One day last spring, I was walking down Jackson Avenue towards Astoria when I found myself in the midst of a flock of pigeons who were pecking away at the sidewalk and doing – y’know – pigeon stuff. Nothing unusual about that, and the sort of thing that New Yorkers barely even notice. What grabbed my attention, however, was that one of these critters was sporting plumage of the scarlet and golden variety, which is decidedly uncommon. A fancy that this might be some sort of Buddhist Monk Pigeon or X-Man was entertained briefly, but then again I’m sort of an idiot.
More after the jump…
Pigeons exhibit variegated colorations, something which any urban observer would readily acknowledge. Never has a bird of this speciation displayed anything like what’s depicted in these shots in my presence, however. A pigeon with red and yellow wings? That’s something new, to me at least, but a bit of research revealed that while it’s not common it’s been observed in the past. It’s still pretty bizarre, however.
Pigeons and doves constitute the bird clade Columbidae, that includes about 310 species. They are stout-bodied birds with short necks, and have short, slender bills with fleshy ceres. Doves feed on seeds, fruits, and plants. This family occurs worldwide, but the greatest variety is in the Indomalaya and Australasia ecozones.
There’s a website that actually discusses this sort of thing, called feralpigeonproject.com, and collects sightings of unusually colored ones. Research on the phenomena suggests that this is likely a mutation – the red/yellow thing betraying that a certain set of rogue genes have taken over the coloration of the plumage.
This makes me feel a bit less like an idiot, thankfully, as this actually is an X-Men – or X-Bird – sort of situation.
Various forms of a gene named Tyrp1 make pigeons either blue-black (the grayish color of common city pigeons), red or brown. Mutations of a second gene, named Sox10, makes pigeons red no matter what the first gene does. And different forms of a third gene, named Slc45a2, make the pigeons’ colors either intense or washed out.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.