Ravens, pigeons and Dodo birds
day about 1610 I
ended up with about 30 ravens that were sent by the monks of the church in
Ravenna Italy which my 'home theatre' was modeled after. (Read about it
on this page.) They were hand raised so they were very tame. They were sent to me as a
promotion for the churches export of pet ravens. I had no idea what
I could to do
to increase their sales which almost didn't exist. They knew I was
importing exotic products from the orient
and they thought I should also be able to sell their
raven's. Ravenna was renown during the middle ages for breeding and training intelligent, large and friendly ravens.
One problem was
that all ravens stopped getting good press in the 1400's because of the plague which caused ravens to become associated
with death. They were so smart that they were the
first birds that knew when a plague victim who was laying on the ground was
dead, even before most people knew. Ravens would go stand
near or directly on the bodies to see if there was something to eat. Or to feel for life including breathing.
Since they were seen with the victims it formed their association with
death as the picture of the well dress raven (left) will attest to if you
click on it. Many
Europeans thought they actually brought death. Since I can't read what
the drawing says on it I don't know if the picture shows the raven
bringing death or if it is just a messenger of death. In any case by the
early 1500's ravens had mostly fallen out of favor
as pets in Europe. So the church could not sell many pet ravens and
they sold none at all.
The French were the exception. They had a morbid fascination with death
still bought pet ravens from that church directly. I just plain
couldn't sell any of those birds. I sent a letter to the head of
the Ravenna church and asked him if he wanted me to send them back. He
said no 'we have far too many as it is'.
Since they had been raised by hand I could not let them go or they
would certainly starve to death. They might figure out what was edible
but so would
the local dogs and being sheltered from birth they knew next to nothing
about dogs. I knew people would fall in
love with them once
they got to know them as I had. They really had great personalities (but
they were totally immoral) and everyone of them was very different,
so than people are.
I had some crates that had the kings crest on them. They had been old crates that King James had used to send us something in. I used them to ship those pesky ravens to the Tower in.
Then I wrote a note that said something like this: 'You
must take good care of the crown's birds least the kingdom
might fall.' I knew
the two warders that could read were very superstitious and would believe what the note said.
Re-read the sentence,
there is no connection between taking care of the ravens and the kingdom
falling, is there? It doesn't say that, it just sounds like it. The
warders just read too much into it as I knew they would. There was
connection to the ravens as I only used the word 'birds'. So
the message was not necessarily a reference to those ravens. Also, I never gave the ravens to the Tower of London. I just
sent them there.
My story, if I had gotten caught, was that the birds I was referring to
were the pigeons (below) that were used for England's early warning system and
not the ravens. Without the pigeons we could have been invaded up north and not known about it for days.
It looks like they took better care of them than I could. Taking
care of them had become an incredible burden. They were what we would
now call high maintenance, like I used to be in that life, and it was
more than I could deal with. If you let them
they would work themselves into being a full time job. Maybe I should
have warned them about that
before they assigned a warder just to take care of those birds, which
they have done. He even has an official title attached to his name,
it's Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle. Ravens
have taken care of themselves for millions of years so it's strange
people will fall for their helpless routine. They were far too
mischievous for me to deal with. They may be too mischievous for the
7th Marques of Salisbury but since they technically belong to him
maybe he would want to have one or two of them brought back to
seemed to be as comfortable walking as they were flying. They would
visit every room some days, except the worst prisoners who I was told
could not have visitors. Then one of the better prisoners killed and
started to eat one of the ravens. The warders would not let
visit any of the prisoners after that since it was a raven that all
the warders had liked. The ravens stood at the door to the prison
entrance (the work entrance of course) demanding their visitation
rights but they had met someone more
stubborn than they were. The captain of the warders never changed
once he made a
decision unless it was on the authority of the King so the ravens
squawked about it for a week and then they gave up.
They were notorious
thieves, like I said they were immoral. I read they got into lot's of
trouble it later on. Principally they like shiny objects and they would
fly into the astronomers always open window and quick as a wink grab
the most shiny object, some costing months of wages, and fly off. The
astronomer had the most shiny and expensive objects in the kingdom
(except for the royal jeweler but the ravens weren't allowed in there).
It was mainly one raven and the astronomer took him out with an object
used as a club, he was waiting for the raven who always came at a
certain time. I guess after I died there was another raven who did the
same thing and that time the astronomer complained to a 'new' king,
Legend has it
that John Flamsteed (1646 - 1719), the 'astronomical observator'
complained to King Charles II that the birds were interfering with his
observations. The King therefore ordered their destruction only to be
told that if the ravens left the Tower, the White Tower would fall and
a great disaster befall the Kingdom. Sensibly the King changed
mind and decreed that at least six ravens should be kept at the Tower
at all times to prevent disaster.Here
I guess I actually started that legend. Of
course what I said was absolutely the truth but it had to do with the pigeons. (Below)
reason I sent the ravens to the tower.
There were two types of prisoners. Those who were evil, who knew what they were
doing was wrong and did wrong anyway. They were incapable of repentance or
mending their ways. They were too far gone down the path of the devil to turn around and come back.
They responded only to pain or to the threat of it.
Then there were those who had done something stupid.
The ravens did lots of stupid things. I sent them to help the
warders learn to separate the prisoners into the two different groups,
at least in their
minds. Then the warders might like the group of prisoners that had done
stupid things and treat
them nice. Normally they pretty much threatened and treated all the prisoners
with abuse. Unlike
the other group the criminals that had done stupid things had it in them
to repent but to do so they had to
fight against their own anger and resentment over being mistreated.
Harming that group of prisoners just made them more angry and
resentful which stopped the
process of redemption.
Pigeons at the tower
If I was caught with my hand in the cookie jar I was going to say that the
message was about the carrier pigeons in the tower which Henry VIII
nicknamed 'the family retreat' since that is where all his family were
told to run to so they could all be together if England was ever
invaded. The pigeon rookery was in the tower belfry (now called the Bell Tower) and there are probably still some old
rookery remains such as perches or at least the holes that were drilled
in the walls or ceilings for the perches. The government would not have
relied on telegram or phone well into the 20th century because wires could be cut. They probably
dismissed the pigeons about 1930's when radios came into being but perhaps left the set up fairly
intact (in case those new fangled wireless systems don't work out
and they needed to use pigeons again).
This room was the headquarters for the
pigeon communication system of England. They entered through the
small windows directly into cages. The windows were open on the
opposite side of the room/ so that the pigeons could see light from the other side and not
be afraid to go inside the room (thinking they could always go out the
other side). The cages fit into the big area right in front of
the windows here This is also where they would
decipher the codes, write the messages and receive queen's maids of
honor who were worried about getting mud and pigeon poop on our dresses.
This room is inappropriately said to have been the room in the tower in which Thomas Moore was kept a prisoner. Read more about him and this room on my armaments page.
It was and I think it still is a top secret that the pigeon network even
existed. They were England's
early warning system. It would only be because of them that troops
could ever be mobilized faster than an invader could shuttle men across
the channel in ~40 ships. The pigeons were the only way we would ever
be able to throw invaders back into the sea (until the telegraph was
invented). Yes there was a flag and a fire system but it did not work if an enemy agent killed the signal man or in bad weather. Being
second to my husband Robert Cecil, the spy master of England, I was
often in charge of making certain the pigeons were well tended since people
often forgot about them in good times and good weather. So yes, those birds
were essential and what I sent to the warders was just another of my
many reminders that they take care of the crown's
birds least England might fall.
Oh, I must have forgotten to sign it so the warders didn't realize it involve the
top secret pigeons and not the ravens.
The pigeons had other life or death on going uses besides the prevention of invasion. One was to alert fishermen to an incoming hurricane from the atlantic. I explain it well on this page about how it alerted England to the arrival of a hurricane's during the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Also, when slavers came from Africa there were
about 40 stations along the coast who would send two pigeons with that
info to London Tower. As an example of how it worked: If the slavers
took prisoners from the Isle Of Man then London would know 7 hours
after the slave ship was first sighted. And Francis Drake in Plymouth
would know in another 3 and set sail before another hour had passed. Not a single slave ship ever made it back to Africa.
- Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
- Britons never shall be slaves.
When I was reading about pheasants at Sudeley Castle it triggered my memories of some penguins I had. The day I got them
delivered was perhaps the happiest day of that life.
There were ten of them and
they came from around southern Africa. They charmed everyone with their
buffoonery and soon they had made 24 more penguins.
We wanted small penguins (it was too hot for the larger species) with
great personalities and that meant either African or Adelie penguins whose
range used to extend almost to Africa.* We had interests in both
whaling and merchant ships so we had one of them bring back the
penguins from the southern Atlantic Ocean. It started
out with several males as an experiment to see if they could fend for
themselves in an open pond at Hatfield. It soon became obvious
that was not going to work so we built a fenced in area with a
small pond for them. We first had three or four males delivered to us
we sent for six more, five females and one male. Our amorous males were
certainly happy to see those females. Penguins are supposed
to be difficult to breed but they started within about 10 minutes.
[It's supposed to be difficult or impossible to sex a penguin without taking a blood test.
However, we were able to sex them. I think we had a chicken farmer
determine their sex with his little finger and it wasn't that
difficult. As I recall their inner 'equipment' was very similar to a
goose's. Maybe today's zoos should call in a farmer like we did.]
Penguins probably like freedom but far higher on their agenda was their social group (and us humans who were often allowed to 'temporarily' join
it). They were also not that thrilled about catching their own
food as long as we humans were foolish enough to feed them. We
had a local boy take them down to swim in the larger pond on a regular
basis. They were quite happy with that arrangement.
There were two females that would get
adventurous and decide at times to go explore the area around Hatfield.
Somehow one or the other would
escape and then show up about a week or two later, fatter and
acting as if nothing had occurred while wanting to get back with her
their enclosure. She would go right to the pond and while soaking communicate while showing off her fat belly. All the
other penguins would gather around the returned explorer. She would
'talk' (squawk) for up to 20 minutes while the others sat and listened
in rapt attention. It was as if she was telling a travelogue to the
others. It was so very strange and no one who was privileged enough to
ever get to see
this 'communication' exhibition failed to be impressed.
Why were we
able to breed penguins when even today most others can't? We couldn't
two most dominant females took off on their little fattening up
explorations. At the time I figured out that those expeditions
were probably to
determine if there was sufficient fish in the area to feed the colony
if we humans ever failed to deliver. Once they had determined that
there was extra food around they
started raising chicks. So I had to assume that it was for raising chicks that they explored
the area for food. The problem with modern penguin facilities is
that the penguins have no assurance that they will be provided with
extra food if they give birth to chicks. At Hatfield I would stock one of the
larger ponds with live fish about once a month and then when we would
flock them over
to it for the day they would gorge until they were satisfied. That is when they began
breeding. There are ways this can be adapted to today's more sterile
aquariums. All you have to do is convince the penguins that there are
fish around that they can eat if they get pregnant.
They made their nests in shallow burrows in the ground. I remember
because one day two of them escorted me over to the nest to show me
their two new eggs. I then went outside and got some soft lichen
as an offering for them to line their nest with.
Once I was sitting on a bench in the enclosure just watching the
penguins. Then one of the males came over and sat next to me on the log
and watched me like a small child might an adult while I in turn
watched the other penguins. Then another came over and watched me. Then
another did the same until pretty soon they were all in a little circle
watching me! I took it that they were only being respectful of me.
Since I appeared to want to sit in silence watching them they were
respectfully sitting silently watching me. That was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced. The next day they were the same
rambunctious, noisy and unruly bunch of birds that they normally were.
One male decided to become my gardening 'buddy'. He must have been psychic because he
knew when I was going to do gardening. He knew I was coming when I was
getting dressed so he would stand up on a log and
wait. Then he would start screaming as soon as he saw me. I would have
to come let him out
or he would get all the birds upset. Then he would follow me around for
hours. As I transplanted flowers and dug the gardens he would jump in
and grab the worms, eating until he was full. This went on for at least
years. His mate would also come along sometimes but she was A.D.D.
After ten minutes she would get bored so she would wander off and often
know why more people don't keep penguins as pets. Of course I am
not talking about keeping only one or two penguins. I am talking about
a colony of at least four pairs. They are not dogs or cats, they do require a
group of at least eight to feel comfortable. I
have read that
there are commercial penguin farms in both Australia and New Zealand.
Of course for breeding purposes you would probably want at least 20
penguins that are unrelated (for genetic diversity).
reason some types of penguins are endangered is because they are flightless. Most
other flightless birds are now extinct simply because their nests are on the
ground. Humans have left dogs, rats and cats on all the islands where
penguins breed and they have been responsible for the devastation of
penguin population everywhere except the Antarctic where those animals
can't survive. This fact should not impede anyone from raising penguins
in a protected environment like we did.
I know this talk about penguins as pets is politically incorrect but it is the truth. I know, let's
not talk about them being made into pets and call it a 'captive
breeding program to circumvent their loss of natural nesting sites due
to human intervention'. Now we and our penguins have suddenly
become 100% politically correct. By my emitting this kind of noise I'll bet we could even get a grant to pay for our pets.
Of course you can make more than one mountain out of a molehill and make your
penguin exhibition a major investment of both time and money but
that would probably be a waste, just as it would have been 400 years ago.
Penguins were less expensive and
easier to take care of than
parrots. The parrots would end up with lice infestations, dying from a
chill or they would fly off and out of our lives forever.
Penguins are used
to swimming 40 miles a day or more through freezing water while
being chased by hungry sharks and tuna so they are hardy little
critters. Also, what is a 'cheaper date' than one requiring only a
handful of small fish each day? As long as it is a cool climate and you
have a water pool they should be very happy and live long, healthy
lives. Ours did.
Probably the best thing going for penguins is their similarity to
humans. Even more so in many ways than monkeys and many other animals.
Why is this a 'good'
thing and what on earth do I mean?
Apes, monkeys and other animals
which display human attributes mainly display the coarse, common and
foul side of humans. Unlike those animals penguins have human characteristics
which are mainly commendable. Qualities you would like those around you
to have. They are monogamous and their monogamous relationships often continue through their entire life. Females
and males treat each other mostly as equals and theirs is a nearly
equal sharing of all duties including 'child rearing'. Greetings and
shows of affections are often identical to humans and include snuggling
and dancing together.
They have very little in the way of a pecking order. Their society is
based on mainly the family structure within the larger society which then usually takes a
secondary role as it does with humans. Humans who interact with
penguins are treated pretty much the same as other penguins, as equals,
but they are often dignified with the addition of being also thought of
as partially a parent since the humans provide food for the penguins. (If
you are a dog owner then you know the effect feeding has on animals.)
Penguins have the most
personality of perhaps any bird. They are comfortable with people who
they soon think of as other penguins. Besides that they are just plain fun
you know what kind of bird this is? Not
everyone does when they see a picture of one. So no one
should ever be expected to know what it is any more than they should know a Renaissance theatre when they
see one such at the one at Hatfield House.
It's a Dodo Bird.
You have have probably read about it somewhere or
learned about it in a class just like you have Renaissance theatres.
Now that you know what they both look like neither one is too
surprising are they?
Over 400 years ago every London school child not only knew what a Dodo bird was but they knew what they looked
like and they
also knew the Dodo walk. Several children would waddle down the
road in a straight line, following each other with their
heads bobbing from side to side in time with their step like the Dodo birds did. It was unbelievably cute.
Two songs were written that
immediately became popular hits and when the
minstrels sang them they would do the Dodo Bird walk. Yes, a lot like they
do in the video of the song 'Walk like an
The first Dodo birds that were brought back created an incredible
dock had to be closed because it was jammed with people wanting to see
'the bird'. They were stretched out half way across the London Bridge
just trying to get a glimpse of it. Then they started
charging and gate receipts
were incredible as over 10,000 people in two days paid good money to
crush one another to get to this monstrous bird which was said to be
than 'all the London canaries put together'. Dodo Birds weighing 70
pounds beat by a large margin the Atlantic Puffin which had been about the
largest and strangest looking bird any Englishman had seen until then.
not as helpless as people think. They
had a heavy 7 inch long beak. It was the largest and strongest of any
bird's beak since it was used
for tearing apart coconuts to get to the meat inside which is what they
ate. I was told the coconut gave them a nice coconut flavor when they were
It's beak was really
nothing more than an oversized
like this antique can opener which was modeled after the Dodo Bird's
close relative, the parrot.
Though the Dodo bird's beak was much larger and it more closely resembled Halberds which
were all over England. Halberds had one blade for chopping people
into pieces unless they were wearing armor. The other side was often
shaped like the Dodo Birds beak and it was used for prying open suits
of armor which, if you really think about it, made it just an oversized
Dodo Birds did not like dogs. Especially the barking kind. They would just reach right over and pop the top off of the brain
open up the stomach or more often just remove the entire leg of any large or medium sized dog that
too close, even ones that meant it no harm. It was too fast for anyone
to prevent. They just didn't like dogs from the start. They would then
befriend, preen and mother the puppies of the same dog they had just
killed which really did a strange thing to my emotions.
were not smart, that is all there is too it. We got two Dodo Birds when
one of our ships brought them back per our request to 'not
eat two of the birds' when the crew picked up a bunch of them at Mauritius Island
for food on the way back from India. The two Dodo birds cut the local Hatfield dog
population in half in about two weeks. They would stand back to back
and let the dogs try to attack them. They would kill the dogs in about two
seconds flat. Suddenly the neighbors realized their dogs were missing
and they tied up what dogs they had left when the dog population dropped to about
1/3 of what they had previously been. Strangely they left alone our Cocker Spaniels and other small dogs.
For years those neighbor dogs had trespassed and killed our animals including one
sheep. They had kept all our animals terrorized.
They cornered and
attacked one small Royal child which meant I was legally entitled to
murder every dog within a days march from Hatfield in all directions,
about 700 square miles and that meant probably 20,000 dogs. Unless I
marched at the time of the Summer Solstice which would have allowed me to almost
double the distance which would include London and that would mean I
could murder another 45,000 dogs as well. That would also include up
and down the Thames 5 miles and that would entitle my dog killing army
to murder probably in excess of 100,000 dogs. I think this ended
up a plot to one of my more absurd and hilarious comedy masques
(short plays acted out before royalty).
Those Dodo Birds were my champions and represented me. All they
wanted in return were their two nightly coconuts each which they would squawk and scream over until they had eaten them. My two birds came with
thousands of coconuts though. (They also ate bugs and I assume that meant a few crabs on the island they came from.)
had to throw the coconuts on the ground since they would bite your hand if
you handed it to them. They did not know the difference between your hand and a coconut, they were
that dumb. When they saw you approach with a coconut you had to be
quick or that powerful bill would quickly be eating you too.
I was cleaning up one morning in the garden and the two Dodo birds were following me
around. When I got to some coconut husks from their previous night's
dinner I picked them up, walked right over to the big brick incinerator
and without thinking, tossed them in and so followed one of the Dodo birds right
on in too!
One Dodo wasn't going to live very long alone with the dogs of Hatfield seeking
vengeance so the London Tower got him as a gift in 1610 or early 1611.
warders had those long sharp Halberds which could reach out and touch a
barking dog at 15 feet. Since barking dogs only stand at the most 12
feet away from a person there was not a dog within two blocks of the
Tower. The Dodo was totally safe there as a result. The Dodo was
quite welcome at the tower like the ravens which we have already discussed. Many
children learned the Dodo Walk from the one I sent. Then I think
Prince Charles took him to the palace where he resided.
The tower served as the London zoo before zoo's existed. England was an
island of farmers who were needed as sailors and explorers to invade
other countries with trinkets to impress backwards civilizations.
Exotic animals were great inspirations for children who would soon take
the role of explorer. England needed a lot more good sailors to do it right.
The navy never really got enough professional men so it ended up being run by unnamed characters which became
'Bligh' on the nation and as a result ended up with a War of 1812 due to the impressment of American sailors, etc.
After my one Dodo Bird committed suicide I found out that those
sailors were absolutely right about the magnificent coconut flavor
of the barbecued soft tasty flesh of the Dodo Bird.
Fear was not at all a part of a Dodo Birds emotions and knowing when to
run away is very essential to survival unless you live on an island of
birds like Mauritius.
Bottom line, that is part of why they are now extinct.
There must be a good lesson there. I don't see it yet but don't despair
because there is another good one coming up in less than 30 seconds,
unless you are a very...slow....reader.
The sailors who went by Mauritius Island would just walk along
and the friendly Dodo birds would follow them in a line and right on to their ships
(this was the Dodo Bird walk) to be killed
later for fresh food
during their voyage. The Maharajahs in India thought of Dodo as a
delicacy and far more were actually taken there and sold than were
eaten on board ships. After all the islands were on the way to
India and five of those birds would fetch a handsome ruby or emerald.
So within 50 years there was not a single Dodo left.
However, it was mainly the rats, feral dogs and cats that ships brought to
Mauritius which made them extinct. The Dodo birds would walk away from
their nests during the day since they had no natural enemies on the
island. They would cool themselves in the water and then come back. By
then the rats, dogs and cats would have eaten their eggs or young.
|The flesh was
the most flavorful of any I have eaten. It was better tasting than
turkey or chicken. I wonder if there is enough genetic material around to
recreate them ala 'Jurassic Park'? I think they would only cost about half
of what turkey does to produce and everyone would love the taste.
Oops I checked and there seem to be scientists at the University of Oxford that are trying to clone the Dodo bird.
They don't know the pay-off though. It's much higher than they think.
Eating mainly coconuts Dodo birds could provide much of the third world with an inexpensive form of
animal protein (as well as the rest of the world with one of the best
tasting meats around).
thinking about those wacky birds. Mainly because I liked and I miss them and the
song about them but I especially miss watching the children all in a straight line doing
the 'Dodo Walk' as they waddled down the road on their way home from school.
There is one other short page devoted to birds in my Queen Elizabeth section.
Dogs at Hatfield
We also developed 4 breeds of dogs including the famous King Charles Spaniel which my family developed from the small Spaniels that the Spanish had sent to Queen Elizabeth's court.
"Dr. Caius was a Physician to Queen Elizabeth, and he makes a mention of the
"Comforters or Gentle Spaniel" that were kept by the Ladies of the Court. They
became known as being very useful as foot warmers. They used to sit under the
ladies skirts against the body and feet; this would keep their feet warm and
also attract insects off the body, hence getting rid of fleas off their
We also developed what could be best described as an early
Staffordshire Terrier which was used for bringing down wild boar. I
think that breed may have died out and then was later reinvented as the Staffordshire. We
also improved the Spaniel breed for hunting. These were projects
my children took over as I and they got older. This information needs
to be expanded on and really should go on another page that I have yet to
*I looked up the Adelie penguin and it may not have been them. They eat krill
almost exclusively. They eat almost no fish and our penguins fattened up on the local fish. It may have been
a rock hopper which is the most common one found in zoos worldwide.
They eat more fish but so do other penguins. Actually, if I made a
penguin colony today I'd check out some of the Pacific species like the Humboldt Penguin. On the
other hand maybe penguin only prefer krill over fish and can thrive on
either one. Krill is a type of a shrimp and if I was offered both I'd
eat shrimp every time, wouldn't
After finishing this section I realized that the penguins which we had laid
eggs in shallow burrows and usually two at a time. Also, the warmth of
the English summer didn't seem to bother our little flightless guests
at all. That narrows down the kind of penguin considerably. They were
probably African or Black Footed Penguins.
Even though African Penguins normally build their nests under bushes there were none at Hatfield.
I was very careful to remove all possible hiding places for rats and
mice so the penguins had to make do without bushes.
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