I never really knew how ‘carrier pigeons’ worked. I had always hoped it worked like the owls in the Harry Potter books… You know, you could tie a little note to a pigeon’s foot, tell it where to go, and your message would get delivered, avian style.
However, carrier pigeons (also known as homing pigeons) can only go in one direction: home. They can be trained, but whatever location at which they are trained, is where they will always return. “You have to train them well and start when they are young. You start by taking them short distances, and then go further and further, and they will return to where they were trained,” as Lidia Andronic, owner of Belmont Feed & Seed explained to me. She owns several homing pigeons and belongs to a club where she helps to train her own. They use the sun and a complex internal compass to find their way home. You can read more about the science behind homing pigeons at LiveScience.com. “They really are quite smart. People don’t think so, because they have little heads and they are birds, but they can make great pets,” said Lidia, who owns several pigeons, but no chickens. While chickens are legal to own in the city of Chicago, they are still illegal in many suburbs. “I live in Franklin Park and the village doesn’t allow it. I have a big lot, but I cannot have a chicken,” said Lidia, who is in the process of working with the village to lift the ban on backyard chickens, “we have some allies in the village, but it is still a long process.” It’s a bit surprising that people cannot have chickens in the suburban sprawl of the Greater Chicago Area, but are permitted to own them in the much more confined urban setting. I went on the annual “Windy City Coop Tour,” where backyard chicken owners showcase their projects to those who might be interested in starting up their own chicken coops and runs. Below are a few pictures of one of the places I visited:
Despite the relatively small size of the average Chicago backyard, the chickens don’t seem to mind. This owner told me that his 4 chickens give his family about 3 eggs every morning. With the cost of maintenance (chicken feed, fresh hay, etc) in relation to the eggs, he said they cost about as much as free-range organic eggs from the store. As the interest in raising backyard chickens increases, and people and their neighbors become more educated about the benefits of raising chickens in an urban setting, there is hope that it may one day be more widely accepted. Lidia said that business at her store has been on the rise in the past few years. Belmont Feed & Seed, which has been running for 23 years, caters to hundreds of city residents every month and is the only chicken supply store in the city. It is also the only bee keeping supply store within 100 miles of Chicago. “Bees actually do quite well in the city too,” said Lidia. For those who might be interested in starting up their own backyard chicken coop, Lidia said that the biggest cost is the initial construction of the coop. “The biggest cost is involved in the coop, the feeding system, the run, and so on. To start could be about $500.” After the initial investment, they are relatively cheap to maintain. With a coop of several chickens you will get a few fresh eggs every morning. “They really are pets with benefits,” Lidia said. If you would like to find out more about raising backyard chickens, here are a few resources: BackyardChickens.com and Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts.