6 Surprising Facts about "Rats with Wings"

superdove.pngThis week we're lucky to have guest blogger Courtney Humphries blogging with us. Courtney is the author of Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan...And the World and she's got 5 great posts on pigeons. We'll let her take it from here:
Pigeons are ubiquitous, so common we hardly even see them. When they're noticed, they're castigated as flying rats, or turned into punchlines for New Yorker cartoons. But when I began researching pigeons a few years ago, I discovered a fascinating history and a trove of  information about the birds that I never knew before. Eventually I decided to turn their story into a book, Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan...And the World. Here are just a few facts about birds that surprised me.

  • Pigeons have walnut-sized brains and aren't known for their intelligence. But they are often used as research subjects in psychology labs; researchers have found that pigeons can be trained to remember over 1,000 images, and can distinguish letters of the alphabet and expressions of human faces. They excel at finding visual objects because they're natural foragers.
  • These days we don't think much about pigeons as food, but they may be the oldest domesticated bird; they were first domesticated in the Middle East and Egypt a few thousand years ago and have featured in traditional cuisines of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. In fact, the street pigeons we see in the U.S. were first brought from Europe in the 1600s for food.
  • fancy.jpgThere are hundreds of unusual breeds of domestic pigeons, called fancy pigeons. They're the same species as our familiar street pigeons, but you wouldn't know it from the looks of some. Fancy pigeons come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, weighing from four ounces to four pounds.
  • Charles Darwin kept and bred fancy pigeons in the few years leading up to the publication of the Origin of Species. He was so taken with the diversity of these birds that he began the Origin with a long description of fancy pigeons.

  • All pigeons have a keen ability to find their way home. Humans have exploited this ability with homing pigeons, which are specially bred and trained to be able to race back home from unfamiliar drop-off points hundreds of miles away. But before it became a sport, pigeon homing was used in large-scale pigeon posts as early as the fifth century BC, and pigeons were routinely recruited to carry messages in war for centuries.

Click here to purchase Courtney's wonderful book Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan...And the World (it has one of the best covers I've ever seen). And come back tomorrow for more stories about pigeons.

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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North America: East or West Coast?
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