humans. Many animals are intelligent and can learn from humans, so it is easy to see how the characteristics discussed in the article help the bird survive.

The attributes of being created in the image of God, which is how the Bible defines humans, do not involve any of the characteristics in the article. The creation of art, the creation of music, and the expression of worship are human functions. Also, the expression of the”agape” type of love which does not promote survival or have sexual connotations is a human trait. We don’t see the capacity to be sympathetic and compassionate in these interesting studies of bird brainpower.

The more we learn about the creatures in the world around us, the more we are amazed at the design built into their DNA. This design allows living creatures to navigate, occupy environmental niches, and reproduce in amazing ways. It is all part of knowing that God exists through the things He has made. (Romans 1:18-22)
–John N. Clayton © 2018