Crammed with witty writing and charming cartoons, this cute book is a fun and entertaining attraction into the fascinating world of pigeons
If you look out your window right now, chances are, you will see feral pigeons, also known as rock doves, Columba livia. They live happily alongside people, mostly in cities, on every continent on Earth, except Antarctica. Although some people openly revile pigeons and refer to them (incorrectly) as “flying rats,” other people, like evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin and inventor Nicola Tesla, absolutely loved them and found inspiration from being around them and observing them. In fact, Tesla rehabbed injured pigeons, provided open baskets for them to nest in on his window sills and fed huge flocks of them, and he even claimed he was in love with a special white pigeon with light grey wingtips who visited him regularly.
“I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life,” Tesla once said.
Written with a great deal of compassion and appreciation for the quirky nature for our relationship with pigeons, Rosemary Mosco’s latest book, A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching: Getting to Know the World’s Most Misunderstood Bird (Workman Publishing, 2021: Amazon US / Amazon UK), is entertaining and informative, and further serves as an enthusiastic enticement into the world of birds and birdwatching.
In this book, Ms Mosco has clearly invested a great deal of time into collecting facts about pigeons and making sure they’re correct. She covers a wide variety of topics such as pigeon anatomy, the evolutionary history of pigeons and the history of the human-pigeon relationship (including heroic deeds of pigeons), and decoding pigeon behaviors. At the end of the book, she even provides a brief epilogue on how to apply basic pigeon watching skills towards watching other common birds. But my favorite parts focused on specific domestic pigeon breeds and on the colors, patterns and the genetics of their plumage, eyes — and even their toenails. I was, however, surprised that she never mentions that some of these peculiar human-created ornamental pigeon breeds are highly inbred and are often physically incapable of feeding their young or flying.
The author is a thoughtful science communicator. When she uses words that may be unfamiliar to her readers, she tells you how they’re pronounced, and carefully explains complex topics associated with them. For example, she provides a short primer on genetics before launching her discussion of pigeon genetics.
Ms Mosco apparently views pigeon watching as a gateway into birds and birding in general and asks her readers questions such as What other pigeon-like birds are there? What sort of pigeon predators might one see? What other sorts of birds might one see amongst friendly flocks of pigeons? From common pigeon predators, such as peregrine falcons or red-tailed hawks, to birds that may hang out with pigeons, such as mourning doves, house sparrows and cardinals, the author gently helps the reader to learn how to identify these other birds, and gives information about birding. The author also provides a basic primer on how to rescue injured pigeons and safely move them to the care of a nearby wildlife rehabber.
Ms Mosco, a bird cartoonist who creates the web-based comic Bird and Moon, illustrated this book — and what birdorable illustrations these are! In addition to accurately showing particular points of pigeon anatomy and behavior, she also captures pigeon personality idiosyncrasies and occasionally adds in some other amusing elements. Although every illustration in the book is a visual delight, one of my favorites is “target acquired”, which depicts a pigeon staring at a partially melted ice cream cone that’s fallen upside down on the pavement (page 133). The publisher also did a fabulous job on this book. Thanks to Workman Publishing’s attention to details, the layout and design of this book itself is just beautiful. I know this is a minor point (probably one that only I care about), but as a person who loves to hold and handle the books I read, I was particularly delighted by the book’s curved page corners.
This enchanting book is well-written and easily understood. It’s probably intended for young readers and those who don’t know much about birds, but I certainly enjoyed it, and I fit neither category. If pandemic lockdown is making you feel sad and lonely, this lighthearted and quirky little book will definitely be a much needed pick-me-up, and will introduce you to a whole group of new friends that you may not have met yet.
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