Cornell Lab of Ornithology

bslogo.gif (22710 bytes)

Project PigeonWatch
Become A Member

Pigeons Can Make a Difference
BY Melinda S. LaBranche

Please cite this Page as:
LaBranche, M. S.   2000.  Pigeons Can Make a Difference. Birdscope, Volume 14, Number 1:  7.

Pigeons give students a whole new way to look at the world

During the last few months, I have been traveling to study sites that will be conducting Project PigeonWatch through our Parents Involved/Pigeons Everywhere (PIPE) grant. This grant from the National Science Foundation’s Informal Science Education Program is a collaborative effort between the Lab, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and KCET Community Television in Southern California. Its purpose is to use Project PigeonWatch and other scientific activities to enable children along with their parents and mentors to feel comfortable with science and achieve an understanding of the scientific process. See the cover story in the Summer 1999 issue of Birdscope for more information about the PIPE grant.

I’ve gone from the bugling elk of the Rockies and mountain lions of the Badlands through the high-peak snows of Alaska and fires of the prairies, then south to the blues clubs of Beale Street in Memphis, TN to visit PIPE site coordinators. The majority of these sites are Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies and most will be working with birds for the first time. One great thing about these site visits was being able to help the agencies make connections with local people, such as birding organizations and scientific institutions. Because many of the site coordinators are just beginning to learn about birds, these local support systems are instrumental in making the project work.

In one city, children and their mentors will work with a Boy Scout who is hacking (releasing to the wild) Peregrine Falcons. In others, they will visit local lofts where people raise racing pigeons. Local nature centers and Audubon members have offered to help with the project or give presentations. Raptor centers are inviting the kids and adults to come and see their hawks and learn about large birds of prey. Educational staff at zoos and museums have offered to provide programs, materials, or “behind the scenes” opportunities for interested children.

Many people have negative impressions of pigeons-this was also once true of me. But, now I know pigeons can make a difference. What better way is there to encourage kids to look at local environments in their own neighborhoods and want to learn more? What better way for kids to get up close and personal with an animal about which there are still real scientific mysteries? In every city I visited, the coordinators saw pigeons and PigeonWatch as a stepping-stone to a whole new way of looking at the world-it’s infectious.

Do you have a Big Brothers Big Sisters or other youth agency in your area? You can begin to make a difference by contacting one of these agencies. If the group isn’t already doing a bird project, maybe you can get one started. You could encourage your bird club to “recruit” young members by encouraging their participation in a bird project. If they are already observing birds, offer a hand; skilled birders can provide excellent role models. If you want to do more, Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies are always looking for mentors, particularly men-you could help a young person and perhaps develop a young birder.

Here is a short list of youth agency web sites—give your local agency a call and offer to bring them some birds!

Big Brothers/Big Sisters

Girls Incorporated

Girl Scouts U.S.A.

Boy Scouts of America

Boys and Girls Clubs of America


Project PigeonWatch
A message from the staff

A new year is upon us and with that comes a new and revised Project PigeonWatch. We have received dozens of calls from eager people waiting for their project materials. We would like to extend a big thank you to everyone who has been so patient. We apologize for the delay, but we didn’t want materials to be sent until they were flawless.

Everyone on staff who helped develop the new materials is extremely pleased with the final product. The new PigeonWatch packets contain a 16-page color Reference Guide, an Instruction manual, a pigeon coloring page, a tally sheet, data forms, a large full-color PigeonWatch poster, and a smaller version of the poster that can be taken into the field. Please watch your mail for the new materials. If you would like additional copies of the small posters, contact the Lab, and we will send them free of charge.

The staff would like to welcome back Mindy LaBranche, leader of Project PigeonWatch. For the last two months, Mindy has been traveling the country, meeting with youth-group leaders involved in PigeonWatch. She has told us engaging stories about her cross-country journey, which began in Anchorage, Alaska, and ended in Columbus, Georgia. Read about her trip in the accompanying article.

Please contact the Lab if you want to join participants who PigeonWatch all over the world, or if you would like to receive a copy of the eight-minute video, “What’s So Special about Pigeons?” ($5.00 U.S.). Be sure to visit our web site at We are excited about the prospects this new year brings, and we look forward to hearing about your PigeonWatching experiences.

Tina Phillips