Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Animal Adventures - From Dogs to Fish and Pigeons

When I was a pickney, my friend Courtney, who lived couple gates down from me, started to keep Pigeons and I would spend a lot of time helping him to look after his 4 birds. I remember going home one day and the look on my face told my father that it was that time again where I bugged him till kingdom come for something until he gives in. I went up to him and declared my desire for a Coop and some pigeons of my own, to which his response was NO! Not going to happen! If you want another dog fine but no Pigeons! Heck I was already bored of the dogs, since it was my responsibility to make sure they were fed and watered. I cooked for them every night and some nights I would get pretty creative with the cooking. Taking out the best pieces of meat from the freezer to cook with their Turn-Corn-Meal (Polenta like).

Back then in Jamaica no self-respecting person would go to the store and buy processed dog food… well I don’t even think that dog food was being sold in Jamaica at that time or that the dogs would eat it if we gave it to them anyway. My last great adventure was my fishes and fish tank which was in my living room, it was now murky green with the poor souls hugging the top of the water begging for fresh air. I had gotten them several months ago after a couple weeks of begging and screaming before my father gave in and for a while I enjoyed the fish tank and took great pleasure taking care of them. The tank used to looked great with all the various fandangle’s and overhead lights but how long can a pickney sit down and watch some fish go back and forth, back and forth, plus I had to make sure they were fed and the tank was cleaned.

But what I wanted now was a new adventure, I wanted to raise pigeons and I had plans to train my pigeons to send coded secret messages to my friend down the road, like how they do it in the war and medieval movies. So I did what any child would do, I bug the hell out of my father, morning noon and night and throw a couple tantrums until low and behold a couple weeks later he finally gave in.

One morning I woke up to hammering in the back yard and saw that he was building my pigeon coop, a double decker pigeon mansion and I was happy!

After it was finished I bugged my father for the money to buy my first pair of birds and went with my friend to pick them up. I was giving strict instructions by the seller not to let them out for a couple weeks but just to feed and water them, let them get uses to us and the coop. My father made me promise that I will look after the birds, feed and water them along with the dogs and he will finance the buying of the pigeon food, to which I promised. By this time the fishes had gone belly up a while back and the tank emptied and sold to one of my father’s friend.

I was happy like a pig in slop when I got my two pigeons, I must have over watered and fed them not to mention I spent a lot of time with them, listening to their coos. They were the first things I saw in the morning and the last before I went to bed and I think the dogs were a bit jealous because one of them tried to take a nibble out off one of the birds from my hand.

Sesame Street: Bert Dances To Doin' The Pigeon

Days turn to weeks and weeks turn into months and months turned into a year and my population of pigeons grew from the original two to a healthy population of over 50 birds occupying both levels of the double Decker pigeon mansion. I had bought some more as time went on but I swear my birds were attracting birds from everywhere else looking for a handout, free food. The Let-off culture is alive and well with pigeons, it is not only Jamaicans and they were breeding like wildfire, slam bam thank you mam and eggs turn into young ones.

Over time I became an expert on the behavior of Pigeons just through observations, David Attenborough had nothing on me. I used to lay on my back in the backyard and watch them fly around, watch their mating rituals, watch them fighting and how they would take baths in the container of water and the different noises they made, I observed different personalities among the flock. I was also able to sell a couple but I swear they returned home after a while.

A Year turn into years, my flock was now a mega flock, the coop was not big enough to hold them all and the more birds I have the more I enjoyed them less, they were now a pain in the backside. The entire backyard was their toilet as they crapped everywhere and on everyone, even on the dogs. They would stand on the cloth line and let it rip, shit stains running down white sheets, shirts and school uniforms, they crapped on peoples heads and shoulders and everyone was coming to me to give me a piece of their mind about my damn birds, my sisters hated them. It got to the point where I stopped looking after them and my father would hound after me, trying to get me to show some interest. However he ended up reading me the riot act, if I don’t starting taking care of the birds more he will handle it anyway he saw fit, I just laughed.

On another morning he made a grand declaration that if I don’t start taking care of the damn birds or sell them, he would solve the problem for me… I laughed again, picked up my school back and headed out the door bumming some money off him in the process. He could never resist me, I was his youngest and knew which buttons to push to get the desired response. The next weekend I came home from the 10 am Saturday Morning Matinee at The Carib, only to find my father and his friends drinking beer with a massive pot on a makeshift wood fire in the backyard. They had an assembly line from the coop which terminated at the cooking pot.

My father did not bother to let the birds out that morning as one man reached in to the coop to get each bird and share them out to the other men, who then held the pigeons by the head and spin their bodies in a quick whirling motion, pop, there goes the neck! The dead bird was plucked, gutted and thrown in this big pot of soup with dumpling, yams, corn, potatoes, pepper and various other food items. My father was running a boat (impromptu communal cooking) with his friends and my pigeons, my beloved birds were the main course, heck the only course, it was Saturday and that is soup day in Jamaica…

I was outraged, I protested this butchery like any 13 year old would, this was ethnic cleansing, United Nation level event, call The Hague cause this was a crime against me and my birds. Showing just how upset I am, was not getting anywhere. No one was buying it and they just talked, laughed and made jokes about whatever I had to say. I was being ignored so I stormed off, slamming several doors on my way to watch Prince Valiant starring Robert Wagner and James Mason on JBC TV. I figured I would continue my protest of this blasted injustice, this Genocide after the movie which I wanted to watch for the longest and did not want to miss it.

When the spicy pigeon soup was finished my father brought me a bowl, I was insulted, I refused to eat it, equating eating it to cooking my pet dogs and eating them but hunger was getting the better of me and daddy said that, this was dinner, the Saturday soup and I would get nothing else. So I drank the soup when he left the room and it was the best soup I had in a long time and even though I was “upset”, I went back for seconds. All the birds that could not fit in the pot were taken home by my father’s friends and I kept two to cook for the dog’s dinner. It took a while for me to get used to the sound of silence in the backyard and on the roof and it took a longer time for all the pigeon smell and shit to go away and restore the back yard to its former glory. The laundry was now safe and walking in the back yard was free from dive bombing pigeons.

Over the next week a couple birds descended on the coop and tried to set up house but my father was not having it, so he took the hammer to the Pigeon Mansion and destroyed it after evicting the occupants. It was boring for the next couple weeks just me and the dogs, I thought about getting some fish again but quickly decided against it. I wondered aimlessly until I decided on my next great adventure… I fenced off a large part of the back yard and created the mother of all back yard gardens, I planted corn, cane, yam, peas, banana, tomatoes, herbs and spices and many more…. Everyone was happy with my Food Garden and my father said that if we still had the pigeons he would not have to buy chicken from the shop and we would have been self-sufficient.

It is normal to eat pigeons in many countries across the world, I have seen it advertised in butcher shops across the UK, it is a very cheap source of protein. The Wild Scottish Wood Pigeon is advertised in Canada at $59.99 for two 8oz birds and is describe as a rich gamey flavor far more intense than that of domestically-raised birds. Many farmers around the world breed pigeons for meat and in the English countryside hunters normally go on pigeon and Dove shoots when the usual game is in short supply. In culinary terminology, squab is a young domestic pigeon or its meat.

Pigeon - removing the breast.


  1. Hilarious! Your poor dad at first...and then how he made the best of a situation gone sour.. your initial reaction and then going back for seconds.. You have a real talent for writing Words!

  2. This post is very funny and well written. You could write a book with your childhood adventures.