For as long as I've known her, my wife has had a profound hatred of pigeons.[1. Actually, there is one pigeon that Mary approves of. It is her yellow Flying Pigeon Bicycle, imported from China. It is magnificent ... and it weighs 500 lbs.] She claims this has something to do with having grown up on a farm. However, I suspect her feelings are part of a larger cultural bias. While I don't have anything against pigeons per se, I try to make a practice of taking Mary's side whenever I can. It is for that reason that I turned a blind eye after a trip we took to New York last year. The trip was publishing related, and while I was talking with editors and such, Mary was free to wander the city. One afternoon, we met up and she was so excited to tell me what she had done at Central Park, something she had dreamed of doing for years: She kicked a pigeon. You know how pigeons are always playing chicken (as it were) with pedestrians? Remaining in place until just the last second before flying away? This mocking behavior had led to something of an obsession in my wife -- she had long grumbled that one day she'd show those pigeons who was boss. At last that day had come. She kept revisiting the scene that night, explaining how she snuck up on it, closed her eyes, and gave it a good wallop -- "Pow! Right in the tail-feathers!"[2. After reading this post, Mary has asked me to clarify that she "barely grazed" the bird, and that the creature sustained no injuries. Having been kicked by Mary before, I sincerely doubt it.] I even drew a picture of her triumph in my journal:
End of story. Or so I thought. During my recent illustration bonanza, however, I found myself free to listen to a lot of podcasts.[3. This was also my chance to work through many episodes of Katie Davis' publishing podcast Brain Burps About Books ... truly wonderful stuff.] Among those podcasts was the show Radiolab. For those that don't know, Radiolab is a show that blends pop-sociology and science -- if This American Life interviewed scientists and had sound effects, it would be this show. One of the episodes I listened to was called "Lost & Found". It was all about navigation, and it featured a profile on carrier pigeons. Over the course of the show, I learned the following facts about these so-called "soccer-balls with wings" (another of Mary's nicknames):
- Carrier pigeons are monogamous. In fact, if you make a carrier pigeon think his mate is being hit upon by a rival, he will fly home even faster.
- While many birds have a sort of internal compass, carrier pigeons have an internal GPS. This means you can knock one unconscious, ship it halfway around the world, and when it wakes up it will instantly know its coordinates.
- There was a carrier pigeon in WWII named "G.I. Joe" who single-wingedly saved an entire Italian village.
Pigeons, you have my heartfelt apologies.