26 May, 2006

Pigeons Dream

Another reason to believe pigeons are smart.

In the early 1970's (Tyver and Allison, 1972, A Polygraphic and Behavioral Study of Sleep in the Pigeon. Experimental Neurology, 35, 138-153), evidence was found to show that pigeons, like humans and other mammals, have 'paradoxical sleep' (read: "REM sleep") cycles. Pigeon sleep is apparently similar in nature to guinea pig sleep - pigeons are light sleepers, and easily roused (a common trait amongst prey animals).

So, what do pigeons dream? What do guinea pigs dream, for that matter? I don't know - but it seems to me that if you dream you have a mental life of some sort. Which has something to do with being smart. Don't you think?

24 May, 2006

Pigeons think in logarithms

Pigeons are smart. If you disbelieve, here's one thing to check out: news from New Scientist online about pigeons' categorization of segments of time. Their behavior 'conforms neatly' to the logarithmic model (which may also characterize some kinds of human thought).

23 May, 2006

Pigeon Naming Practice 1

For practice in using the pigeon naming conventions, you may wish to name the pigeons in this photo. Or, for a slightly greater challenge, try this one. Note that proper naming of the birds in this picture may require additional tools beyond those provided in the previous post.
(Correct answers: picture 1, left-to-right: Cap'n, Cloudy, and Patches. Picture 2, left-to-right: Pants, Sarge, Cap'n and Rusty.)

Pigeon Post The First - Naming Conventions 1

It is my belief that pigeons (and by 'pigeons' I mean the birds that everyone complains about, that gather in great groups in large cities and all that most people notice about them is that they tend to poop. Of course, everybody poops - so it doesn't seem fair to hold that against them) are actually completely delightful creatures. I intend to create several posts to support this argument. This one, however, won't. It simply proposes a set of conventions by which I believe that all urban pigeons can be named. The system will not result in unique naming of individual pigeons, but will allow users to identify the various different color and behavioral patterns of the pigeons in their midst, and to appropriately address the various pigeons, should they care to do so.

If you take the time to notice, you'll see that pigeons (aka 'rock doves', aka 'columbia livia') come in a rainbow of color patterns. The most commonly found pattern, however, is the blue-bar pattern. Here is a pigeon of that pattern. Pigeons in this color category are most felicitously named "Cap'n" - at least in the absence of other defining features, as will be discussed in later posts. If there are two such pigeons and you wish to discriminate between them, the larger or more prominent looking pigeon should be referred as "Cap'n", and the smaller or more retiring looking pigeon should be called "Sarge". In a group of three blue-bars, if ever you encounter one, the smallest or least dominant bird should be referred to as "Gomer".

Another common color morph is the checkered bird. These birds are both of the checkered variety, though it is clear that they deserve very different names. Standardly, a checkered pigeon may always be called "Checkers". However, more specific names are also acceptable. For example, the pigeon in the foreground of the photo has a very strong pattern of light and dark on his wings, with an overall pattern similar to the blue-bar except without the bars. His irridescence is of the green-blue variety. This pigeon should be called "Chuck" or "Chuckie" (unless the namer wishes to refer to the much lighter grey color of his legs and lower torso - this could lead to a different nominclature entirely). The pigeon in the background has a more subtle checkering pattern, and irridescence of the green-lilac variety. This bird should be named "Flick" or "Flicka".

Some pigeons are of a single shade, ranging from nearly black, through blues and pearly greys. These are referred to as spread colorations. A dark grey spread bird can be seen here. For these birds a range of names based directly on their colors should be employed. For example "Blackie", "Smokey", "Pearl", or "Blue"

Each of the varieties mentioned above is fundamentally colored blue or grey. However, two color morphs are based upon birds who are fundamentally reddish brown or rust colored. The first of these two is the red, who can be seen here. Reds should of course be called "Red" or else "Rusty" or else "Rosie", depending upon their hue and disposition.

Pigeons also come in a red-bar pattern. For example, this one. These birds have a smokey grey appearance, and copper colored wing-bars. Such birds should be called, as a default, "Comrade". A formidible red-bar pigeon may be referred to as "Commissar" - but this should not be frequently used. (Under some very limited conditions, one can imagine a red-bar who should be addressed as "Ivan Denisovich", but such naming strategies are by and large outside the scope of this project).

The last of the 'official' color morphs (other than the lovely all-white pigeons, discussed below) is the pied. Pigeons with significant white patches are considered pieds, regardless of the color of their overall presentation. A pied bird, such as this one should be referred to as "Stripey", or in more formal situations, "Tux" - but clearly these names are not appropriate for all pieds-only those whose base color is a deep grey or black and whose white bits are crisp and striking to behold. Other correct names for pieds are "Patches" if the bird has a very patchy or blotchy appearance, "CoCo" if the bird is red/brown with white patches (like cocoa with mini-marshmallows), as the bird at the bottom of this photo is, and "Cloudy" if the bird is basically grey with white.

A note to the wise - the latter three birds described in the previous paragraph may be called, by some fanciers splash rather than pied. Perhaps they're correct to do so.

The white pigeons such as these must be called "Angel" or "Peacey", or perhaps even "Paloma" or "Jesus" (as in the Spanish name, not the Anglicized pronunciation). Seeing such a bird is especially propitious, and should be regarded as such.

These are the names that should be assigned based upon color morph only. However, pigeons may have specific patterns of color marking that go beyond mere color morph, and they may also have particular behaviors, manners of movement, or habits which may also be used to determine their names. In subsequent posts, I will lay out the naming conventions based on these additional factors.

Barbaro, Bernardini, Breakdowns

Here are a couple of really great articles about what happened at the Preakness and what may be happening to thoroughbreds that might be making them less sound than they used to be.

Oh, and a picture of Bernardini. And a couple of updates.

One, unrelated to racing but very very sad nonetheless, Chris Antley was murdered, apparently, in California in 2000 - just a year after the Charismatic Triple Crown. And Edgar Prado rode at least one other ill-fated horse in the Breeders' Cup mile. In 2002, Landseer broke a front leg, threw Prado, and had to be euthanized at the track.

22 May, 2006

Barbaro, Funfare and Edgar Prado

Ever since Saturday afternoon's Preakness stakes, I've been worrying and hoping for Barbaro's recovery (and periodically crying like a little baby). Seeing him break down as he did, after breaking through the starting gates early and having to restart the race, was sickening and sad. He's clearly a great colt, and everyone says (and I believe) that he has Edgar Prado to thank, in part, for saving his life. Prado (along with several track officials) was able to pull Barbaro up quickly, and keep him from exascerbating his broken ankle.

You've gotta respect jockeys like Prado. The regulation weight that a horse carries in the triple crown races is 126 pounds. That includes jockey *and* tack. And the average thoroughbred weighs something like 1,300 pounds (plus or minus a couple hundred). That horse is (on average) about 16 hands tall at the withers (that's 64 inches or so). The average jockey is about 61-63 inches tall. In a race like the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, the horse will run nearly 40 miles per hour - in a big whomping group of similarly gigantoid animals. Each with a teensy jocky perched tenuously on his back. And in the triple crown, these horses are 3 year olds (like, 11 year old kids), they're mostly colts (on their way to becoming stallions), they've only probably been ridden since they were 2, and they're apt to become very silly at unpredictable moments. It just has to take such tremendous courage to do that for a living. And to be the guy who's responsible for pulling the horse up and stopping him when he's hurt himself.

Chris Antley did that for Charismatic in the Belmont stakes a few years ago - I remember him standing just past the finish (Charismatic injured a front foot during the home stretch. He'd won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and looked like he was going to with the Triple Crown), holding Charismatic's foot up under him, crying. The injury to Charismatic was career-ending, but not life-ending.

In watching the Preakness this year, I also remembered a similar sickening feeling from just a few months before. In the 2005 Breeder's Cup mile, a 6 year old colt named Funfare broke down. His jockey was thrown, and Funfare attempted to catch up with the rest of the field - thus causing irreparable harm to his broken front cannon bone. Funfare was euthanized within hours of that race. That was in October. The jockey was Edgar Prado.

Prado tried to save Funfare, but couldn't. He may have saved Barbaro - everybody hopes so. But no matter what, it's been a horrible year for Edgar Prado. I can't even imagine what he must be going through (though apparently he's already back and riding). Get well soon, Barbaro. Rest in Peace, Funfare.

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to the inaugural post in my blog, Atrain's brain. I hope to fill this blog with interesting and relevant information, but may well simply fill it with daily thoughts and musings. Read at your own risk!