“Great Moments in Pigeon Keeping”

..as Jack said in a recent email.The Grand Canyon guides knew long before the scientists about the huge stable non- migratory Peregrine population in the Grand Canyon, the Colorado and its tributaries…

 Photos by the late great Wesley Smith of the homers he used to take down the River in the days of film cameras, to allow his clients to be met with photos,. He used to say that each roll took three pigeons: “One for the tiercel, one for the falcon, and one for the film…”

Pepe’s Art

My old pigeon partner Jose Morales y Serranno, who met his wife , an Albuquerqe native of Italian descent, returned to Sevilla after getting his PhD in English- speaking writers of the Spanish Civil War. Despite occasional political disagreements- like Pepe’s fellow traveler on the left Stephen Spender, I will never think of Roy Campbell as other than a great lyric and talented satirical poet, despite his being on the “wrong” side–I miss him. He taught me everything I know about Spanish pouters– and who else would depict a beautiful woman with my favorite breed, the English Carrier, both handsome and grotesque?

(Something minor interesting here too.The bird is depicted with a RED eye cere, like a Barb or Catalonian tumbler or the Badgdads the fanatics are killing in Syria, or even the Scanderoons (“Iskadruns”- birds of Alexander the Great), of Nuremberg do. But the English ones no longer have red ceres. I wonder if those of southern Spain, closer to Africa and their roots, do? I rather prefer the red…

Catalonian of the “Strawberry Eye” variant- a very attractive variety never imported to the US and supposedly very rare.(From Levi)

A Spanish Barb hen-I used to have these

“Iskandrun”, Alexander’s (German!) bird, in profile…

The modern endangered Syrian breeds, which resemble both their English and German relatives.I like these, too, and I bet they can FLY.

Obligatory Pigeon Material

Every so often non- pigeon readers have to put up with a pigeon post- pun intended. These ones are relatively painless, and the second is also of interest to dino- philes, evo- bio- types, and even competitive pigeon show fanciers…(Ava, birds soon- we got the boxes, but one pair is still feeding. You are getting the Bagdads below, avery productive pair, among others)

First, photos: one by Daniel of a pair of pouters he got from me a while back, and one by Stefan Wachs, who photo’d for the forthcoming (this spring) article about me in NM Magazine by John Muller, of my Carriers.

Here are a couple of future pigeon breeds from the ever inventive Deviant Art site, courtesy of Arthur. The Dinosaurian tailed breed may be genetically possible today, according to Jack Horner.

Saladin’s pigeon post, from Keith:

From Saladin by John Man. The casual reader of ancient history is often puzzled by the seemingly impossible speed of communication in certain civilizations. For example, an outlying city like Aleppo will be under siege by an enemy and yet will somehow be in communication with a major city such as Baghdad or Cairo. It turns out that by the twelfth century CE, the time of Saladin, the Muslim world had developed an elaborate communication system using carrier pigeons:

“[In the twelfth century CE,] Turks, Arabs and Europeans were enemies and rivals, but also allies, trading partners and friends, often all these things in quick succession.

“Information flew between them, literally, because all major cities were linked by pigeon-post. This gets only passing mention in Arab sources, possibly because it was so routine as to be unworthy of comment. It would have started a long, unrecorded time — perhaps centuries — before, with pigeons being kept for food, as we keep chickens. Over the years, people noticed that they were able to find their way home from very far away (modern fanciers race their pigeons for up to 1,600 kilometres). Pigeons can fly for up to twelve hours at 100 kilometres per hour, for three days, resting at night. All leaders, civilian and military, would have kept pigeons ready to send to distant cities or take into battle.

“The historian al-Maqrizi recorded one very non-routine use of homing pigeons. In the late tenth century, the fifth Fatimid caliph al-Aziz loved the cherries of Baalbek. As a treat, his vizier — in effect, prime minister — arranged for 600 homing pigeons to be sent off from Baalbek to Cairo, each carrying a silk bag attached to either leg, with a single cherry inside each bag. The pigeons had 600 kilometres to fly. If they left in the morning, al-Aziz could have had fresh cherries for dessert that evening, with enough left over for his many guests.

“Others took note, and were impressed. Sir John Mandeville mentions pigeons in his fourteenth-century book of Travels … :

In that country and other countries beyond they have a custom, when they shall use war, and when men hold siege about city or castle, and they within dare not send out messengers with letter from lord to lord for to ask succor, they make their letters and bind them to the neck of a culver [an obsolete word for a pigeon, perhaps from the Latin columba], and let the culver flee. And the culvers be so taught, that they flee with those letters to the very place that men would send them co. For the culvers be nourished in those places where they be sent to.

“Consider: for this system to work at all, every major town must have trained its teams of pigeons, which would have been divided among every other major town. How many towns the size of Baalbek or larger would have been part of the pigeon-postal system? Shall we say twenty? The 600 cherry-carriers were raised and trained in Cairo, their home base, then transferred by horse or camel to Baalbek, along with (say) a few dozen more which would have been kept for offi­cial business. But Baalbek would have had pigeons delivered from all the other nineteen cities as well, and constantly redelivered after each mission. And as breeders know today, you need redundancy. Not all pigeons are equally talented: the good ones lead the bad. Nor is there a guarantee that any one pigeon will survive severe weather or predators. Over 160 kilometres, 95 per cent survive; but over several hundred kilometres you expect to lose about 50-80 per cent of them. Of al-Aziz’s 600 cherry-carriers, perhaps only 300 made it. To be sure of a message getting through long distance, you had to copy the same message three or more times and attach it to that many different birds. There must have been a whole specialist industry of dovecote builders, breeders, trainers, transporters and supervisors — hundreds of people to look after tens of thousands of pigeons.”

They would have been Bagdad types, ancestral Carriers, like these:

They’re Killing Pigeons Again

Tyrants end up killing pigeons; I don’t know why, but they do. Franco almost made the traditional old- fashioned competition “thief” pouters of southern Spain, like the Rafenos I keep, extinct. The Taliban’s mere sixteen “Commandments”, including ones against sorcery and NOT growing beards, include one, the fourth,”To prevent keeping pigeons and playing with birds. Within ten days, this habit/ hobby should stop. After ten days this should be monitored, and the pigeons and other playing birds should be killed.”

It worked- there are more Afghan highflyers in Salt Lake City than in Kabul today.But all kinds of totalitarian and even just Nannyists ar e tempted.Even before they tore out the hutongs, the remnants of an older city, Beijing’s pigeon flyers were harrassed by fanatical Maoists.And Chicago bans them as totally as the Taliban did, along with foie gras and at least until recntly, handguns…

But the Islamic “State” goes them one better; notoriously, they kill the OWNERS too, even if they are teeneaged boys. Syria, along with Turkey, has the most fine ancient breeds; it is where, if you beie the Turkish legends, and I do, the nomads  stopped and took the pigeons they took in their horse carts out, and settled.What is sure is that they have more genetic  diversity, and more breed “roots, than any other place. So now the crazies are desrtroying an ancient genetic heritage as well.

Look at these “refugees”:

They are Bagdads, the first letter carriers, now show birds, kept and illustrated by Darwin (above) and me…

THey are also ancestor to the German, or Nuremberg Bagdad, or Scanderoon (from “Iskander”, Alexander), which looks different from the English bird today– but the old type is like both…

It may not be a crime like killing humans, but it is certainly on a level with destroying art.

More pigeons

Must be in the air. Anne Pearse Hocker just sent this piece from the Guardian about how they may be better at detecting tumors (visually, from X rays) than humans. Their rate of detection is something like 99%. Actually I am not surprised– much “Dinosaurian” visual acuity exceeds that of us mammals.

And Tesla, everyone’s favorite Fortean near- alien from Serbia, fell  chastely in love with one.

“In particular, he claimed to have a very special bond with a certain white, female pigeon, stating he loved her “as a man loves a woman.”
He said that the pigeon was the “joy of his life,” and claimed that one
evening she flew into his window, let him know that she was ill, and
died in his arms. He insisted his entire life’s work was complete in
that moment.”

I don’t like them quite THAT much… only like Darwin did.


Pigeons and Accips, of course…

From Ava, who breeds from some of my best stock; first, a pic in defiance of the Islamic “State”, aka the Desert Plague, and its deranged fear of pigeon genitalia:

And an even better photo of her with a favorite, a dark blue chequered “New Mexico Rafeno” of my breeding.

Paul’s new Gos baby has an unusual heritage: half New Mexican, from the best Gos Paul ever flew, and half the ever more popular Finnish subspecies. He already has a lot of character.

ISIS hates pigeons

Yes, I know; first Patrick, then others, sent me the news that ISIS is now executing pigeon fanciers, some teenagers. I did predict it a few pages ago.

Long ago, I concluded that tyrants tend to get rid of pigeons. Not only are they a primitive form of clandestine, encrypted conversation; watching at them fly above the town is exhilarating, even subversive. If birds fly free, why not me? This proscription reached its zenith, or nadir, in Kabul under the reign of the Taliban, who made it one of their 16 precepts— y’know, no sorcery, abuse your wife, no shaving, no music, NO UN- ISLAMIC PLAYING WITH BIRDS. They killed every highflyer in Kabul in two weeks.

But ISIS or ISIL or whatever the desert plague is currently calling itself, just has to be more badass, as usual. Not content to kill the birds, they are rounding up pigeon fanciers, some under 20, burning their birds alive in sacks in front of them, and executing them.

“…  Have no truck with the senseless thing/ Order the guns and kill.” (Kipling) Which we may have no need to do. Right north of them is the most pigeon- mad country in the world, and nobody ever called the Turks or Kurds wimps. They may have had pigeons for 6000 years, and (Turks) claim to have brought them down the Silk Road’s precursor in carts behind their horses….


The Kurdish Peshmerga from Iraqi Kurdistan are gathering in the southern Turkish province of Sanliurfa, south of the ancient city once known simply as Urfa, less than forty miles north of the border, looking south, and southeast, where a Kurdish Syrian town is besieged by an ancient enemy with a new face, one seen on social media everywhere these days. Nothing between Urfa and the border but irrigated wheat fields and a barbed wire fence… and south of that border, the black flags, black masks and headcloths of our latest fast- moving plague of wanderers and nomads, happy to exterminate anything that does not have its cultural DNA. Kurds who have retaken their towns report that the wandering “State” killed all their livestock and even birds….

Cat sent me a touching video of refugees with a  segment of a kid who had saved his pigeons, against the will of his father–who finally relented– and probably wisely. After all, the Taliban made killing domestic pigeons one of its sixteen commandments, along with banning shaving, music, sorcery, kites, and uncovered women. A week after they took over, they purged every rooftop pigeon loft in Kabul, virtually destroying the ancient local highflyer breed. Isis apparently thinks Al Qaeda and the Taliban are too moderate and compromising.

The video of the Kurdish refugees is here, and the kid comes in about at 1:40.

Urfa may be the most ancient city I have ever stayed in, allegedly 9000 years old, with three real Neolithic sites in it. You cannot dig for construction without finding a structure or artifact of interest to archaeologists. Among the legends is that it is the Biblical Ur of the Chaldees and the birthplace of Abraham (probably neither), and that it is the birthplace of Job. It apparently was where the Armenian alphabet was invented, though the Turks purged all the Armenians in the first two decades of the twentieth century; mentioning that genocide is still a  criminal offense there. Perhaps one reason for the Turkish unease with the Kurds, today’s dominant population locally,  is that they are honestly if horrifyingly uninhibited on that question; one quite civilized Kurd I know said he hated the Turks for not being grateful enough for the Kurds’ help in killing the Armenians! Though they are pretty rough on each other– Achmed would get in long shouting matches with his relatives, then turn to me with a smile and say “I am sorry– the Kurdish problem is not yet solved!”

 But it is a magical city, built on steep hills, with its skyline of churches repurposed as mosques (some have switched back and forth three times); its minarets, its hundreds of contending pigeon flocks every dawn and dusk, its pagan remnants. The sacred carp pool belongs to Jewish, Christian, and Moslem tradition; in all three, Nimrod tried to immolate Abraham in a gigantic pyre there, and God turned the fire into water, the
burning coals into fish. But it is an open secret that infertile women still take water and fish from it to change their luck. Urfa is a palimpsest of buried and not- so- buried civilizations.

Artsy effect unintentional, light rain on my lens
 I don’t know whether these photos will be sharp enough to show the pigeon flocks…

But it is a city of pigeons. There may be  sixty flocks in the evening sky above, all competing. They even had a cupboard loft in the entry of my favorite rooftop restaurant, to entertain me when I ate.

A city of birds and ruins, some even inhabited…

A city with bazaars that were built before Columbus, still bustling…

  Where you can buy anything from a rug to a hammer to an iron collar…

To a pigeon of course…

 It is worth re- visiting my hotel, to see that art photo of the Ur Pigeon of Urfa, wearing the pigeon jewelry that pigeons have in the Middle East for centuries..

Another, a Mssawad , a breed which I saw in Urfa, with jewelry, though this was taken by Sir Terence Clark in a village in Syria. I wonder if it still exists…

Because somewhere south of Urfa is a whirling void, the kind that has come like a storm out of the desert before, and  flattened many other “old civilizations put to the sword” …

Photoblogging: Kurdish Turkey II: Village Life

Hounds, houses, house partridge, sheep, field pigeons…

 Partridge, called “Keklik” are kept as pets and for calling their wild relatives, which they catch with fine nooses… demonstrated below

 These “swift” pigeons are bred for show in the west but fly free here. The one on the ground had just evaded a wild Peregrine and was feeding on the ground again.

 The Lebanons below are big enough to eat though also handsome. They are probably ancestor to the Carneau, a squabbing and show breed, in the west.