Pigeons seem to have taken over my life lately. Yes, pigeons.
The other day, we went out in to the yard and found this guy perched on our fence.
At first we thought he was a feral pigeon who was sick, injured, or lost. It's very rare that we get feral pigeons in our yard, despite living in the city. On closer inspection, we saw that he was wearing a tag around his leg. He's likely a show/breed or maybe racing pigeon. There's only one pigeon keeper in my area that I know of, but I was unable to reach them by phone after a couple of attempts.
He definitely seemed interested in us, periodically shining his beady little orange eyes in our direction.
And Marge and Layla were extremely interested in him. At one point, he flew up to the railing on my back stairs.. Marge started leaping up and down, and Layla's eyes nearly popped out of her head.
Marge says, "Bird bird bird bird bird"
Layla says, "Lunch lunch lunch lunch"
(she's pretty much the same today, by the way..
no vomit, thanks to the meds, and an improved appetite.)
Kidding aside, I felt really bad for the poor guy when it became apparent that he was lost. He clucked at me a few times.. at first, I thought he was being aggressive or warning me to back away, but I think he was just scared and was asking for help.
He flew off before we could take any further action. The pigeon keeper I know only lives a few blocks away, so perhaps he found his way back home if, indeed, he is a part of their flock.
Today, I got to meet a couple of the laboratory pigeons who I'll be working with this semester through school in my Learning & Behavior Experimental Psychology class. I didn't even know we had pigeons. Apparently, they're mostly retired breeders birds (pigeons are bred for their meat - who would have thunk it?) who lived in not-so-great conditions and otherwise would have been killed. These lab birds live twice as long as feral pigeons because of the top-of-the-line care that they get, some making it in to their mid twenties.
(I know that laboratory animals hit a soft spot with some people, but I assure you that I wouldn't be participating in the class if there was any reason to believe that these birds were mistreated. There are actually a handful of animal lovers in the class, which is nice.)
Psychological testing is performed on them, but only positive reinforcement is utilized - absolutely no aversives at all (my professor is adamant about this!). They are not shocked, startled, etc. Testing mostly consists of putting them in to a Skinner Box for short periods of time and feeding them pellets as a reward/reinforcer/consequence for different things, depending on what kind of project is being worked on. In fact, they are so comfortable with testing that when they are given some time off (when they can free feed, mingle with other birds, and fly around a big open room), many become unhappy that they are not working in the lab.
I'm going to be assigned my own personal bird for the semester. One of the labs in the course is a shaping lab, in which we can shape the bird to perform any (reasonable) behavior that we want. Having never used learning theory practices on anything other than dogs, I think that this will be exciting.
I'm excited to meet "my" pigeon next Tuesday. Really, I'm excited about the course itself. My professor knows about my work with dogs and said that I've "come to the right place" if I wish to learn more stuff related to that kind of thing.