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Last week, Ferrebeekeeper promised pigeons. So this week, let’s start off with the monarch of pigeons—the magnificent Victoria crowned pigeon (Goura victoria).  Native to the coastal forests of New Guinea, this splendid bird not only has a magnificent “crown” of lovely ornamental feathers, it is the largest living pigeon in the world.  Adult pigeons weigh up to 3.5 kg (7.7 pounds).  The plumage of the Victoria crowned pigeon is blue-gray except for the maroon chest, and pale gray wingtips.  Their crowns are made up of little gray fans with white fringes.  They have blood red eyes which are surrounded by a little black mask of feathers.

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The Victoria crowned pigeon is named in honor of Queen Victoria (who was on the throne of England when the bird was discovered by English ornithologists). The Victoria crowned pigeon is a gregarious social bird.  Parties of pigeons walk together around the swampy rainforest floor looking for fruit, which is the mainstay of the bird’s diet (although they also sometimes supplement their diet with seeds and arthropods).

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Crown pigeons built intricately crafted nests in trees where the females lay a single white egg. Both parents actively tend the egg and the nestling.  The vocalizations of Victoria crown pigeons sound like studio audience noises from nineties talk shows.  According to Wikipedia  “[mating calls consist of a] hoota-hoota-hoota-hoota-hoota sound. When defending their territories, these birds make a resounding whup-up, whup-up, whup-up call. Their contact call is a deep, muffled and rather human-like ummm or hmmm.”

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Crown pigeons are not uncommon in the wild but the live birds are collected for the pet trade and the birds are hunted for meat and for their remarkable head feathers. Humans have a weakness for trying to take their beautiful crowns to build into our own headwear.

 

 

 

 

Wipp Ottenbach Coat Of Arms

Wipp Ottenbach Coat Of Arms

Roosters are well known for being vain, arrogant, aggressive, greedy, and loud. They are also famous for being brave and for leading their flocks. Those are also the universally acknowledged traits of noblemen–so it is unsurprising that the rooster/cock is a popular device on shields, coats of arms, and heraldic standards. Ancient vases indicate that the rooster was a device of nobles and warriors at least as far back as the classical Greek age. Here is a little gallery of rooster heraldry both historical and fantastical which I found on line (actually I slipped a few hens in to the mix to make it more fun). Enjoy the escutcheons and the poultry!

Official Coat of Arms of the Kurów Commune

Official Coat of Arms of the Kurów Commune

The Hahn Coat of Arms

The Hahn Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms of Štúrovo, Slovakia

Coat of Arms of Štúrovo, Slovakia

The Great mathematician Pierre Deligne was ennobled to viscount by the Belgian throne in 2006 and he chose this coat of arms

The Great mathematician Pierre Deligne was ennobled to viscount by the Belgian throne in 2006 and he chose this coat of arms

The Coat of Arms of Mosjöen, Norway

The Coat of Arms of Mosjöen, Norway

House Swyft of Cornfield (from George. R. R. Martin's vast fictional realm)

House Swyft of Cornfield (from George. R. R. Martin’s vast fictional realm)

A Replica of an Ancient Greek Hoplite Shield

A Replica of an Ancient Greek Hoplite Shield

A Viscount's Coronet (from a book binding)

A Viscount’s Coronet (from a book binding)

The Shield of Dorking in the Mole River Valley (with bonus swan)

The Shield of Dorking in the Mole River Valley (with bonus swan)

The Four-toed Chicken of Dorking's Judo Club

Also the Four-toed Chicken of Dorking’s Judo Club

A Fantasy Crest from California

A Fantasy Crest from California

The arms of George Alcock of Roxbury, Massachusetts (ca. 1630)

The arms of George Alcock of Roxbury, Massachusetts (ca. 1630)

White Crested Black Polish Rooster

White Crested Black Polish Rooster

Allow me to present a truly magnificent breed of show chickens! Polish chickens are known for their plumage—especially their splendid bouffant crests.  Despite the name, Polish chickens were apparently bred in the Netherlands (although there are some apocryphal stories about how they first arrived in Europe with Mongol raiders!).  Some historians speculate that they are known as Polish chickens because their feathery crest resembles the flared hat of the Polish lancers, but the real reasons for the name are lost in time.

A Polish Lancer of the Imperial Guard (re-enactor)

A Polish Lancer of the Imperial Guard (re-enactor)

Bantam Frizzle Polish

Bantam Frizzle Polish

Bearded White Polish Hen (from Cackle Hatchery)

Bearded White Polish Hen (from Cackle Hatchery)

Like many of the truly chic, Polish chickens suffer for their beauty: their feathery crests impede their vision—which often makes them skittish and flighty. They have good reason to be anxious: because of their reduced eyesight, they are easy prey for foxes and other predators (and, if kept with other doughtier breeds of chickens, they fall low on the pecking order).

Tolbunt (Beard) Polish Hen

Tolbunt (Beard) Polish Hen

Golden Laced Polish Chicken

Golden Laced Polish Chicken

 

Silver Laced Polish Rooster

Silver Laced Polish Rooster

Polish chickens are mild-mannered and can make good pets (if you happen to want a pet chicken). Additionally they can be decent egg-layers–though nothing like modern egg-laying breeds like the leghorns.  As you can see from the images included in this post, there are many different colors and varieties of polish chickens to suit your palette and your ornamental tastes!

Buff Laced Frizzle Polish Hen

Buff Laced Frizzle Polish Hen

The Triumph of Death (Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1562, oil on panel)

Next week, as a lead-up to Halloween, Ferrebeekeeper will feature a week’s worth of dark harrowing spooky posts about…um, flowers.  However, just in case botany, herblore, and gardening are not terrifying enough for you, today’s disturbing subject should provide ample horror to fill up your Halloween nightmares [He isn’t kidding, this is a grim subject and squeamish readers should go look at kitten pictures-ed].  I first encountered this subject when I was looking at The Triumph of Death, an epic painting by Pieter Bruegel which portrays an army of skeletons erasing all life from a sweeping sixteenth century landscape.  The painting is a bravura combination of surrealist fantasy and extreme harrowing realism: the abstract and alien wave of death is sweeping away the realistically painted living humans .  Among Bruegel’s most nightmarish inventions are the high torture wheels dotted around the landscape which feature tiny sad carcasses suspended and spinning in the sky–except it turns out this was not some invention of Bruegel’s dark imagination.  The Catherine wheel or breaking wheel was in fact a common form of capital punishment from late antiquity up through the early modern era.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1598, oil on canvas)

The Catherine wheel was named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a beautiful (and probably fictional) martyr who spurned the courtship of Emperor Maximinus and was then sentenced to die on the wheel. Fortunately Jesus intervened on her behalf. As soon as Catherine touched the wheel it broke to apart and the Romans were forced to merely behead her (sometimes I wonder if divine intervention could be more wholehearted in these sorts of stories).

The college shield of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. Is a torture wheel their mascot?

Catherine’s wheel appears on a great many heraldic devices including the crest of Catharine’s College Cambridge and the coat of arms of Goa.  With its metal spikes and hooks it looks rather different from the wagon wheels in Bruegel’s artworks and it seems like it might be a more fanciful interpretation of the actual torture device.  Additionally Catherine’s wheel has given its name to a jaunty spinning firework!

Weeee!

The breaking wheel as historically known was a rather crude implement of torture.  It was reserved for the lowest and most debased criminals—commoners who had killed their families, committed murder during the course of theft, betrayed their lords, or otherwise outraged the community with excessive crimes.  The condemned prisoner was lashed to a large stout wagon wheel (or to a sturdy restraint if the available wagon wheel looked fragile) and then an executioner broke all of the prisoner’s limbs and joints with a cudgel or metal bar. Then the broken limbs were secured to (or threaded through) the spokes of the wheel and the prisoner was hoisted into the sky atop a pole. If the criminal was a gifted briber or a likeable person, the executioner would make sure the beating was fatal. If however the victim was despised or came upon a particularly sadistic torturer (what are the odds of that?) he would probably end up hopelessly maimed but still alive to contend with dehydration and birds. In fact there is an unhelpful looking bird perching on the wheel in the corner of that Bruegel painting (see the detail below).

This grisly punishment was popular throughout Northern Europe during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries (although apparently Russian overuse of the practice during the Great Northern War rather turned people off of it). The breaking wheel lingered for long enough in continental Europe that it dark left shadows lying across many different languages.  To quote Wikipedia:

In Dutch, there is the expression opgroeien voor galg en rad, “to grow up for the gallows and wheel,” meaning to come to no good. It is also mentioned in the Chilean expression morir en la rueda, “to die at the wheel,” meaning to keep silent about something. The Dutch phrases ik ben geradbraakt, literally “I have been broken on the wheel,” the German expression sich gerädert fühlen, “to feel wheeled,” and the Swedish verb rådbråka (from German radbrechen), “to break on the wheel,” all carry a meaning of exhaustion or mental exertion.

Additionally the word roué, a French word which has made it into English as a borrow word, originally indicated someone so dissipated that they were destined to end up executed on the wheel.

"Remember me as an obscure idiom!"

Ugh enough of that.  The moral of this story is to be thankful for the Eighth Amendment. Next week—the flowers of the underworld!

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