|Ornithologist Walter Klyuk discovered that baby pigeons don’t exist.|
We have all seen the cute kittens and puppies, the pinkish newborn mice, the tiger cubs and bear cubs. We can picture ducklings waddling in line after mother duck, baby chicks the color of the springtime sun, featherless eagle hatchlings in their nest, shrieking for food with their beaks wide open. But what about such omnipresent animals as pigeons? Have you ever seen a baby pigeon, even on a photograph? Why not?
Walter Klyuk, an ornithologist at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, said this question had been pecking at him from childhood until a year ago.
“In college, the ornithology professors told us that the reason we don’t see baby pigeons around,” said Klyuk, “is that the urban environment is so dangerous that hatchlings are reared somewhere safe and far away and stay there until they’re the size of an adult, and that there are no pictures of baby pigeons simply because the matter is too trivial and obvious for scientific inquiry. But I never bought any of that baloney.”
Suspecting that science had long been hushing up a mystery for fear of being unable to explain it, Klyuk took the matters into his own talons. In a year-long study, to be published in the May issue of Nature, he used cutting-edge satellite technology and the good old “creeping & stalking” techniques to find pigeon hatchlings. What he discovered, he said, was stunning.
“Pigeons hatch adult-sized and mature,” Klyuk said, adding that even the notion of maturity doesn’t quite apply to pigeons because there appear to be no physiological changes during their lifetimes. “Although further studies are still needed to determine what goes on inside the egg, we now know that pigeons lay their eggs in places that no one knows about, such as remote abandoned buildings and the rooftops of hipster stores. The incubation period is by far the longest known among birds and the elastic eggshell expands to the size of a football to accommodate the developing pigeon, which hatches looking no different than a full-grown specimen.”
Samuel Bulferstein, an assistant professor of biology at Duke University, said that although Klyuk’s discovery surprised him, “cases of embryo development to full maturity and beyond have already been documented.” The most famous such case is that of Laozi, the ancient Chinese philosopher, author of Tao Te Ching and founder of Taoism, who reportedly spent 81 years in his mother’s womb and was born an old and wise man.
“This got me thinking: if Laozi was so wise, maybe pigeons are too, maybe they are intellectually and morally superior to humans,” Bulferstein continued. “The signs are there: wise old people sacrifice bread to them, and people at large tolerate their poop and presence in cities while eradicating stray cats and dogs, which suggests instinctive reverence to pigeons.”
Bulferstein said he will bang out a book on the subject by next year, hoping for tenure.