'Flying rats'? Bite your tongue. All hail the pigeon.
By ANDREW D. BLECHMAN
Published: December 17, 2006
In London, the mayor has declared war on the pigeons of Trafalgar Square. The feeding of pigeons at the popular tourist attraction is now illegal, and birds of prey stalk those that remain. In Chicago, your average Joe can't keep racing pigeons anymore. It's against the law. And here in New York City, our feathered friends are being evicted from the roof of the military's Times Square recruiting station.
What's going on? Have pigeons morphed into a clear and present danger? No. They haven't changed one iota in the last 10,000 years, since we first domesticated them. What's changed is our perception of them.
Pigeons were once worshiped as fertility goddesses. Noah's dove? It was a pigeon, aka the rock dove. It was a pigeon that brought news of the first Olympics in 776 B.C. and a pigeon that brought word of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Darwin based his theory of evolution on pigeons, and Julius Reuters founded his news empire on the wings of pigeons.
Although just 1 pound of flesh and feathers, pigeons can fly 600 mile races at speeds averaging 60 mph. And they can find their way home from places they have never been before. Even the queen of England races pigeons.
Pigeons have served in the military of every major superpower. Julius Caesar used them. So did Genghis Khan. A pigeon brought first word back to England of the D-Day landings. One million pigeons served in the two world wars and saved thousands of our boys' lives. And now the military is trying to shoo them away like pesky gnats.
So, why has the tide turned? After thousands of years of peaceful coexistence, brutal propaganda from the pest control industry is catching up. Don't believe it: Pigeons carry no more diseases than we do - and are even highly resistant to the avian flu and West Nile virus. If they seem dirty, it's because our cities are dirty. Pigeons subsist off the food we drop.
So if we really are being overrun by the birds - and that's debatable - what's to be done?
Poisons and barbs are not only inhumane; they don't work in the long run. What New York needs is a strong but simple control method. Build attractive dovecotes (pigeon homes) around the city. Ask people to feed the pigeons there and only there. The pigeons will then lay their eggs there and we can cull them at the end of every week. That's how many of Europe's cities have seen their pigeon populations cut in half within a year or two.
Hey, Bloomy - why not put a dovecote in the park across from City Hall? The birds would love it. So would schoolkids and tourists. C'mon, New York. Quit picking on the underdog, and do what we do best: Lead the way.
Blechman is the author of "Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird."