popular | Animals

Someday Soon You Could Be Drinking This

Cow's milk got you down?

Almond milk just not cutting it for you?

Well don't you worry. There's a new milk out there and it's going to ruffle some feathers: PIGEON MILK.

Okay, so it's actually not for public consumption YET... but pigeon milk is a new thing scientists have discovered and it's pretty rare.

Meagan Gillespie, a PhD student at Deakin University, conducted research on the pigeon's ability to produce a milk-like substance to feed its young. This is rare among birds, who usually just regurgitate food and feed it to the baby birds.

Gillespie, along with research fellow Dr Tamsyn Crowley and other colleagues, discovered that pigeons produce milk with antioxidants and immune-enhancing properties, which are traits of mammalian milk.

"Producing milk to feed babies is normally the domain of mammals, including humans. However, the pigeon is one of only three bird species (the others being flamingos and male emperor penguins) to produce a milk-like substance to feed their young," Dr Crowley explained. "We looked at the genes involved in the production of pigeon 'milk' and found that it contains antioxidants and immune-enhancing factors. This suggests that, like mammalian milk, it plays a key role in enhancing the immune system of the developing baby."

(Just as a fun side-note, baby pigeons are terrifying)

It's not just the moms that make the milk, either. Male pigeons also produce this substance.

"Bird crops are normally used to store food. However, in the pigeon the crop changes prior to 'lactation' in response to hormones and returns to its 'non-lactating' state at the end of the lactation period, a bit like the mammary gland," Meagan Gillespie explained. "During 'lactation', a curd-like substance is created from fat-filled cells that line the crop and regurgitated to feed the squab. This 'milk' contains protein, fats, minerals and antibodies to provide nutrition to the young."

So basically, it's like breast feeding babies...if moms regurgitated the milk instead of the baby getting it directly from the source.

Now, this milk isn't out there for everyone to drink just yet. But, it seems to have health benefits to both the pigeons and other animals. When baby pigeons were fed a replica substance, their growth was much less than when drinking the real thing. When the milk was fed to chickens, their growth rate shot up by 38%. So clearly, there are nutritional components to this milk that can't be replicated by an artificial concoction.

If it came out that pigeon milk had serious health benefits to humans...would you ever drink it?

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