The Pigeon: Friend or Foe?

By Rebecca Kerzner

Anybody who knows me, and I mean really knows me, knows I have an irrational love for pigeons. I know this penchant may appear odd to some, but nonetheless these bedraggled street birds hold a little soft spot in my heart. I’ve been tagged in countless memes (because who can forget pigeon shoes) and I am constantly ridiculed for my strange adoration. When I try to think about the origin for my passion, I remember my high school liking for bird-patterned shirts and my attraction towards the colors lavender and aqua –  you know, the colors of pigeon feathers, obbbbviously. I look at them and I just feel like I relate to them, and I guess I can’t fully explain why.

To me, pigeons are totally underrated. They are cute, have sparkly feathers (what can be better?), are impeccably sassy with all that neck-touting, and are so diverse in color and size. I don’t find them particularly obtrusive, nor do I find them disgusting. They merrily occupy our New York City streets and always step aside or fly away if a human comes close.

However, my fascination comes to a halt when I speak to those who hate pigeons. Pigeon haters are passionately, vehemently against them. Upon asking Stefani Schechter, a (misguided) bird hater, about the basis for her anger, she explained that pigeons are everywhere and they just do whatever they want and they don’t even care if you’re in their way. After further prompting her to understand what she hates most, she eagerly elaborated that  “it’s the fact that they can attack you at any second. Like suddenly they just flap their wings and BAM into your face! Also they poop on people! ”

My rebuttal to Stefani is that dogs poop too, and that’s also all over the city streets and dog poop is far more frustrating to get off the foot than pigeon poop. However, I’m not just completely stuck in my naivete. I still can understand how some people might find pigeons unappealing. Though these birds are, blessedly beautiful, they occupy our spaces and not everybody is comfortable sharing that space. Still, what truly strikes my curiosity on the matter is the question of why people hate these animals so intensely. I don’t find that Blue Jays, Cardinals, or little peasant birds share the same burden of hatred. No, it’s the pigeons that are targeted as NYC’s number one pest.

I did some research on this topic and found some interesting insights. Throughout history, beginning in the late nineteenth century, early mentions of pigeons were actually sympathetic to them, because they were shot frequently. But later, through the 1930s and 40s, pigeons were discovered to carry diseases and many officials hoped to exterminate them. In June 1966, the pigeon was given a name. A New York City parks commissioner first coined the term “rats with wings.” From that point on, pigeons were criminalized and after 1990, almost every article that ever referenced pigeons regarded them as vile and unnecessary creatures. An unfortunate fact that shows how uncared for pigeons are is that they are one of the three species not protected by law and there are groups dedicated to wholly removing pigeons from the city.

But what is the biggest reason pigeons are criminalized in this way? I believe it stems from the way humans view the line between the natural world and the city world. Animals are meant to be in jungles or in trees while humans are allowed to roam in cities. Pigeons specifically spill over this boundary and inhabit the city streets, while other birds diligently stay in their place, in pocket parks around the city. To humans, this behavior is presumptuous and so they constantly shoo these poor birds away. Humans own the city streets and the pigeons are the invaders.

Through my research though, I also discovered how pigeons have proven to be super valuable, displaying some highly intelligent qualities throughout time. Darwin started the first chapter of his book On the Origin of Species by discussing pigeons, and derived his theory of natural selection from the first pigeon discovered, the rock pigeon. Pigeons paved the way for other breeds, like a special mother bird. Way later on in WWI and WWII, pigeons were used to deliver messages. One pigeon saved over two hundred soldiers by sending a message despite being injured with a missing leg! Pigeons can travel very far distances, but always know the way home. This impressive skill can serve humans and literally save people’s lives, as we have seen by this account.

Still, it can be difficult to dissuade pigeon haters of their false notions. I think some pigeon haters like to dislike these birds because it seems like the norm and serves their human elitism, and don’t necessarily have an explanation for their deep-passions. Then again, I can’t explain why I like pigeons so much, but I think it’s because they are the underdogs. Nobody roots for the pigeon and I don’t think it’s fair, because pigeons have a lot to offer. I sympathize for pigeons and through my discussions with others, these seemingly innocent birds have proven to be quite polarizing creatures. Pigeon lovers out there, I feel you, these birds are THE FUTURE and are awesome. But for my pigeon haters out there, I invite you to consider this article and wonder about your prejudices, and hopefully feel a moment of gratitude for our neighbors, these pigeons.


Cool Pigeon Breeds!

I’d like to highlight the vast diversity and beauty of pigeon breeds that exist within the pigeon world.


Nicobar pigeon

In the Nicobar Islands, The Nicobar pigeons bear luminous feathers that are just breathtaking to look at.


The Fruit Dove
Primarily in Southeast Asia, there are 50 species discovered of the fruit dove.

The Bleeding Heart Dove

In the Philippines, the bleeding heart dove has a red mark on it’s chest that looks remarkably like a wound, even though it’s not.


Rainbow Pigeon

Then, there’s the rainbow pigeon that runs away if you get too close.


Pastel Pigeon

But by far my favorite by far is this pastel pigeon, which bear a pink and green neck and robust orange belly. Just beautiful, isn’t it?


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