Subject: Working Parrots - No Really - for Money

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Hi Friend 

The police featuring Sting, one of my favorite artists (and groups) were singing a great little ditty the other day on satellite radio and it got me thinking. The name of the song was Canary In A Coal Mine. The theme of the song was "you live your life like a canary in a coal mine. We've all had friends like that, but I digress.
Coal Miner carrying canary in a bird cage
For the unindoctrinated or too young to know about this, years ago caged canaries were brought down into coal mine shafts. They acted as the first warning sign that oxygen was being depleted and replaced with dangerous gases such as methane or carbon monoxide. Their method of warning the coal miners - was to die. Better a canary than a miner, and so it went. The next time you see a lovely little canary singing his heart out you'll remember what it's ancestors withstood.

The Canary thing then begged the question, what other birds have been put to use for tasks other than for our own enjoyment? Surely these amazing winged creatures must have a higher purpose in life other than spreading seed husks and bird poop over your living room floor. With carrier pigeons being used as far back as Julius Caesar I figured there had to be some other birds that could help pay the rent.

Video - The Police - Dancing to "Canary In A Coalmine" (A Fanvid)

The Police - Dancing to

So I did a little drilling and came up with some interesting profiles of working birds. One of the most notable working birds is the Cormorant. Cormorant fishing has been around since approximately 960 A.D. in both Japan and China. Raised from chicks these birds grow to be absolutely trained and to be subservient to a single fisherman.

First a little about their anatomy. Unlike other waterfowl like ducks, Cormorant's feathers contain no oil making them less buoyant. This allows them to dive rapidly which is handy if you chase fish for a living. Now here's where it gets interesting in a weird sort of way.

The fishermen ties a line around the birds throat so it can't swallow the fish it captures. Once the fish is captured the bird is pulled back to the boat with a tether (we are currently out of Cormorant tethers :-). The fisherman pulls the fish from the bird and returns the bird back to the water. Mind you Cormorant fishermen do this with several birds and how they keeps the lines from getting tangled is beyond me.

Cormorants are also known to be able to count. During the course of a night's work they are rewarded with a fish or two - the tether is loosened to allow them to swallow at this point. Because of their counting abilities, they have literally been known to strike until they get their fair share of "fish pay" for a days work. 
Video - Cormerant - Fishing with birds! - Wild China - BBC
Cormerant - Fishing with birds! - Wild China - BBC
No discussion about working birds is complete without talking about pigeons. Homing pigeons are renowned for their ability to return to their home as quick as possible even a thousand miles away!

In World War II a pigeon named G.I. Joe was the only bird or animal in the United States to be awarded the Dicken Medal for bravery for saving more than 100 British soldiers. Today racing pigeons are a worldwide hobby. Pigeon racing is accomplished by taking a flock of pigeons to a point that has been precisely measured from their home.

Distances can be from 100 to 1000 miles. Traditionally, the birds wear rubber rings with unique serial numbers on their legs which are installed prior to a race. When the pigeon arrives home the trainer removes the ring and places it in a slot in a special pigeon racing clock. Today pigeon's speeds are clocked electronically with no need to install or remove any apparatus.

Although their speeds are tracked in yards per minute it's remarkable to note that they can average speeds upwards of 100 mph. And if they don't get attacked by a bird of prey they had a great day racing.

Years ago I had a friend that raced pigeons. It was an incredible site, his backyard in Gurnee, Illinois had a coop with about 100 pigeons. On that balmy summer day the pigeons were let loose and spent the day just circling his backyard. By the way what do you call a four-door pigeon coop (answer below)? In case you were wondering, racing pigeons can cost from less than $30 to more than $100,000.
Video - Homing pigeons (white doves) training toss, flying, return
homing pigeons (white doves) training toss, flying, return
So how you turn an ability to find your way home at 100 miles an hour flying through the clouds into a paying gig? Let's rewind to a couple years ago - me - taking a phone call from somebody looking for "a bunch of doves". The response to my query was what I expected, they needed them for a wedding. 

I politely pleaded ignorance hung up but I was totally indignant. How dare they want to take these innocent birds, release them in front of a bunch of people into unknown territory where they can crash into buildings, trees, and God knows what? I immediately wrote a blog post about and then I got an e-mail from someone who ran a company that "rented doves". Turns out my indignation was for naught!

The organization specializes in dove releases for ceremonies. If you check out any of their members you'll learn that the birds aren't "just" white Doves - they are pure white "Rock Doves" a.k.a. homing pigeons! The companies that release the birds are very particular in terms of not releasing them at night or in foul weather and so forth. They normally put a release distance of no more than 50 miles within a certain geographical area. Now you know.

Oh and by the way if you're interested in knowing how homing pigeons find a way back home, here's some science that sheds light on this mysterious subject 
Video - Pigeons' Brains: Navigation Abilities Linked to Special Neurons
Pigeons' Brains: Navigation Abilities Linked to Special Neurons

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I have 16mm footage (which make me feel old) of me holding parrots at Parrot Jungle now called Jungle Island, when I was 5 making the place really old - it was actually founded in 1935. It's one of the few places in the United States that you cannot only look at the animals but you can hold the animals.  
Video - Visiting Jungle Island in Florida
Video visiting Jungle Island in Florida
Then there's Parrot Mountain and Gardens which of all places is in Parrot Forge, Tennessee. Here you can visit the bird garden with more than 70 birds of mixed species, a Lory aviary were you can have Lories sip nectar from your hand then visit a baby bird nursery where you can pet the babies and watch them being hand fed.

If your budget doesn't allow you to travel to these bird filled parks you could always stay home and watch videos on YouTube for free. One of the most entertaining display of bird tricks done by professional birds in front of a large audience (for money) that I know and isn't Macaws or Amazons. It's this amazing group of Budgies. If you've been following us for any length of time you may have seen this before but I never get tired of it - enjoy!
Video - Fun with Budgies
Video Fun with Budgies

We'd love to hear what you think about working birds. Share your thoughts on our Facebook Fan page - here

Mitch Rezman

Windy City Parrot, Inc 

Joke Answer: A pigeon sedan  

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