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PIGEON

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 597 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PIGEON (Fr. pigeon,' Ital. piccione and pipione, Lat. pipio, literally a nestling-bird that pipes or cries out, a " piper "—the very name now in use among some pigeon-fanciers, though " squeaker " in the more usual term). The name pigeon, doubtless of Norman introduction as a polite term, seems to bear much the same relation to dove, the word of Anglo-Saxon origin, that mutton has to sheep, beef to ox, veal to calf, and pork to bacon; no sharp zoological distinction can be drawn (see DovE) between dove and pigeon, and the collective members of the group Columbae are by ornithologists ordinarily called pigeons. Perhaps the best-known species to which the latter name is exclusively given in common speech' is the wild pigeon It may be observed that the " rock :pigeons " of Anglo-Indians are Sand-grouse (q.v.), and the " Cape pigeon " of sailors is a petrel (q.v.). Management.—The brood sow should be lengthy and of a prolific strain, known to milk well. She is moderately fed and put to a boar of her own age when large enough, i.e. seven to eight months old. She remains in a state of oestrum for about three days, and if not pregnant comes in heat again in three weeks. Breeding swine, male and female, run most of their time at pasture and receive a liberal allowance of green food or raw roots. The period of gestation is sixteen weeks. Six to eight pigs are reared of the first litter, and ten to twelve afterwards. Many brood sows are fattened to greatest profit after the second or third litter. Two litters are produced in one year, as pigs are usually weaned at two months old, and the sow will take the boar at from three days to a week after the pigs are removed, according to condition. A convenient sty to hold five or six pigs has a southern aspect, and consists of a covered compartment and outer court, each to ft. square. When the animals are fed outside the inner court is kept clean and dry, and there the pigs lie. The labouring man's pig is his bank, and is fed on scraps, small potatoes and waste products. In connexion with cheese dairies pigs are largely fed on sour whey thickened with mixed meal produced from any or all of the grains or pulses, the choice depending upon the market price. Food may with advantage be cooked for very young pigs; but, with the exception of potatoes, which should never be given raw, roots and meals are best given uncooked. Meal mixed with pulped roots for a few hours improves in digestibility, and a sprinkling of salt is an improvement. Meal derived from leguminous seeds makes the flesh firm and improves the quality. Fattening pigs are fed or passenger pigeon of North America, Ectopistes migrarius, which is still found in many parts 'of Canada and the United States, though now almost extinct and never appearing in the countless numbers that it did of old, when a flock seen by A. Wilson was estimated to consist of more than 2230 millions. The often-quoted descriptions given by him and J. J. Audubon of pigeon-haunts in the then " backwoods " of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana need not here be reproduced. That of the latter was declared by C. Waterton to be a gross exaggeration; but the critic would certainly have changed his tone had he known that, some hundred and fifty years earlier, passenger-pigeons so swarmed and ravaged the colonists' crops near Montreal that a bishop of his own church was constrained to exorcise them with holy water, as if they had been demons). The passenger-pigeon is about the size of a common turtle-dove, but with a long, wedge-shaped tail. The male is of a dark slate-colour above, and purplish-hay beneath, the sides of the neck being enlivened by violet, green and gold. The female is drab-coloured above and dull white beneath, with only a slight trace of the brilliant neck-markings.2 (See plate illustration under DovE.) Among the multitudinous forms of pigeons very few can here be noticed. A species which might possibly repay the trouble of domestication is the wonga-wonga or white-fleshed pigeon of Australia, Leucosarcia picata, a bird larger than the ring-dove, of a slaty-blue colour above and white beneath, streaked on the flanks with black. It is known to breed, though not very freely, in captivity, and is said to be excellent for the table. As regards flavour, the fruit-pigeons of the genus Treron (or 1'inago of some authors) and its allies surpass all birds. These inhabit tropical Africa, India, and especially the Malay Archipelago; but the probability of domesticating any of them is very remote. Hardly less esteemed are the pigeons of the genus Ptilopus and its kindred forms, which have their headquarters in the Pacific Islands, though some occur far to the westward and also in Australia. There may be mentioned the strange Nicobar pigeon, Caloenas (see plate illustration under DovE), an inhabitant of the Indian Archipelago, not less remarkable for the long lustrous hackles with which its neck is clothed than for the structure of its gizzard, which has been described by Sir W. H. Flower (Proc. Zool. Soc., 1860, p. 330), though this peculiarity is matched or even surpassed by that of the same organ in the Phaenorrhina goliath of New Caledonia (Rev. dezoologie, 1862, p. 138) and in the Carpophaga latrans of Fiji. In this last the surface of the epithelial lining is beset by horny conical processes, adapted, it is believed, for crushing the very hard fruits of Onocarpus vitiensis on which the bird feeds (Proc. Zool. Soc., 1878, p. 102). The modern giants of the group, consisting of about half a dozen species of the genus Court' and known as crowned pigeons (see plate illustration under DovE), belong to New Guinea and the neighbouring islands, and are conspicuous by their large size, beautiful filmy fan-shaped crest, and the reticulated instead of scutellated covering of their " tarsi." A very distinct type of pigeon is that represented by Didunculus strigirostris, the " Manu-mea " of Samoa, still believed by some to be the next of kin to the Dodo (q.v.), but really presenting only a superficial resemblance in the shape of its bill to that extinct form, from which it differs osteologically quite as much as do other pigeons (Phil. Trans., 1869, p. 349). It remains to be seen whether the Papuan genus Otidiphaps, of which several species are now known, may not belong rather to the Didunculidae than to the true Columbidae. Pigeons are now regarded as belonging to the Charadriiform or plover-like birds (see Blahs) and are placed in the sub-order 1 Voyages du Baron de la Hontan clans l'Amerique septentrionale, i. 93, 94 (2nd ed., Amsterdam, 1705). In the first edition, published at the Hague in 1703, the passage, less explicit in details but to the same effect, is at p. 80. The author's letter, describing the circumstance, is dated May 1687. 2 There are several records of the occurrence in Britain of this pigeon, but in most cases the birds noticed cannot be supposed to have found their own way hither. One, which was shot in Fife in 1825, may, however, have crossed the Atlantic unassisted by man. Columbae, near the sand-grouse (q.v.). They are divided into three families, Dididae, which includes the Dodo (q.v.) and Solitaire, the Columbidae, which includes the doves and pigeons, and the Didunculidae, of which the curious tooth-billed pigeon, of Samoa is the only example. The body is always compact, and the bill has a soft skin or cere covering the nostrils. The pigeons are chiefly vegetable feeders and have a hard gizzard, and all drink much water; they perch, and have a note of the nature of a " coo." The nest is a rough platform or is in holes on the ground or in rocks. The eggs are two or three and white, and the young, which are helpless when hatched, are fed by a secretion from the crop of the parents. (A. N.) PIGEON-FLYING, the sport of racing homing-pigeons bred and trained for the purpose. It is of very recent date, although the use of birds as a means of carrying messages (see PIGEON PosT) is of great antiquity. Belgium may be considered as par excellence the home of the sport, the first birds flown there probably coming from Holland. Long-distance flying began in 1818, with a match of Too m., while in 182o there was a race from Paris to Liege, and three years later the first race from London to Belgium. The sport is now a favourite one in Great Britain, the United States, France, and, to a less degree, in some other countries, although nowhere attaining the general popularity which it enjoys in Belgium, where nearly every village has its Societe colombophile, millions of pigeons being sent over the French border to be raced back. The annual Belgian contours national, a race of about Soo m. from Toulouse to Brussels, was inaugurated in 1881, in which year the first regular races in Great Britain, from Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance to London, took place. The velocity attained at that time was about 1250 yds. per minute, but this was soon surpassed in the races of the London Columbarian Society, one of the winners in which attained a speed of 1836 yds. per minute. The sport was introduced into the United States about the year 1875, although regular racing did not begin until 1878. Since then it has gained widespread popularity, the American record for old birds at 300 M. being 1848 yds. per minute and for young birds (yearlings) 1665 yds., while the distance record is 1004 M. The American " blue ribbon " champion-ships are held at loo, 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 m. The speed of homing-pigeons depends very greatly upon the state of the atmosphere. In the race from Montargis to Brussels in 1876 in bright and clear weather, all the prize-winners made the distance of 27o m. within three and one-quarter hours, while in the same race in 1877, on a thick and stormy day, thirty hours passed before the first bird arrived. Training.—The loft should be on a commanding site. It is best made in the shape of a large room, suitably subdivided, protected from vermin, and provided with drinking troughs, rock salt and crushed mortar for the birds' use. It should be fitted with a sufficient number of nests about 2 ft. long, 20 in. in breadth and height. Arrangements should be made for allowing the pigeons to fly out daily for exercise; and they should be trained to re-enter the loft through bolting wires, which open inwards only, into a small chamber, to which an electric arrangement may be fitted so as to sound a bell and warn the owner of the arrival of a bird. The food of birds in training consists of vetch, beans, maize, peas, broken rice and millet, in various proportions, according to the country, climate and season of the year, the daily allowance for each bird being about 4o grammes weight. Young birds may be fed on rice in the husk and bread. They are called " squealers " for a week or two after birth, and then " squeakers " until about three months old. Each brood consists of two eggs, on which. both parents sit in turn, the cock only for a few hours in the middle of the day. When the young are being brought up, only one of the parent birds is taken out at a time. One meal per day, given before the birds are let out in the morning, is sufficient. Training should commence in warm weather, when the bird is about four months old, and it consists in taking it out in a closed wicker basket and liberating or " tossing " it at gradually increasing distances from its loft, with several days interval of rest between the flights. The usual preliminary distances are 1, 2, 5, Io and 15 or 20 M. These tosses should all be made on the same line between the loft and, say, some neighbouring city, in order that a bird may always have to fly in the same general direction during the season. About Too m. may be expected of birds the first season; they reach their full distances only about the fifth year. It is considered better to train the young homers alone, so that they may become independent of the older birds. When thoroughly trained they may be flown over long distances about once a week. The Belgian fanciers generally divide their birds into two classes, one for breeding and the other for racing, though the latter are allowed to breed within certain limits. Some fanciers always choose birds with chicks in the nest for long journeys, claiming that they return faster with this incentive. A seamless metal ring marked with the owner's name is slipped over the foot of the pigeon when only a few days old, and during its racing career the longer wing-feathers are stamped with the bird's records. At the start of a race the competing birds are tossed together by a starter who takes the time. Upon being released the homer ascends rapidly in spirals until, apparently des-crying some familiar landmark on the horizon, it will fly straight and swiftly towards it. As the birds enter their home-lofts the time is taken by the owner. A bird is not considered to have got home " until it has actually passed through the door of its loft.
End of Article: PIGEON
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