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CHAP. 52. (34.)—PIGEONS.

Next to the partridge, it is in the pigeon that similar tendencies are to be seen in the same respect: but then, chastity is especially observed by it, and promiscuous intercourse is a thing quite unknown. Although inhabiting a domicile in common with others, they will none of them violate the laws of conjugal fidelity: not one will desert its nest, unless it is either widower or widow. Although, too, the males are very imperious, and sometimes even extremely exacting, the females put up with it: for in fact, the males sometimes suspect them of infidelity, though by nature they are incapable of it. On such occasions the throat of the male seems quite choked with indignation, and he inflicts severe blows with the beak: and then afterwards, to make some atonement, he falls to billing, and by way of pressing his amorous solicitations, sidles round and round the female with his feet. They both of them manifest an equal degree of affection for their offspring; in- deed, it is not unfrequently that this is a ground for correction, in consequence of the female being too slow in going to her young. When the female is sitting, the male renders her every attention that can in any way tend to her solace and comfort. The first thing that they do is to eject from the throat some saltish earth, which they have digested, into the mouths of the young ones, in order to prepare them in due time to receive their nutriment. It is a peculiarity of the pigeon and of the turtle-dove, not to throw back the neck when drinking, but to take in the water at a long draught, just as beasts of burden do.

(35.) We read in some authors that the ring-dove lives so long as thirty years, and sometimes as much as forty, without any other inconvenience than the extreme length of the claws, which with them, in fact, is the chief mark of old age; they can be cut, however, without any danger. The voice of all these birds is similar, being composed of three notes, and then a mournful noise at the end. In winter they are silent, and they only recover their voice in the spring. Nigidius expresses it as his opinion that the ring-dove will abandon the place, if she hears her name mentioned under the roof where she is sitting on her eggs: they hatch their young just after1 the summer solstice. Pigeons and turtle-doves live eight years.

(36.) The sparrow, on the other hand, which has an equal degree of salaciousness, is short-lived in the extreme. It is said that the male does not live beyond a year; and as a ground for this belief, it is stated that at the beginning of spring, the black marks are never to be seen upon the beak which began to appear in the summer. The females, however, are said to live somewhat longer.

Pigeons have even a certain appreciation of glory. There is reason for believing that they are well aware of the colours of their plumage, and the various shades which it presents, and even in their very mode of flying they court our applause, as they cleave the air in every direction. It is, indeed, through this spirit of ostentation that they are handed over, fast bound as it were, to the hawk; for from the noise that they make, which, in fact, is only produced by the flapping of their wings, their long feathers become twisted and disordered: otherwise, when they can fly without any impediment, they are far swifter in their movements than the hawk. The robber, lurking amid the dense foliage, keeps on the look-out for them, and seizes them at the very moment that they are indulging their vainglorious self-complaisance.

(37.) It is for this reason that it is necessary to keep along with the pigeons the bird that is known as the "tinnunculus;"2 as it protects them, and by its natural superiority scares away the hawk; so much so, indeed, that the hawk will vanish at the very sight of it, and the instant it hears its voice. Hence it is that the pigeons have an especial regard for this bird; and, it is said, if one of these birds is buried at each of the four corners of the pigeon-house in pots that have been newly glazed, the pigeons will not change their abode—a result which has been obtained by some by cutting a joint of their wings with an instrument of gold; for if any other were used, the wounds would be not unattended with danger.—The pigeon in general may be looked upon as a bird fond of change; they have the art, too, among themselves of gaining one another over, and so seducing their companions: hence it is that we frequently find them return attended by others which they have enticed away.

1 See B. xviii. c. 68; where he says that the summer solstice is past at the time of the incubation.

2 Cuvier takes this to be the kestril, or Falco tinnunculus of Linneus, and considers it to be synonymous with the cenchris, mentioned in c. 73, and in B. xxix. c. 6, though Pliny does not seem to be aware of the identity.

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    • E. T. Merrill, Commentary on Catullus, 68b
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