Friday, September 3, 2010

The Pigeons

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.


houndstooth September 3, 2010 at 11:04 PM  

Wow! It sounds like a pretty interesting class you're taking! Somehow, from the beginning of your post, I had the feeling this was going to turn out to be like The Birds instead. lol Don't watch that until after your class if you haven't seen it!

NAK and The Residents of The Khottage Now With KhattleDog! September 3, 2010 at 11:09 PM  

I hope your guest has since flown back to the coop!

That is quite the interesting class ahead of you!

RILEY AND STAR MY MALTESEKIDS September 3, 2010 at 11:11 PM  

Now that will be an interesting subject. We look forward to hearing more about it/

Riley and Star.

George The Lad September 4, 2010 at 5:44 AM  

Wow how that sounds like a reel interesting project, I have to ask does your to be working pigeon have a name?
Would like to hear how you get on.
See Yea George xxx

Sara September 4, 2010 at 6:29 AM  

Your course sounds fascinating. I know clickers have been used with birds. Will you be allowed to use one to shape behaviors?

Diana September 4, 2010 at 8:10 AM  

That sounds like a cool class. I cant wait to hear more. Diana

♥ Sallie September 4, 2010 at 9:11 AM  

They have birds? Cool! Diana is right. That sounds like a great psychology department! :)

Gus, Louie and Callie September 4, 2010 at 10:34 AM  

Wow that sure sounds like a fun class.. It is nice that you had a visitor just before your class starts.. Kind of ironic...

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

andrea September 4, 2010 at 11:36 AM  

How cool : )
I'm going to hope/presume loose pigeon found his way home safely ...

the class sounds great - I rarely take the time to shape anything but the dogs but this summer I take a chicken shuffle (2 steps back one forward) to one of my layers when I realized I had a clicker in my pocket as I went to give them dinner - would love to be disciplined enough to do more with them ... it took mere minutes before Brandy was totally offering the ful dance - amazing ..

AC September 4, 2010 at 11:37 AM  

It's hard for me to relate pigeons with "breeding" or "a keeper." I have that dirty city bird image that's apparently hard to shake!

Your class sounds like a lot of fun. It's so nice to have hands-on learning and even better when you get to interact with what you're working with.

Never Say Never Greyhounds September 4, 2010 at 1:45 PM  

A friend of mine just found a racing pigeon in her front yard yesterday. She looked up the org online and using his ID band was able to find out he was on his way home to a town in FL. She called and they told her to water and feed it and he or she would probably fly home.

I'm wondering who eats pigeons.

Jules September 4, 2010 at 2:07 PM  

Ohhh...that sounds like a very interesting class. Can't wait to hear more about it. Thanks for the Layla update.

Kari in Alaska September 4, 2010 at 4:12 PM  

When we lived in NorCal one of our neighbors was a big pigeon racer and had a large part of his yard made into a house for them. It was kind of strange


KB September 4, 2010 at 5:50 PM  

What a cool class! I wish that I could go back to college... Shaping with a bird - you'll have to tell us about that! I honestly have a hard time imagining it. Do you use clickers? Oh, I guess not - you probably use the Skinner Box. Very cool!

Glad to hear that Layla is still feeling better. We've been having some veterinary drama so I know how stressful it is. I hope that she keeps feeling well.

Cyndi and Stumpy September 4, 2010 at 10:01 PM  

I never quite "got" breeding, showing and raising pigeons and I have friends that do all three.

The class sounds cool so we will be looking forward to updates!

Dawn September 5, 2010 at 3:39 PM  

the class sounds fun, but I'd be afraid I'd get attached to my pigeon!

Raegan September 5, 2010 at 11:05 PM  

That class sounds super awesome!

Sue September 6, 2010 at 6:43 PM  

That sounds like a great course. Be sure and tell us more about it.

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