Pigeon Culture in Turkey
.. could be a book, and IS an excellent website, which I urge anyone interested to consult before, during, and after reading this post-- it contains breeds, photos, sport, advice, origins, and more. I have had it bookmarked for years, never thinking I might get a glimpse of eastern pigeons "on the ground".
Turkey is especially important to the pigeon fancier
interested in the history and biology of domestication, because, as in the
case of dogs, it is either an important way station out of Asia (as I and
the Turkish fanciers think) or a point of origin. As I have written in my
book A loft-- all the most ancient breeds of pigeon, most used for flight
competition or admired for beauty or voice, rather than "practical" breeds
for food, come from an area around the Mediterranean stretching from Egypt
through Arabia all the way through Turkey. As the West becomes more aware of
Asian culture it seems that such birds are also found all the way up into
the "Stans", and perhaps always have been. There are mentions of "Middle
Eastern"- sounding breeds in 19th Century and early 20th Century British
books on Central Asia, which I collect. The old way of thinking was that
they were first kept in the Middle East, the "Cradle of Civilization", and
brought east by Islam. But that's where Europeans looked. New evidence, much
of it biological, keeps pushing most domestications east and north,
following what has come to be known as the Silk Road (this is perhaps my
most serious semi- scholarly preoccupation). Of course such early
domestication would have to have been done by nomads or even hunters, who
used to get no respect. When I found the Turkish pigeon website a few years
ago, I was amazed that they took it for granted that their nomadic Asian
ancestors brought their pigeons down from the northeast, and that they even
associated some breeds with Shamanism! (See their entries on Trumpeters).
To begin: Rock Doves-- real ones, not feral mutts-- over the Euphrates. Even if the domestic birds originate further east, this, as Darwin first demonstrated, was the original bird (yes, it's found through Asia too, but these are the first real wild ones I ever saw).
The importance of pigeons in Turkey might be symbolized by this artful signed photo of an "Urfa Guvercin" (Urfa pigeon, actually a diving dewlap-- see the website), complete with jewelry bands, in the lobby of Urfa's finest hotel.
Many of the breeds in Turkey are kept in cupboard lofts. This was in the lobby of a semi- outdoors restaurant, as you will be able to see in the photos.
I apologize for the photo quality, but these Swifts were not going to let me close in with my little digital. The one in the foreground had just almost contemptuously evaded a passing Peregrine, which to be fair didn't try too hard-- experience? That were flocked up with some nondescript but athletic tumblers. One kept leaping into the wind from his perch on a wire, hovering in place, and doing a backflip.
All these traditional pigeon
cultures seem secure, but I wonder. They are under seige from Islamists, who
see them as frivolous and from the modern fear of germs and dirt, the need
to control. Janet just sent me
this item on Bird Flu in fowl near Urfa. Pigeons are less susceptible
than fowl, hawks than pigeons-- but will anyone care? Already a neighbor--
tellingly, one of the rich "nouveau Magdalenians" rather than the natives--
has enquired suspiciously of me: "what are you going to do about your
birds?" if Bird Flu comes (uuhhh-- lock them up until it passes?)
in the isolation of the sky
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