Confluence Culture

The Plight of the Pigeon

Posted in environment, photo by oliverhulland on September 24, 2009

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Pigeons are not the most loved creatures. They are, more often than not, hated. But exactly why these birds are so spited is confusing.

The argument goes that pigeons are the bane of the cityscape, leaving their characteristic splotchy white and black marks on sidewalks, stoops, and statues, while their nests fill up every available nook, cranny, and ledge a city has to offer. These birds, however, do not deserve society’s scorn. They play a valuable role in the urban ecology of the few natural spaces left in cities (just look at what happened in Egypt after they killed their pigs). And they serve as constant reminders to urban dwellers that human’s aren’t the only ones to rule the metaphorical roost.

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Recently, I have taken to photographing the pigeons that inhabit the open square by my apartment. While I am no Cartier-Bresson, the experience of photographing such a quotidian subject has helped me rediscover the beauty inherent in something so often thought to be ugly . These pigeons, described by many as rats-with-wings, are bejeweled with silvery magenta and cyan patches along their throats. Beyond the occasional glint or flash of color, it is their personality (not to be overly anthropomorphic) and various behavioral quirks that make them such a fascinating subject. Far from being dumb animals, they display a keen awareness of their environment, constantly sizing up possible threats and discerning between friend and foe. They learn, it might be argued all too quickly, to spot the signals of a potential meal. They recognize and crowd around certain neighbors because of past feedings, while staying well away from those who are persistently disruptive to their foraging. A bizarre, but perhaps not surprising, study in japan found that pigeons, after being trained, are capable of discerning “good” art from “bad” art. While this may ruffle the feathers of artists and art lovers alike,  the study merely sought to prove that Pigeons were capable of developing complex pattern recognition in the form of discerning good composition from bad (and it should be recognized that the art subjects were 9-t0-11 year old Japanese students).

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Humans have unequivocally altered the natural world, and the pigeon is the archetype of a select group of species who have been able to thrive in the wake of that devastation. We have provided, whether we like it or not, an ecological niche that the pigeon has exploited to perfection. They have become synonymous with city life and have dominated metropolises the world over. I, for one, can not imagine a New York City without pigeons. While they have garnered a bad reputation, it is time the pigeon is recognized as being more than a rodent and a disease vector, but instead as just another city dweller like the rest of us.

Links:

Super Dove: How The Pigeon Took Manhattan…and the rest of the World

Author of Super Dove, Courtney Humphries Blog

A project where cameras are attached to pigeons

Pigeon’s Learn to Grade Art

The Actual Study About Discerning Pigeons

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