I would assume most people think of huge flocks of these birds in urban cities. Perched on every high building and making messes. For myself, an avid reader, I knew they were kept by most households in the medieval days, used to carry messages in the war, and had babies called squabs, but I never gave it too much thought beyond that. That all changed over Christmas break as I was reading the original Swiss Family Robinson to my children. There is this scene in the book where they captured pigeons and made them a home, called a “dovecote”, and the father talked about they now had this wonderful sustainable source of easy-to-grab meat. As you can imagine that triggered my curiosity and I just had to learn more. Read on if you are as curious as I was!!!
The first thing that fascinated me was their history. I just love to know the history of things! Some civilizations SURVIVED because of pigeons. Pigeons have this extremely unique ability to always know where home is. Wherever they are born, they will return back to every night for the rest of their life. Since they always come home, they can be let out to forage all day for their feed (free for the keepers!) and they will always come home to roost (sleep) and deposit their valuables. Nests of offspring and nitrogen rich droppings to be used for fertilizer.
Historically pigeons have been consumed by many ancient civilizations, including Egypt, Rome, and Medieval Europe. In our more recent history during world war 11 in England, and the Depression here in America, many people ate pigeon to supplement their rationed diet. It was heralded as a cheap and reliable form of protein. Most estates and homes boasted of a thriving “dovecote” full of pigeons. Most where large structures outside but poorer families or ancient homes up on hillsides or mountains actually had nesting holes carved inside of their homes!! The pigeons fed themselves and their babies did not have to be hunted or caught. Much like an ancient refrigerator with a continuous supply of ready to eat meat right outside your door or inside your house! Now, in our decade, pigeon meat is thought of as either a very upscale and fancy fare or people link them to poverty and no longer think of them as a viable food source. I consider this a big mistake!
Adolescent Pigeons are called Squabs and both parents raise them. A hen will start by laying 2 eggs which will hatch around 16-18 days. At two weeks old, if food is plenty, the cock will take over raising the nest and the hen will start a second nest right beside the first one. She will then proceed to lay two more eggs and begin their incubation. Both parents raise the babies feeding them a special feed they make called “crop milk”. The parents do all the work of incubating, feeding, and keeping their babies warm all on their own! By 30 days old their babies are almost adult size and fully feathered. This is the age they would usually be eaten, when they still haven’t flown much, tender, are easy to catch, and can yield up to a lb of meat!!!
We think makes them extremely economical birds! Kaid has been begging for some and we just jumped in and got some! Stay tuned for Kaids facinating story on how he found his pigeons!