Pigeons used to live on sea cliffs. Now they often perch on window ledges of tall buildings. (Picasa 2.6)

What is your favorite animal? Is it a dog? A lion? How about a pigeon? You may be surprised to learn (as we were!) that there are people out there who think pigeons are nice, gentle and even beautiful! There is a National Pigeon Association with about 1,400 members in it. There are blogs about preserving pigeons and Facebook pages dedicated to pigeons.

“Suddenly you see this completely undervalued bird and you start learning about it and you become fascinated,” says Karen Purcell, the project leader for Project PigeonWatch, a study at Cornell University that asks people like you to observe pigeons so researchers can learn more about them.

Pigeons have been around for thousands of years, originally living on sea cliffs. That’s why they’re comfortable perched high up on building ledges.

If you decide to become a pigeon watcher, think about these questions and then take to the streets!

Where do you see pigeons? Maybe you’ve seen them in your school parking lot or in the park down the street. Pigeons don’t migrate, so if you’ve seen them someplace once, you will probably see them there again.

When do you see pigeons? Maybe you see them around lunchtime, when people are dropping sandwich crumbs on the sidewalks as they eat. If you see pigeons at noon on Friday in a park in downtown Washington, you may not see them on Saturday when people are not at work. Pigeons know to go where and when people are eating!

What kinds of pigeons do you see? Note the pigeons’ differing colors. This is a big part of PigeonWatch. Pigeons have as many as 28 color designs. (Wow! Who knew?) For example the blue-bar pigeons have two black stripes on each wing, while the red-bar pigeons have brown stripes. Other pigeons have black and white checkers on their wings, and still others known as pied birds have splashes of white color on them.

Scientist don’t know why so many color variations still exist. In other species of birds, such as robins and crows, one color pattern dominates all the others. Your observations may help scientists answer this question.

How many pigeons do you see? While you’re watching the pigeons, try to count them. You can estimate (which means you don’t have to be exact).

What are the pigeons doing? They may be courting. That’s when the male tries to impress the female. The male puffs out his neck feathers, puts his head down and struts around in a circle. He may drag his tail on the ground and chase after a female. Or you may see what looks like two pigeons kissing, called billing. Pigeons stay together for life.

Even if pigeon-watching doesn’t become your new favorite hobby, it may change your perspective on pigeons. If you’re like us at KidsPost, the next time you see a pigeon, you’ll take a second look.

— Moira E. McLaughlin