Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][merged small]

THE FIRST LADY OF THE LAND RELEASES A HOMING PIGEON

"I wish the Cleveland Show all possible success" was the message which this 500-mile prize-winning Racing Homer bore from Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, standing on the portico of the White House, Washington, to the annual show held by the Poultry and Pigeon Fanciers'

STANDING

Peoples of Every Clime and Age Have Lavished Care and Affection Upon Lovely Pigeons

BY ELISHA HANSON

With Illustrations in Color from Paintings by Hashime Murayama

AVEN before the dawn of history the breeding of fancy and racing pigeons was one of the favorite pursuits of man. Wherever historians delve and archæologists dig they find evidence of the interest of men of olden days in pigeons. That interest, in our own age of steam, electricity, and chemistry, seems to be growing.

There is a fascination about these birds that makes it possible for men and women in all stations of life to enjoy them. To some persons the breeding of pigeons opens the road along which to pursue an ideal, the ideal of beauty, in one of its highest forms.

Not all of us are artists, capable, by the use of brush and palette, of catching for a moment impressions of personality and of atmosphere which impregnate great canvases; but those of us who love pigeons have an opportunity to create something essentially satisfying through the infinite variety in which their colors may be blended.

TWO HUNDRED VARIETIES OF FANCY

PIGEONS ARE BRED TO-DAY

No one knows how many varieties of pigeons are being bred in the world today, or how many have been bred and abandoned in the past, but it is estimated that of the fancy birds alone there are upward of 200 distinct kinds, and it is known that many of these have innumerable subdivisions, where the type is the same but the coloring of each is different.

In addition to fancy pigeons, where type and color make the variety and its subclasses, there are racing pigeons and utility pigeons. The latter are reared in large numbers, principally for food purposes, although during the last few years breeders have discovered that a purely utilitarian bird may be bred for beauty.

Finally, there are the Common pigeons, to be found in barn lofts, church steeples, and public parks and plazas the world over (see Color Plate II).

The great square in Venice in front of the Cathedral of Saint Mark, which is dominated by the Campanile and flanked by the Palace of the Doges, is perhaps the most celebrated public square in the world for its pigeons. In the snapshot album of nearly every tourist who has visited the City of Canals, there is a picture of the traveler feeding these birds before Saint Mark's (see page 83).

Madison Square, New York; the steps of Saint Paul's Cathedral in London, from which an effort is now being made to bar these birds, and Lafayette Square, in Washington, are other famous congregating centers for the world's pigeon population (see pages 86, 87, 110).

MANY POETS HAVE SUNG OF PIGEONS

It is difficult for a pigeon fancier to analyze and describe the reasons for his strong attachment for these birds. The writer still recalls his first impression of them, nearly thirty years ago, when he saw the timid, white creatures, their dainty red feet folded back under their breasts as they flew overhead, in an old country woodshed.

From that moment birds of all kinds, but pigeons more especially, have held a place of deep affection in his heart.

This sentiment is far from unique. Wordsworth experienced it one day while walking through his favorite forest. A dove was singing to its mate. The great poet of Nature paused to listen, and then, in the spirit of the moment, recorded his thoughts:

I heard a stock-dove sing or say
His homely tale, this very day;
His voice was buried among trees,

Yet to be come at by the breeze;
He did not cease, but cooed and cooed,
And somewhat pensively he wooed;
He sang of love, with quiet blending,
Slow to begin and never ending;
Of serious faith and inward glee,
That was the song, the song for me.

But Wordsworth was not the first poet to write of his love for pigeons. The Psalmists sang of them; Anacreon sang of them; Juvenal, Shakespeare, Mrs. Browning, Moore, and many others have recorded their love of pigeons in verse that will endure for all time. Some of the most charming strains of Liza Lehmann's song cycles are those which seek to convey through music the sheer beauty of pigeons.

ARABIAN LEGEND EXPLAINS PIGEON'S

RED FEET

Literature, legend, and history are rich in pigeon lore and in all the records of warfare, there is nothing more stirring than the accomplishments of our own little feathered warriors in the great World War.

In legend, there is nothing more beautiful to a pigeon fancier than the story of the dove which brought to Noah the message that the great flood had subsided. According to the Arabs, this bird, after carrying to the Ark the olive branch signifying that the waters were falling, flew away on a second trip, from which it returned with traces of red mud on its feet, thereby proving that it had been able to alight on the ground; and, as a result of this information, Noah prayed that the feet of these birds might forever continue of that reddish color. Noah's prayer must have been heard, for the feet of all pigeons to this day are red!

We learn from Xenophon's "Anabasis" that the love of pigeons was widespread in those parts of the world which the Greek army traversed. We also learn from the great Roman historian and naturalist, Pliny, that ancient Rome was as keen about these birds as is modern Belgium.

Pliny tells of Lucius Axius, who was celebrated because of the quality of his birds and also for the high prices which they commanded-often as much as the equivalent of $75 a pair.

[ocr errors]

few months ago a Racing Homer brought more than $1,300 at auction in England. Since that time an American fancier imported a black Tumbler cock for which he paid $1,000, and I myself have paid more than the old Roman's price for a pair of birds, and have also refused more than six times his price for one of my own breeding.

ENGLAND'S KING IS A PIGEON FANCIER

Probably the best-known pigeon fancier in the world to-day is King George of England, whose lofts at Sandringham contain the finest racing specimens obtainable. From those lofts birds have gone into many humble English homes, accompanied by the sovereign's best wishes, there to produce winners for their modest owners. His Majesty's grandmother, Queen Victoria, was also an ardent fancier, visiting pigeon shows whenever possible and spending many hours in her aviary.

Queen Victoria prized the Jacobin (see Color Plate IV) above all other varieties and made a point of obtaining outstanding specimens from time to time to improve her own birds. She did not compete in the shows, but Jacobin fanciers sent some of their best birds to her lofts and frequently received for their own even better individuals, produced under the Queen's loving supervision.

Thousands of years before the days of King George, another king, Rameses III of Egypt, gloried in his donations of pigeons to the temples of Thebes, Heliopolis, and Memphis. Since his time, down to the present, the Orient, especially Mohammedan countries, has regarded pigeons as sacred. Only recently a riot occurred in Bombay because some Europeans killed the revered pigeons in one of the city squares (see illustration, page 102).

PIGEON RACING IS BELGIUM'S NATIONAL

SPORT

In Belgium, pigeon racing is the national sport, in which as many Belgians, in proportion to the country's population, are as keenly interested as are Americans in baseball, football, golf, or horse racing. The Grand National of Belgium, in which pigeon fanciers from all parts of the coun

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][merged small][subsumed]

These birds, with filmy, fan-shaped crests, are among the largest and most spectacular of the whole pigeon group. They are peculiar to New Guinea and a few neighboring South Sea islands and are from 25 to nearly 34 inches in length. This particular species (Goura victoria) inhabits the islands of Jobi and Mysori.

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »