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Where Are All the Baby Pigeons?

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To city dwellers, it might seem that pigeons multiply magically: All the birds swooping down at us, or scurrying out of the way when we walk, are fully grown. How come we never see baby pigeons anywhere?

Rest assured, baby pigeons, or squabs, do exist—and there’s a good reason you’re not seeing them. It’s partially due to where the birds nest: Pigeons, also known as Rock Doves, build their nests in places that mimic the caves and cliffs that their ancestors used in the Mediterranean. “In New York City, they’re building their nests anywhere they can find, any opening on window sills, on roof tops, under bridges—preferably somewhat protected places,” says Charles Walcott, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University and former executive director of the Lab of Ornithology. “There are lots of nice artificial cliffs that people have erected in New York.”

The other reason why squabs are rarely seen is because of how long they stay in the nest—for about a month to six weeks, “until they are effectively an adult size,” Walcott says. City dwellers typically think of pigeons as rats of the sky, but it turns out that the birds are usually pretty good parents. “Both males and females tend the young and feed them,” Walcott says. “If one of the parents dies, it becomes tougher for the remaining one to raise the young. But often the young will survive.” Baby pigeons survive on a diet of pigeon milk—digested epithelial (or skin) cells made in their parents' crops—until they’re old enough to eat some solid food. “The parents regurgitate charming things like corn kernels and so on,” Walcott says. Pigeons are mostly grain-eaters, by the way (their ancestors foraged grain from fields), though according to Walcott, “McDonald’s French fries will do just fine, thank you.”

Once a squab leaves the nest, it ignores its parents, begins to feed itself for the first time, and joins a flock, which is "composed of the same birds day after day that hang out in a particular area and that will be distinct from what goes on a couple blocks away,” Walcott says. “City pigeons are fairly territorial. They have their own area where they hang out and if you take them away, they do return, although they’re in no great rush to do so."

It’s probably for the best we don’t see baby pigeons. They are, according to Walcott, “revolting. They are naked. They have little pink feathers and they’re sort of semi-transparent.” (You can see a rare squab on the streets of Brooklyn here. It's not pretty.) Still, you might have seen a juvenile pigeon and just not been aware of it. “You can often recognize a young pigeon because it will have a few little downy feathers poking out from the back of its head,” Walcott says. “That’s probably a young pigeon.”

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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