Excerpt from Pigeons by Andrew D. Blechman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird

by Andrew D. Blechman

Pigeons by Andrew D. Blechman X
Pigeons by Andrew D. Blechman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2006, 256 pages
    Oct 2007, 256 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

The domestic pigeon lives both in the relative luxury of the queen of England’s racing lofts and feeds off discarded pizza crusts and doughnuts on the streets of New York City. They are both descendants of Columba livia, the rock dove. Very loosely translated, the Latin name means a “leaden-colored bird that bobs its head.” The rock dove (the name “rock pigeon” is becoming increasingly popular among ornithologists) is a member of the family Columbidae. Other members of this family include the mourning dove, the turtle dove, the wood pigeon, and the ill-fated passenger pigeon. If you trace your finger a little further back along this family tree, you’ll see that the rock dove is even related to the extinct dodo bird.

All members of Columbidae share several distinct attributes. They generally have plump bodies, small (often bobbing) heads, and stubby legs, as well as short slender bills with a fleshy covering, or “cere.” All of these birds make distinctive cooing sounds, live in loosely constructed nests, and lay two white eggs at a time that are incubated by both parents. Both sexes also produce a milk-like substance in their throat, or “crop,” which they feed to their newborns. While all other birds collect water in their beaks and tip their heads back to drink, pigeons suck their water like a horse at a trough.

Although a pigeon and a dove are the same bird, the more delicate members of the family are called doves, while the seemingly less graceful members of Columbidae are also called pigeons, hence the old adage that all pigeons are doves but not all doves are pigeons. “Dove” has come to mean petite and pure. Colloquial usage of the word “pigeon,” on the other hand, emphasizes the bird’s docile nature and places it in a negative light. “Stool pigeon” is synonymous with stooge, and to be “pigeonholed” is to be arbitrarily stereotyped in a disparaging manner. Pigeons themselves, it would seem, have been pigeonholed as dimwitted. Such is the linguistic discrimination that a large pigeon will nevertheless be called a dove simply because it is white. This lack of pigment is often confused for virtuousness -  a characteristic that few are willing to link with an ordinary pigeon. Perhaps we can pin the linguistic confusion on William the Conqueror, whose Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings ensured that the English language would be peppered with French synonyms.

Despite this linguistic bias, the unassuming pigeon is truly special. It doesn’t live in trees but prefers nesting on rocky ledges (although a window ledge will do just fine). And unlike its distant relations, it will never abandon its nest, developing a keen sense of homing to ensure its return. It breeds enthusiastically in captivity and is naturally gregarious, enjoying the company of its own kind, even in close quarters. In the wild, a pigeon lives only about three or four years. But in the relative safety of captivity, a pigeon can live over twenty years.

With hollow bones containing reservoirs of oxygen, a tapered fuselage, giant breast muscles that account for one third of its body mass, and an ability to function indefinitely without sleep, the rock dove is a feathered rocket built for speed and endurance. If an average up-and-down of the wing takes a bird three feet, then a racer is making roughly 900,000 of those motions during a long-distance race, while maintaining 600 heartbeats per minute - triple its resting heart rate. The rock dove can reach peak velocity in seconds and maintain it for hours on end. One pigeon was recorded flying for several hours at 110 mph - an Olympian feat by any measure. Clearly these birds aren’t designed to jump around branches or glide on warm air currents; they’re designed for rapid yet sustained flight. Their fuel? Richly oxygenated blood, just one ounce of birdseed a day, and a hardwired need to return home.

Excerpted from Pigeons © 2006 by Andrew Blechman, and reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Voted 2018 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Tara Westover had the kind of ...
  • Book Jacket: Circe
    by Madeline Miller
    Voted 2018 Best Fiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Towards the end of Madeline Miller...
  • Book Jacket: Children of Blood and Bone
    Children of Blood and Bone
    by Tomi Adeyemi
    Voted 2018 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    What would you do if, in a ...
  • Book Jacket: Where the Crawdads Sing
    Where the Crawdads Sing
    by Delia Owens
    Voted 2018 Best Debut Novel Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Where the Crawdads Sing was a ...

See all Award Winners & Top 20

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Winter Soldier
by Daniel Mason

A story of war and medicine, of finding love in the sweeping tides of history, and of the mistakes we make.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Listen to the Marriage
    by John Jay Osborn

    The story of a couple in trouble and an exploration of the obstacles we put in our own way.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7 ½ Deaths of
Evelyn Hardcastle

"Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day...quite unlike anything I've ever read." - A. J. Finn


Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay: $400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.