Crop milk production in pigeons is stimulated by the hormone prolactin. (This is the same hormone that stimulates milk production in mammals.) Interestingly, prolactin produces an overall calming effect. Which fact leads neatly to a discussion of ‘calming’ and the effects of pigeon cooing on the human mind.
Predicated on the hypothesis that the human mind is pleasantly relaxed by the sound of pigeon cooing, we imagine the following experiment.
A range of volunteers, outfitted with electro-caps, is subjected to alternate recordings of circus music and pigeons cooing in the park. Brain activity is recorded. The simplicity of the data imaging is humble, especially when juxtaposed against the spectacular imaging techniques driving today’s science. However simple, we find it illustrates the point.
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10 day old squab on a building ledge in New York City - image by Cutiepie Company
Lucky chubby squab. Fed the wonder food of Pigeon milk, they can double their size in 48 hours. In the book Pigeon, Barbara Allen also reports that, “Pigeon milk fuels what is one of the most explosive growth rates of almost any creature on earth”. I’d like my next protein shake to be made of pigeon milk.
How to milk them? Fortunately, both the parent pigeons secrete the milk from their crops, which is located where the breast is. No nipples though, they use their throats like straws in reverse and their beaks serve as the delivery point into the mouths of their squab. So, I’m imagining a mechanical squab head bobbing around in the nest which is designed to accept the milk from the parent. This does sound ridiculous at first, but robotic cow milking machines are doing the same thing: mechanically milking an animal so humans can enjoy the nutritious results. Do check out this video of a robot milker in action on YouTube. Pigeon milk might take longer to get, but it has more protein and fat than cow or human milk, so perhaps it would be worthwhile? [I can’t help but think of that recent, viral story about breast milk ice cream]. Thinking through the oddities of milking animals is enough to cause me to ask for almond milk in my next protein shake.
Breast milk ice cream on sale at a London ice cream parlour. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian