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Nature & you: Why do pigeons bob their heads?

A pigeon looks for food beside the reflection of the state Capitol building in Oklahoma City. This urban bird has a good reason to bob its head. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]
A pigeon looks for food beside the reflection of the state Capitol building in Oklahoma City. This urban bird has a good reason to bob its head. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

Week after week, I ever so subtlety encourage you get up off of the couch and go do a nature hike adventure.

Today is no different.

Your marching orders are for you to pay particular attention when you venture onto the parking lot of one of the big box stores. Nature is all around us, even in an urbanized environment.

Pigeons are to be your quarry in today’s hunt. I feel confident you will have no difficulty finding them in abundance. Carefully take note of the head movements of the pigeons as they walk across the parking lot. You are sure to notice that there is a lot of frenetic head-bobbing going on. Do you know the explanation for this?

It all has to do with depth perception. Part of that is due to the positioning of the pigeon’s eyes on the side of the head. It makes perfect sense for the pigeons to have their ocular body parts where they are; the birds must be on constant alert for enemies that might approach from the side or from behind. The eye position, however, makes it impossible to gauge depth in their field of vision, but the animated movement of their heads enables them to effectively gain some grasp of where objects are located in relation to each other. That comes in mighty handy when the birds are in search of something to eat.

Oh, and don’t forget to go inside the store and make those purchases that are written down on your shopping list.

Neil Garrison was the longtime naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center. His email is atlatlgarrison@hotmail.com.

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