Feral Pigeons are the not too distant cousins of today’s Racing, Show and Performing Pigeons.
The common or feral pigeon is today’s direct ancestor of the noble Rock Dove. Science considers pigeons and doves to be of one family: Columbidae. The pigeon in particular, has been most beloved. It has been reported that only in the last century has Columba livia, the common pigeon, become the target of abuse, ridicule, and disregard.
Prior to our ‘enlightened’ age, pigeons were considered an asset to humankind. They enriched our bodies, our fields, our culture and religion, and our lives. Their service to us was exemplary in two world wars and in battles too numerous to be remembered, where their astonishing abilities saved countless human lives. In fact, some of you reading this may owe your very existence to a homing pigeon.
The white dove, actually a pigeon, has been an integral symbol in many religions. That symbol survives to this day as an icon of peace and hope. The beauty of the dove has inspired artists around the world over the eons. You will find the likeness of the pigeon in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman art. Shakespeare wrote fondly of the dove and Picasso featured them in paintings. He even named a daughter after them: Paloma, Spanish for pigeon.
In science, pigeons provided the confirmation for Darwin’s groundbreaking work, “Origin Of Species”, by providing models for natural selection and evolution. They were pivotal in the work of Harvard psychiatrist, B. F. Skinner. More recently, studies of pigeons led to breakthroughs in our modern dairy industry. And pigeons continue to provide surprising insights into studies involving learning, intelligence, navigation, flight dynamics and genetics.
In commerce, the speed and homing abilities of the pigeon were recognized early. The establishment of the famous and prestigious Reuters news agency was based, in part, on the unique abilities of the homing pigeon.
The fancy show pigeons and fast racing pigeons of modern times all trace their roots to Columba livia. They most certainly have had their desired traits skillfully guided by selective breeding. Pigeon fanciers have done an astonishing job of producing a multitude of pigeon breeds, beautiful, fast and bizarre. But apparent features aside, better than 99.9% of their DNA is identical to that of Columba livia, the much maligned and misunderstood, feral pigeon.
How tragic to sever the ties we created. For you see, pigeons prefer our company. Isn’t it obvious? Through ages of conditioning we have bred them to do so. Easily tamed and surprisingly smart, they instinctively sense the friendship that was there. The memory persists, at least on their part. Rats with wings? Through better than 99.9% of human history, people didn’t think so. How small have some of us become to disparage the noble pigeon? What more these little beings must do to win our lasting respect, I cannot imagine!
In the home stretch to the safety of the old barn, the wily old feral pigeon is well aware of her attacker at “two o’clock”. Flying solo, she cannot utilize the evasive actions of her flock. But without the element of surprise, success for the hawk is doubtful – this time. Survival has favored her again, as her family awaits her safe return. Someday the hawk may win. But not today!
The Water Tower
For as long as anyone could remember, the rusty old water tower had sheltered the flock of feral pigeons. Enveloped within the iron hulk, they had found shelter, security, and safe refuge for their helpless young. This was home. But change is inevitable, and with the morning light would come the rumble of machinery and the voices of men. By noon the tower would fall. No thought would be given to the feral pigeons, left homeless in the onset of a brutal winter.
Our Cities Shared 1
As companions in space and time, pigeons and man have traveled together. From the first Eurasion Rock Doves domesticated by human beings, to the medieval dovecotes of Western Europe, to the street-smart City Pigeons of today, the tradition continues in troubled times, like a promise made a long time ago, and kept – so far.
Our Cities Shared 2
If we’ve the slightest sense of stewardship for our world, we will find a way to coexist with our pigeon cousins. Their urban cliffs of concrete and glass offer minimal shelter against the elements. Lets not allow short-term prejudice and trendy thinking to add to their struggle. We’ve come too far together, not to understand one another by now. Pigeons Forever.
Links for more information:
- Alexander Frank Skutch and Dana Gardner, Life of the Pigeon (Cornell University Press, 1991)
“An objective but compassionate look at the diversity of pigeons gracing our planet today and yesterday. Beautifully illustrated by artist, Dana Gardner, Life of the Pigeon is as satisfying to view as it is to read.” (Rayb)
- Doris Scherwin, Diary Of A Pigeon Watcher (Marlowe & Company, 1994)
“A poignant account of observations made of feral pigeons and the parallel drawn between their struggles and those of humanity. Set in New York City, Diary Of A Pigeon Watcher traces the life of the author as a highly insightful child, growing up Jewish, in conservative New England. Excellent reading.” (Rayb)