Pigeon

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: It’s joyfully back to toys today and I have been sitting on this beauty for a few weeks, waiting for the chance to share him with you all. Those very devoted early readers may remember a post about pigeons (which can be found here) where I first mentioned my fondness for the fine feathered fellows. Despite quite bad publicity here (rats with wings, etc.) I remain their champion.

Pigeons live quietly among us here, rarely kicking up a fuss, eliminating tons of garbage annually by consuming as their daily repast. For most New Yorkers they are ubiquitous fellow denizens, thought of with derision if thought about at all. However Kim and I share an affection for pigeons and I have always appreciated that I could point out a particularly nice one or pair to him for admiration. (There are some commonalities that married couples should share in my opinion and a fondness for pigeons is one is one in our case.) I have told this story before, but I love the idea that when Kim was a child and first came to New York he thrilled to find these birds just walking sedately among the humans.

When I worked at the Met I had a nesting pair out my window which returned over several years. I worried about them as we had many hawks nesting in the rooftops there as well. Whenever I saw one without the other I hoped for the best. Their nest was not visible, further down the glorified airshaft that I overlooked. I understand that they are casual nesters at best, eggs frequently lost or broken. As all New Yorkers know, they largely manage to nest out of sight and nests, eggs and baby pigeons are rarely on view.

While researching this I did find a rather delightful story from 2017 about a woman in Greenwich Village who returned home from vacation to find a pigeon nesting in the pasta strainer in her kitchen. She allowed her to stay and created an Instagram account for her. The story can be found here. Evidently young pigeons are almost adult size by the time they leave the nest and then blend with the adults, leading to the idea that we never see young pigeons. (It is said that they are identifiable by a patch of downy feathers at the back of their neck.)

When I saw this tin pigeon on auction I must say I immediately set my cap for it. Luckily for me and the old bank account, only one or two other folks had interest and I didn’t end up going to the wall to acquire him. He is marked VEBE on his chest, which appears to be one of the divisions of a French toy company Victor Bonnet. I couldn’t find out much about the company other than they produced high end friction and wind-up toys from early to mid-20th century. With a few exceptions, they seem to have made beautiful race cars and trucks – and pigeons. The pigeons appear to have been made in the early 1950’s and a number of them are extant, although generally much more beat-up than mine. (Children played hard with their pigeons I gather.)

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I thought this was a friction toy when I purchased him, but upon examination he turns out to be a wind-up. He was sold without a key but I found one in my collection that works, and he has a wonderful life-like pigeon head motion, life-like enough to capture Cookie’s attention this morning. I find his practical and almost industrial design very satisfying. If he only cooed he would be perfect indeed. For a quick look at his motion have a look below.

 

The concept of the homing pigeon, housed atop a New York apartment building has long lived in my imagination, fueled by period films. And as it is Memorial Day weekend I close with the reminder of how these birds, carrier pigeons, did military service in WWI and WWII carrying wartime messages across enemy lines. In fact, their military service did not end until about 1957. So consider a salute when you pass a pigeon on the street this weekend – his or her fine feathered forefathers did their bit too.

For the Birds

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: First a disclaimer of sorts, not quite in keeping with my usual standards, this photo postcard turned out to be a reproduction – an old one, but a reproduction nonetheless. I remain a bit miffed at the eBay seller because it wasn’t made clear and showing the back of the card would have easily told the tale. Nonetheless, I do love the image because the truth is, I’m very fond of pigeons. Yep, the bird all the world seems to hate – rats with wings you hear New Yorkers say. I don’t go all the way to feeding them – they seem more than capable of finding food on their own – but I do like and even admire them.

I always think of my mom saying, “Pigeons don’t know that people think they are awful. As far as they are concerned, they are glorious flying creatures.” It’s true – from their perspective they are every bit as good as a sparrow or robin, if not a proud hawk or eagle! After all, why shouldn’t pigeons think big?

In my opinion there is a lot to be said about pigeons. Monogamous for life, successful urban denizens – they live cheerfully among us and for centuries have aided and interacted with humans. Kim told me a great story about how when as a small child his family first came to Manhattan and his parents pointed out that it was a wonderful place where birds walked among the people on the sidewalks! Glorious!

I like to watch pigeon couples in the city and am inclined to point out birds I think are especially attractive – there’s a wide range of pigeon design. I tend to be very fond of the ones with a lot of white and some black markings, but sometimes the mostly white ones with brown or gray markings are remarkable. Sometimes you see ones that are clearly very elderly too. There is a lovely couple who have nested outside my office at the Met. I can’t see the nest, but they frequently sit where I see them, together on a railing, in the early afternoon this time of the year.

As we all know, pigeons have a brilliant internal mapping system and of course pigeons like the one shown here have been used to carry messages during wars. As far as I can tell in translation, this refers to a message sent by pigeon (June 4, 1916) in France as Raynol made his last stand in battle. Saying that they are trapped and under chemical attack and that this is his last pigeon. The fastest pigeon flying speed was recorded at 92.5 mph! Go baby, go!

While I do not expect to win pigeon haters over with these brief thoughts, for those of you on the fence, you might take a moment and consider giving them a second look the next time you see a gathering of them.

For the French reading among us, I offer the back of the card:

pigeon back of card