When a Pigeon Answers Your Blog

I’ve been thinking a lot about Tesla recently. About a month ago the internet announced that lightning creates positrons, which had me wondering if that means you could produce antimatter from a Tesla coil. That’s how I started thinking of Tesla, and he’s been hanging around in the subconscious as I considered (and eventually decided) to switch from mechatronic to electrical & electronic engineering. Usually when I think of Tesla, it leads to thoughts of pigeons, and this time was no exception.

I wrote the post The Secret Lives of Pigeons in which I said, “It would be nice one day to have more insight into the secret lives of pigeons, to learn more about how smart they really are…” Well, lo and behold, a pigeon landed on my fence and started eating Louis’s leftover seed. It wasn’t just any pigeon, though, it was double ringed… a fully registered racing pigeon. He spent the day in our front yard and flew away again at night, returning every day for the next five days. I named him Herbie.

I was very hesitant about catching Herbie. I’ve never known a bird to fly away from its home if it’s content. Louis barely leaves a meter radius from his nest and will always fly back there even if you try to move him. Early in the week, I did manage to read the upper ring with the website of the racing fraternity on it. We phoned and sent messages, with no real responses. It did mark the beginning, though, of what would turn out to be a brief insight into the world of pigeon racing.

Racing pigeons, it turns out, are a pretty big deal in South Africa. The most expensive pigeon on record was sold to South Africans for five million rand (over a quarter million pounds). Over the next few days of research, we learned how they’re registered and the traits for which they’re bred, looked up racing stats and checked recent pigeon velocities.

On several of the days Herbie wandered into the living room for a minute or two before heading back into the yard. As soon as we opened the door on the fifth day, Herbie ran into the house, hid himself behind my printer and refused to move. It was then we knew something more serious had to be done. Or rather, Mr. Omar knew. I was becoming attached.

As mentioned in Secret Lives, my family owned an all-white pigeon years ago. I noted that the pigeon did not seem very intelligent in comparison with Louis. Herbie, however, reminded me otherwise. While Louis has a huge personality, Herbie (and I remember Birdie also) had a calming sense about them, the kind that just sort of exudes this sense of wisdom, like a person skilled in meditation. I can see how Tesla could have become so attached to one. They just feel peaceful, and given they often symbolize peace, I’m obviously not the first to think so.

I was really sad to see Herbie go. An unfortunate death at the local pet shop brought a mutual friend of the owner and Mr. Omar to the same spot at the same time. That friend, a former jockey, also races pigeons with his brother. He collected Herbie and forwarded him onto his original owner. I was pretty torn up about it. Herbie was my only holiday visitor, and as I said, he was really peaceful. He reminded me that there is value in being less emotional as well as in being overtly enthusiastic. I tend to forget the first part when speaking with more emotionally reserved people (like Mr. Omar), usually preferring expressions I can read.

So Herbie came, reminded me of a few things and left… like the Mary Poppins of pigeons.


A few days later I came across a really heartwarming story of a couple who, despite living on very ordinary wages, amassed a priceless art collection by the end of their marriage, donating countless works to every state in the United States, and even more to National Gallery, where they had gone on honeymoon decades before. It was a project they had worked on together throughout the whole of their marriage, visiting galleries on weekends and making deals with artists. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes in high school, penned by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, “Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” Sometimes how people see things is really exciting; sometimes less so, but the people of both cases are seeing something. I suspect gazing out with them rather than gazing at them while they gaze is probably, in most cases, more constructive.

The couple stopped collecting when the husband died at the age of eighty-nine.

His name was Herb.