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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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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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holidays
Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)
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For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, UglyChristmasSweater.com sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.

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