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Today we have a puzzle for you: What is it that drinks its mother’s milk, is able to find its way home across hundreds of miles of trackless waste, and is universally known as a symbol of peace?
If you guessed the pigeon family of birds, you answered correctly. Actually there is no single species in the pigeon family which fully solves the puzzle, but jointly they do so.
The dove, of course, is the symbol of peace around the world. This is very appropriate, for doves and pigeons are among the most peaceable of creatures. Doves and pigeons are very closely related, both being members of the family which scientists have called in Latin, Columbidae. The distinction is chiefly one of size: smaller species are usually called “doves,” and larger species are called “pigeons.” The difference in more in the popular mind than in science.
To return to our puzzle, which bird is it that drinks its mother’s milk? And the answer is: only pigeons and doves. One of the most unusual characteristics of pigeons is that nesting parents feed their chicks with a substance which is popularly called “pigeon milk.” Since true milk comes only from milk glands in mammals, it isn’t exactly milk which pigeons secrete – but you couldn’t convince a baby pigeon!
“Pigeon milk” is actually sloughed off the lining of the adult’s crop. It is interesting to note that both parents produce this “milk.” The young stick their beaks down the parental throat and drink the nutritious beverage. This is another unique feature of pigeons – their ability to actually suck liquids. All other birds drink by taking a beak-full of liquid and then raising their heads so the fluid will flow down to their stomachs of its own accord.
To facilitate this method of feeding, nestlings do not develop feathers on their foreheads and chins until they are ready to begin eating an adult diet of seeds, which happens after about 10 days. It’s a polite adaptation: One can imagine how Momma pigeon would feel if Junior insisted on sticking a faceful of feathers down her throat every time he got hungry!
The final clue to our puzzle was the ability to find home, when by all that is normal, home should be impossible to find. This is a talent which homing pigeons possess to an uncanny degree. It has been shown over and over that homing pigeons can be taken in shrouded cages to locations hundreds of miles away from their home lofts without getting lost. In fact, armies have counted on pigeon battle-field messengers from the 12th century B.C., when Egyptians generals introduced the practice.
This is not the same ability that many birds and insects have of being able to navigate by the sun or stars – though that, too, is a marvelous feat. Pigeons must do far more than follow a set pathway through the sky, as do many migrating species, since the point of origin may be in a different direction each trip. Their secret is an unexplained today as it was three thousand years ago.
Altogether, the pigeon-dove is a most remarkable animal. How did it get that way? The choices are only two: either it evolved, or it was uniquely designed by a Creator who knew from the outset what He wanted the bird to be like.
It is so difficult to account for all its characteristics by evolution that we cannot accept this solution. How, for instance, did “pigeon milk” evolve? More to the point, how would baby pigeons have survived while it was developing? And what good would it do them unless they somehow developed the simultaneous ability to suck up this milk from their parent’s throats? We might also ask why pigeons should have taken such a peculiar evolutionary direction, contrary to general bird characteristics, if they inherited the same characteristics from a supposed “bird family tree”? It doesn’t make sense.
What does make sense is that not only the uniqueness of pigeons, but all the amazing variety of life we discover in our world is the product of design. Everywhere we look, and the more closely we examine nature, the more we find every creature, every form of plant life, perfectly situated in its biological niche, just as a fine gem is carefully fitted into its setting.
This is precisely what is implied in the biblical account: “God created the large sea creatures, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful, and multiply...” (Genesis 1:21-22)
There is one more quality of the dove which we must mention, and that is what it represents: not merely peace, but the God of peace, and God’s Holy Spirit, sent into the world to achieve His divine purposes. We note that it was a dove which returned to Noah in the Ark, bearing an olive leaf as a a sign that the Great Flood was over. It was also the form of a dove which alighted upon Jesus at His baptism, as a sign from God that this was His beloved Son (Matthew 3:16). In Luke 3:22, this is specifically revealed as the Holy Spirit, temporarily embodied in the shape of a dove.
Ever since then, the dove has been the symbol of God’s watch over His creation. The Bible tells us that God sent His Holy Spirit into the world to reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment (John 16:8). God’s Holy Spirit is still doing this in our world, calling men everywhere to repent of their wickedness, and to call upon the Son of God, that they might have eternal life. Think well upon these things, each time you see a dove or a pigeon.
(All Scripture is quoted from the World English Bible translation.)