In defence of pigeons | The Conversation

Steve Portugal
Reader in Animal Biology and Physiology, Royal Holloway University of London

Pigeons are widely treated with contempt by the public. Fercast/Shutterstock

Pigeons simply don’t deserve the bad press they get.

If you ask people why they like their favourite animal, they will tell you about the incredible things the creature can do, its relatable characteristics or its interesting looks. Few would be likely to cite the pigeon as theirs. Many people think of them as vermin rather than wildlife.

People’s utter disdain for feral pigeons breaks my heart. Sit in a park at lunchtime, anywhere in the world, and you’re almost certain to witness people lashing out at pigeons.

I see people stamping their feet and kicking as the birds weave in and out of their legs to snaffle leftover crumbs. But few people stop to think why there are pigeons under the bench they’re sitting on. We brought them into our cities, yet so many despise them. It hasn’t always been this way; we have a rich and long relationship with the humble pigeon.

Feral pigeons are the descendants of wild rock doves. We domesticated them centuries ago, for food and their supreme navigation skills. They thrive in our cities because our tall buildings and window ledges mimic their natural home; caves and cliffs. Our waste provides ample food.

People are enthusiastic about homing pigeons but there isn’t much difference between homing pigeons and feral pigeons. It just depends on whether they live in someone’s loft as a captive pigeon or the local town square.

Who are you calling bird-brained?

The homing abilities of pigeons are legendary. We are still learning about how amazing these birds are. They can do basic maths, on a par with monkeys, and can distinguish real wordsfrom made up ones.

Homing pigeons can find their way using smell, landmarks, Earth’s magnetic field and infrasound (sound waves with a frequency too low for humans to hear). They can also follow each other and are able to learn routes from one another. Feral pigeons generally mate for life, and they are very attentive parents. The adults produce a crop milk, which they gently drip-feed to their chicks.

Our fascination with their homing abilities continues today, with tens of thousands of pigeon races around the world every year. […]

Continue reading: In defence of pigeons

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