Saturday, September 20, 2008

Condor Chick News! The Cathedral Lead Fledge and How about THE LIFE OF THE SKIES?.

Great news and links sent in by way of Karen Anne Kolling, --

News from Wildlife rehabilitator, Bobby Horvath, concerning the 2008 Cathedral Fledge who was found to be suffering from lead poisoning with the resulting neuropathy affecting one foot and leg---

Leadfoot is still here and most likely not releasable . Besides his foot problem, which has corrected with time, he has a wing issue undetectable by x ray but just the same he isn't fully flighted yet. We creance him in a field nearby and he struggles to stay in the air still. Unless something changes he'll be unreleasable unfortunately.
And all from a tiny speck of lead no bigger than a period at the end of a sentence... D.B.

R. of Illinois sends in a book review excerpt for a book that sounds downright fascinating---

Birder of Paradise



By Jonathan Rosen.

Illustrated. 324 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $24.

As goes bird-watching, one of America’s fastest growing forms of outdoor recreation, so go the bird-watching books. Once, Roger Tory Peterson’s “Field Guide to the Birds” and a pair of binoculars were all you needed. Then came “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” with drawings that made things a little easier for the not-so-eagle-eyed. Now, Jonathan Rosen has written the birding book for the birder who ponders philosophy and theology while quietly sitting by a pond at dusk. If Peterson and Sibley provided checklists — birding as scratching off answers on multiple-choice tests — then “The Life of the Skies” is the essay question, the question being: Does bird-watching offer a bird-watcher an avenue toward greater meaning, like prayer or yoga? For his part, Rosen, a novelist and the author of “The Talmud and the Internet,” has a lot of faith in it as a meditative act. “I can’t think of any activity that more fully captures what it means to be human in the modern world than watching birds,”...

As for Rosen’s own style of bird-watching, he is not a “lister,” one of those scorekeeping diehards who bolt from the room when somebody says “chestnut-sided warbler.” He is a guy who runs home to look at a Robert Frost poem, or a story by Baal Shem Tov, whose presence you can feel in Rosen’s birding: it is a down-to-earth mystical practice, a balm to mere academic pursuits. Birding has offered him a view on parenting, assuaged his grief over the death of his father, and given him sheer adventure. “Life of the Skies” begins and almost ends on a shaggy-dog bird tale, his own search for the ivory-billed woodpecker. Once thought extinct thanks to the cutting of old-growth swamp, the ivory-bill appears in William Faulkner’s short story “The Bear,” where it is referred to as the Lord-to-God bird. For Faulkner, the clattering of the bird is the banging of man in the dark swamp of life, the grasp for meaning in the quag. Birds “seem to possess something that transcends happiness or sadness — they simply are,” Rosen says. “Birding gives me a little of that. " ...


donegal browne

Friday, September 19, 2008

Central Park Turkey Alert! Plus Scruffy Cardinals and Hummingbirds in Hurricanes

Photograph by Robert Schmunk of

Hedda Gobler of Morningside Park

As many of you know from Katherine Herzog's note about him not long ago, a new young turkey has appeared in Central Park.

No, not Hedda up there, she's been around for years in Morningside Park waiting for a mate to show up, but she gives you a general idea about the coloration of a wild turkey as I don't have a photo of the one in Central Park.

Our new turkey, possibly a Tom which is very exciting because so far our resident Wild Turkeys have been hens, is dangerously tame as we also learned from Kat's note.

And now what we dreaded has happened.

I got calls from Stella Hamilton and Kat Herzog today. Both longtime hawk watchers and guardians of wild creatures, and both fit to be tied, that the young Tom was suddenly missing his entire tail and great patches of his breast feathers. Or as Kat put it her special way, "He looked like he'd been run over by a lawn mower."

Kat having seen Vivian Sokol, one of our local wildlife rehabilitators in the park, took off to find her and brought her back to look at Tom. As there were no wounds as might have occurred with an interaction with a raccoon or a dog, Vivian indeed surmised that Tom had been grabbed by humans causing the feather loss. And that Tom was now even more vulnerable to humans and dogs as he would not be able to fly up into a safe tree without his tail feathers.

Vivian did not attempt to catch Tom, she's older, lives in a Manhattan apartment without turkey accommodations, and as he wasn't bleeding, decided against protective custody.

I've emailed Bobby and Cathy Horvath as they do have more space out on Long Island, reporting Tom's condition, for their take on the situation.

In the meantime, do try and keep an eye on Trusting Tom as much as you can until he is less vulnerable. He is often seen around the Maintenance Meadow, Azalea Pond, and other woody areas. There have already been numerous episodes where birders have had to intervene to help poor Trusting Tom avoid injury and abuse.

One good thing, though Tom can't retreat to trees any longer he still has a spur on each leg, albeit small at his age, to fight with, if he is sorely pressed. It might not save him altogether but his previous attacker might think twice before grabbing him again.

Got a few minutes? Track down Trusting Tom, and do a little Turkey sitting.

This is how we expect a Cardinal to look, right? But Sally of TN has some in her area that she's a little worried about.

Dear Donna,

Since you are such an observant birder maybe you have seen what I have this fall. I have two very scruffy cardinals coming with the group. I have assumed they are young but they are not begging like some are. They seem to be stuck in a horrible half-molted stage. Their chests and tails are bright red, but head and back buffy brownish like the females. Young male cardinals? But why so scruffy? I have adult male and at least two females. The juveniles won't molt again until next year, will they? I really don't know much about plumage changes in songbirds, except the goldfinches I observe going dusky in the fall each year.

Just curious. I don't remember having these scruffy guys last year. I hope it isn't a disease of some kind, but they seem otherwise active and healthy.

And where DO hummingbirds hide in tornadoes and hurricanes? Mine have fortunately survived the recent hurricane-force winds from inland Ike that have incapacitated Louisville since Sunday.


Right before I left Wisconsin I saw a scruffy young male exactly as I think you're describing so it is the season for it. I've noticed them before. Yes, bright red tail and head with disaster in between. Part of it, at least in the Wisconsin model is that the feathers look streaky and washed out in the brown sections on the wings and back. Then add a bit of brownish red that doesn't look much better bleeding through and toss in the fact that many of these young males have molting raggedy head crests and they look downright grotty. The bird I saw was begging, to no avail I might add. His father was not about to give in as it was high time he was weaned. Your two had no doubt already learned their lesson on the weaning issue.

In my experience these birds are just fine. It seems in the case of young male Cardinals that you aren't allowed a graceful transition molt between your juvenile feathers and looking like Dad without a very awkward stage. Rather like the acne of some teenage humans as they transition into adults. Looking grotty for awhile is just part of the process. And it's always the males. I'm assuming as the juvenile feathers of young females are much closer to their brown mothers that the transition period goes largely unnoticed.

But then again being female perhaps their preening and hygiene is better. (For the humor challenged that was a joke.)

What do hummingbirds do during hurricanes? Sally it's a really good question and no one seems to have a definitive answer. My first thought was that because they couldn't get out and forage in a hurricane, they must go into torpor, the depressed basal metabolism state where their temperature goes down a good thirty degrees to save calories, and perhaps wedge themselves in somewhere so they don't blow away.

I didn't say they were completely sensible thoughts just first thoughts.

Hummers are such incredible light weights, many weigh no more than a nickel, torpor makes them unconscious which didn't seem optimum in a hurricane, and I wasn't at all sure that they could just go into torpor without the necessary drop in air temperature anyway so that scenario just wouldn't do.

So I started digging around. Though I never found someone who'd done a study and could give The Answer, there were some clues. It was observed down on the coasts that between storms some hummingbirds, though fewer than originally seemed in residence, whipped out and fed like crazy. No torpor then, as there wouldn't have been enough temperature change in the air for them to suddenly come out of it.

It then occurred to me that perhaps such severe inclement weather, reduction of photoperiod, added to the down drop in barometric pressure might cue another interesting metabolic response of hummingbirds, hyperphagia--gluttonous eating. And not only do they eat like mad, but they put on a special form of yellow fat, stored specifically in the neck and the areas of the torso around the legs, that makes it possible for them to fly long distances without having to forage every few minutes to keep themselves alive.

Also we do know that many birds will fly before a storm. They know it is coming and get out of Dodge in front of it. So perhaps those hummers who were fat enough when they got the warning in whatever way birds get it that a hurricane was coming, had left before the storm arrived. The others stuck it out, went into hyperphagia or just plain gluttony while the getting was good, stored up some calories, perhaps yellow fat isn't totally necessary as they aren't doing a full migration, and got out during the lulls.

Sorry, Sally, that's the best I can do at the moment but I have whipped off a few emails to various people who may know more in hope they can give us a few more clues that might help unravel the mystery. Keep your fingers crossed.

Though one of the great things about digging around is that you never know what nifty bit of research has surfaced lately that you don't know about. I like this one.

People with hummingbird feeders hanging outside a window or patio door would now and again notice that if the feeder wasn't up and ready come Spring that sometimes a hummingbird would hover outside the glass and stare inside as if to say, "Okay where's the red juice?" And these people wondered if those birds peering in at them might have been customers at the feeder the previous year and had come back and really were looking for the feeder.

Typically they were laughed at for being so gullible as to believe that would happen. Come on, a hummingbird is going to show up a full year later, recognize the place, recognize you, and stare at you so you'll put the feeder back up like it was last year.

Eventually a bander took up the challenge, and indeed hummingbirds absolutely do return to the same feeders year after year.

Donegal Browne

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Balto, Prairie Wolves, and Wolves in Alaska

The statue of Balto in Central Park

And in case you've forgotten any part of Balto's story, here is what The Central Park website has to say about him and his statue.

"The glowing bronze of this statue on a rock outcropping near the East Drive at 67th Street reflects the loving pats of countless children and adults who recall the story of a heroic dog. In January 1925, the city of Nome, Alaska experienced an outbreak of diphtheria. At that time, Nome had a population of 1,429 people and there was only enough antitoxin serum in distant Anchorage to treat about 300 people exposed to the disease. A train line did run over 325 miles from Anchorage to Nenana, the station closest to Nome, but Nome was icebound seven months out of the year. Alaska’s two open-cockpit planes were not safe in the frigid and windy weather.

A relay of mushers and their dog-sled teams was the only way to deliver the fur-wrapped twenty-pound package of serum to the ailing community 674 miles from Nenana. The route followed the old Iditarod Trail used by mail drivers from Anchorage to Nome (now the route of the dog-sled championships). The 20 teams of over 200 dogs covered the frozen terrain at about six miles per hour, in blizzard conditions with temperatures of 50 degrees below zero. An international audience listened over their radios and read in their newspapers of the race to Nome. The last musher, Gunnar Kasson, and his team lead by Balto, a black and white Alaskan malamute, raced over the frozen tundra in only five days and seven hours – a world record time. Within days after the arrival of the serum, the epidemic, which had claimed five lives, was over.

Gunnar Kasson later described the incredible trip to reporters: "I couldn't see the trail. Many times I couldn't even see my dogs, so blinding was the gale. I gave Balto, my lead dog, his head and trusted him. He never once faltered. It was Balto who led the way. The credit is his." Balto survived the journey, and toured the United States with the rest of the dog team. On December 17, 1925, 10 months after his arrival in Nome, Balto was present as this bronze statue was unveiled in Central Park. Balto died in 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio, where his stuffed body is on display at Cleveland’s Natural History Museum.

Private donations collected under the auspices of the Municipal Arts Society paid most of the cost of this sculpture. Brooklyn-born sculptor Frederick George Richard Roth (1872-1944) received the commission for the statue, which was awarded the 1925 Speyer Prize by the National Academy of Design.

A low-relief plaque shows the dogsled team braving the blizzard and bears an inscription dedicating the statue to all of the sled dogs that helped save lives of so many people. From the moment of its unveiling, the sculpture has been a favorite of young park visitors, many of whom come from far and wide to sit astride the dog hero celebrated in several books as well as in Steven Spielberg’s animated film, Balto (1995).

The inscription commemorating Balto the Dog reads:

"Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dog that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice across treacherous waters through arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925. "

Endurance. Fidelity. Intelligence.

Was Balto half wolf? His owner would only go so far as to say he was a mongrel.

This is the real Balto. Look at those eyes. They spark with focus. Look at the set of his head.

The dispute lingers on-- was Balto a wolf dog? Does every Husky have much closer wolf ancestors than the wolf ancestors of all dogs as some insist? Was it anti-wolf prejudice that kept the admission of what "mongrel" entailed to be made public? Would Balto have suddenly seemed untrustworthy in some eyes?

Or would what was done to wolves regularly and still seems to be yet again undertaken have become just too unpalatable with such an admission?

A Central Park birding update and wolf status report from longtime hawk watcher and blog contributor Katherine Herzog, got me to thinking ...

Dear Donna,

The area in Central Park called the Maintenance Meadow was amazing at 3:30pm on Saturday. Chats, Warblers, and our ever present young male Wild Turkey (I think it's a male because of a small wattle under his chin that's blue and red)!

The Turkey is becoming very used to human presence which is not a good thing this close to Thanksgiving. I really worry about him as some people are feeding him bird seed which makes him come within a few feet of them.

Some idiot let his Lab off the leash to attack the Turkey--who took to a high branch in a nearby tree. I had a few well-chosen words for the Lab owner. Humans are sometimes the most pathetic species on the planet.

And then there's Sarah Palin who has lobbied and won the right of "hunters" to shoot Wolves and Bears from small aircraft when the animals are unable to run and escape in deep snow.

You'd think dog owners and other animal rights people would be furious. Wolves after all are the ancestors of dogs! And she is even opposing the Bush Administration's call to put Polar Bears on the endangered species list because they might impede the more oil/gas exploration in wildlife reserves and federal lands.

Her main financier for this brutal and obscene killing is the infamous Safari Club International which goes to Africa to kill all sorts of highly endangered animals including elephants... which are lured to trust people who provide them with food and them shoot them at point blank range to transform these ancient, magnificent creatures into foot stools and umbrella stands. Despicable.

All the best,


Remember Cheryl Cavert's photo of Jay the Red-tail on the statues along the River? I asked Cheryl about the marvelous statues and just which creatures were being depicted under Jay's trusty talons. Wolves? Dogs?
She responded--

Following is some information off the website that tells a little about the bronze monuments along the Arkansas River in Tulsa."NatureWorks, Inc., located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a nonprofit organization assisting in the development and conservation of wildlife preserves, wildlife habitats, and educational opportunities for adults and children on the values of sharing our homeland with wildlife.

NatureWorks holds a Wildlife Art Show and Sale annually, featuring many of the finest wildlife painters, sculptors, and carvers from all over the nation.Annually, the NatureWorks Monuments Program has made it possible for NatureWorks to donate a heroic sized, realistic bronze wildlife monument to the City of Tulsa."

The one Jay was on is "Prairie Wolves", sculpted by Jocelyn Lillpop Russell, 2006. About 18 total, most along the Arkansas River.

What? Prairie Wolves? Why don't I know about Prairie Wolves?

A quick look at before heading for the wildlife sites brought...

prairie wolf n : small wolf native to western North America [syn: brush wolf, Canis latrans]

Brush Wolf? It still doesn't ring a bell. It's off to Google!


Vol. IV, No. 2, August, 1898A. W. MUMFORD, PUBLISHER

I read that this small wolf was originally the main predator of Bison herds but as humans had now nearly driven the bison to extinction that this species had not only been severely reduced in population it had also been reduced to eating refuse and raiding farms.

I looked back at the copyright of Birds and All Nature, it was August, 1898

This animal with the beautiful name of Prairie Wolf, who now ate garbage instead of hunting Bison was commonly called coyote.

The 1898 article (link below) is well worth reading. Particularly for the story of the Prairie Wolf, yes, coyote, who had previously lost his companions to the farmer during raids of the farm but who then used the ocean to outwit the man and his hounds.

D. Browne

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pale Male and Lola in NEW YORK CURIOSITIES

A while back, out of the blue, I got an email from a writer named Cindy Perman, . She was finishing up a book called New York Curiosities and she was including a section on Pale Male and Lola. C.P. said she liked what she saw on the blog and asked if we could make a deal about use of one of my photos to illustrate the Pale Male and Lola portion.

After making sure she wouldn't be making fun of the Monarch of Central Park and his mate, and numerous hilarious emails, Perman can be very funny as is the book, the deal was on. The photo above was the one that went into New York Curiosities.

In the meantime, I learned that Steve Baldwin of who takes birders and the curious on the Wild Brooklyn Parrot Safaris in Greenwood Cemetery was also featured.

It looked like urban birds were getting their share of ink.

Then yet again, I heard from Cindy Perman, come to the Press Party! Astoundingly, I did. And it was a hoot. No pun intended.

Steve Baldwin sang his Ballad of the Brooklyn Parrots. And I finally got to meet him.

We'd been emailing back and forth for years and had never met. Sometimes it just takes a book to get one out of one's burrow, oops, I mean, borough, of course.

And wonder of wonders, Natalia Paruz, the Saw Lady, , was there. We'd worked together on a P.D.Q. Bach show at Carnegie Hall or was it Avery Fisher, some years back.
Now this saw playing thing isn't just silliness.
Natalia is a virtuoso of the carpenter saw. She makes the most haunting eerie and beautiful music. I mean they gave her a medal of honor in Paris and that's no joke. Though people have been known to laugh in delight.

And Todd Robbins, community activist of Coney Island, and the man who spearheaded the Sideshow School, pounded a nail up his nose. Curious but also hilarious.
Then there were the local New Yorkers who came up to me and told me about their personal encounters with Pale Male in Central Park. Now we know that sometimes other hawks in the park are mistaken for Pale Male, but that was unlikely the case with my favorite PM story of the evening.
A Buddhist Monk came up to me and said, that one day he'd been running in the park. He was feeling out of sorts and didn't really know what to do with himself. He sat down on a big rock and thought, should I go to the temple, what should I do? He decided he'd sit right there on the rock until the spirit moved him. Well who should appear but Pale Male who, characteristically unfazed, perched in a tree next to the monk's rock and sat there. As the monk said, "It turned out the spirit didn't move me, it told me to stay put." And he did, just sitting at peace with Pale Male.
Curious but wonderful and there are many more stories of wonderful, talented, brave, funny, undaunted people in the book who have gone with their creativity and done all sorts of marvelous things no matter what anyone said.
And isn't that just the sort of people we like?
Birders being thought more than a little fringey themselves in some people's eyes, and hawk watchers even more so.
Hey, I'm not missing any of these people.
I'm starting New York Curiosities tonight.
And not to be outdone, on my walk home , there were some of our friends the pigeons at 11:30 PM cleaning up the street. Aren't they supposed to be diurnal? I've seen this curiosity before though rarely.
The night foraging 42nd. St. pigeons.
Remember the blog I did about diurnal animals who could switch their "clocks" and become nocturnal if the food source changed from day to night? I'm not completely sure, but I think the night pigeons may only be nocturnal on Friday and Saturday night but I'm going to have to check to make sure.
Now some might find me checking the activity of nocturnal pigeons
rather curious, but then again, they would be the people who weren't curious at all.
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert of Tulsa, Oklahoma

Jay the Red-tailed Hawk, Dad of Thunder, from the KJRH nest, does a little hunting from a unique vantage point.

Some hawks really do know how to pose for a photo don't they?

Photo by Cheryl Cavert
Cheryl Cavert, a new hawk watcher in Tulsa this breeding season, picked up a camera and has been documenting this family with a persistence not to be denied. It wasn't easy but she persevered and got her shots of Jay perched in this wonderful spot.

Hi Donna,
Just thought you and some of your readers might enjoy these photos of Jay of the Tulsa KJRH RT hawk family. He has tended to perch in more visible areas that other Tulsa urban RT hawks and after leaving the nesting tower perch last month, he has taken up residence about 1/2 to 3/4 miles away along the banks of the Arkansas River. As the road construction that had been going on in the nesting area has finished, I guess Jay missed all the construction sounds and workers so he relocated to another big construction area! The Riverparks area he has been spotted in quite frequently recently is closed to the public due to reconstruction of the walking/bike paths and other facilities.

The other evening about 6 pm on my way home from work (a rainy day) as I was driving down Riverside Drive, I noticed Jay perched in a very visible position. I did not have my camera with me so I quickly pulled over and took a couple of pictures with my cell phone camera. After viewing those, I knew those just would not suffice, so I continued on home for my camera and when I returned he was still there!!!

Jay - catching the tail end of rush hour traffic!! The full picture shows what Jay was perched on - and he was about eye-level with all the vans and trucks and SUV's - I wonder how many of the hundreds if not thousands of commuters even noticed him? I stayed on the other side of the four lanes of traffic as I did not want to send him flying off his perch - he is one of the few Tulsa RT hawks who is not spooked by the click of the camera - in fact it looks like he enjoys finding suitable posing places!!

Recently I was looking up some pigeon information and came across the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Pigeon Watch Program ( It has lots of information about pigeons as well as information about collecting data on the pigeons in one's neighborhood/town.

Thanks for all the wonderful photos and stories on your blog. It has given me a different and wonderful perspective as I watch the many animals in my neighborhood! -- Cheryl in Tulsa
I think you're right, Jay did miss the construction. I'm betting he has figured out that when there is construction, all the disturbance tends to disrupt the rodents and gets them on the move, making them easier to catch.
Jay, being a clever hawk, is waiting patiently for them to break cover and swoop, grab--Jay will have dinner.

Many thanks for sharing your adventure, the photos, and including the link for PigeonWatch. The neighborhood kids in Hell's Kitchen loved participating in that program.

Check it out folks, perhaps there's room for PigeonWatch in your community.

I ended up going out a bit late in the day and began to think I wasn't going to see bird one. When suddenly a gull appeared from the south behind a building but then swooped into a dive and disappeared behind another.

Thinking that was that, I started to walk home and there he was again.

Heading towards the sunset and the Hudson River.
Only to make another circle in the golden light before heading home to the river for the night.
Donegal Browne

Monday, September 15, 2008

Things feeling bleak? Perhaps It Is Time For A Book!

Blog contributor, Karen Kolling, sent me an email saying, "Maybe there should be a children's book about one of the pigeons, if it could be done without scaring them about the injuries."

And indeed there is. Pigeon Hero, winner of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award, based on the WWII Carrier pigeon G.I. Joe.

I've gotten this book for nearly every child I know when they reach the appropriate reading level and Joe has created many a youngster who suitably appreciates the wonders of pigeons and therefore all birds.

Perhaps you might want to consider doing the same for a child? Pigeon Hero is a paperback usually priced around $4, and well worth it in so many ways.

And just what did G.I. Joe do, you ask?

During the month of October 1943, the British Fifty-sixth Brigade was trying to advance on the German held Italian town of Colvi Veccia. In an effort to weaken the German position, the infantry ordered an aerial bombardment of the town by the Allies.

On October 18th, 1943 the German resistance fell and 1,000 British soldiers took up positions inside the town, where they found Italian civilians, who at that point had no interest whatsoever in fighting anyone.

Unfortunately the bombing run was due to take place within the half hour, the radio was broken, the telegraph lines were down, and the Germans were likely just over the next hill. The soldiers hunkered down, prepared to take whatever came, while a panicked message was tied to the leg of G.I. Joe and sent to headquarters.

In Pigeon Hero, the men tell Joe to fly as fast as he can and off he goes. First he's shot at with a machine gun by the Germans, so he flies higher and higher. Then he runs into a hawk who wants to eat him and he flies lower and lower to evade capture. (As flying beneath a hawk would not be an evasive action taken by a pigeon in his right mind who didn't want to be lunch, this is artistic license. Otherwise we'd never ever have heard a word about Joe.) Joe then battles his way through a rain storm and finally brings his message home just as the planes are about to take off. G.I. Joe saves the day.

In reality, Joe was shot at, he evaded the hostile fire, flew 25 miles in 20 minutes, that's better than a mile a minute, (Think about that, he went faster than a mile per MINUTE.), and yes, in actuality arrived just as the bombers were taxiing for take off. The message was read and he saved well over a thousand people from being blasted to smithereens by five minutes.

In November of 1946, G. I. Joe was given the Dicken Medal for gallantry by the Lord Mayor of London.

Which brings us to a second question. What exactly is the Dicken Medal?

According to Wikipedia---

The Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 by Maria Dickin to honour the work of animals in war. It is a large bronze medallion, bearing the words "For Gallantry" and "We Also Serve" within a laurel wreath, carried on ribbon of striped green, dark brown and pale blue. Traditionally, the medal is presented by the Lord Mayor of the City of London. It has become recognised as "the animals' Victoria Cross". As of February 2008, it has been awarded 62 times.

Which brings us, of course, to--Who is Maria Dickin?

Also from Wikipedia--

Maria Dickin was the founder of the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals), a United Kingdom veterinary charity. She set up the medal as an award for any animal displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty whilst serving with British Commonwealth armed forces or civil emergency services. The medal was awarded 54 times between 1943 and 1949, to 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, 3 horses and 1 cat, to acknowledge actions during the Second World War, after which the medal was officially replaced with the PDSA's non-military Silver Medal.

The animated film Valiant, released in 2005, is a tribute to the role of homing pigeons during World War II, and the fact that they won the most number of Dickin Medals during the war.

A special "one-off" posthumous Dickin Medal award was made in 2000 to a Canadian dog for actions in 1941 which would have been honoured at the time, had the PDSA been informed.

The medal was subsequently revived in 2002 to honour three dogs in relation to the September 11 attacks, and was awarded to two dogs serving with Commonwealth forces in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq respectively.

A comparable award, the PDSA Gold Medal, is an animal bravery award that acknowledges the civilian bravery and devotion to duty of animals. Created by the PDSA in 2002, it is now recognised as the animal's equivalent of the George Cross.

What's a George Cross? Not this time, you can't expect me to do all the work. You'll just have to look that one up for yourself. But wait, before you do, scroll down past yesterday's post about John Silver, and down to the next until you see a Blue Bar pigeon.

Now what might that be around his neck?

Donegal Browne