PigeonI grew up in the country with seven brothers and sisters and lots of animals (dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, cows, horses, goats and hamsters). We had a pond to fish in, a beaver dam to visit and a huge family garden to pretend to weed.

Were we bored? Sometimes. But complaining brought only my mom’s lifted eyebrow and yet another chore. So we kids learned to entertain ourselves, roaming our 300-plus acres of fields and woods. We scouted for lizards and box turtles, listened for the bob-white call of quail, sucked on honeysuckle.

Young city dwellers, like my daughter, have a different type of nature in their world. Community gardens, perhaps; park squirrels; sparrows taking dust baths. And pigeons, of course–those ubiquitous city birds.

Pigeons are a great introduction to urban nature. Too often we take them for granted. They’re abundant, poopy, kind of pesky. But try taking some time to look–really look–at pigeons with your child. What might you both notice? The pigeons’ rainbow sheen and chuckly coo? The strutting and head bobbing? The unique feather patterns?

Try visiting the birds frequently over time. What stays the same? What changes? (Of course, this activity can be focused on any plant, wild bird or animal, but the pigeon seems an especially good first choice for an urban kid.)

Pigeons can even provide a unique perspective on urban life. City Beats: A Hip-Hoppy Pigeon Poem (Dawn Publications, 2006, ages 1 to 6) gives a bird’s eye view of a typical pigeon-day, from pecking breakfast crumbs on “brimming, bustling, busy streets” to the “rapping, rocking rhythms” of evening. The jazzy verse by S. Kelly Rammell is beautifully accompanied by Jeanette Canyon’s vivid polymer clay artwork. The book may well become a favorite read-aloud before or after a visit to your gray-winged neighbors.

And if these birds inspire your family to greater involvement, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology hosts Project Pigeon Watch, with facts and scientific data forms for keen young observers.

Mary Quattlebaum is the author of 15 award-winning children’s books, including Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns (Random House) and two chapter-book sequels, all set in a city community garden. Check www.maryquattlebaum.com for activities connected with Mary’s books.

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Published: July 16, 2008