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A Little Respect for the Pigeon, Please

As I picked up another tiny mutilated body, ravaged by ravens, it occurred to me that if the increase in the pigeon population was dependent upon the pair who set up house on my air conditioner they were all doomed to extinction.

My backyard is a haven for many wild creatures. Frequently I wake up to deer grazing or racoons foraging or skunks passing through. A family of rabbits reside in the slim line of trees in the back, and chipmunks and squirrels visit my deck daily. A sampling of the area’s bird species nests in the back trees, yet the pigeons fascinate me the most. They are entertaining and intelligent, and once I learned more about them my respect grew for the maligned bird. Despite the many odds against them, somehow they survive and thrive.

Pigeons are never more than a few days away from starvation. Only a minority of them breed and most die in the nest. Worldwide a total of 35% of the population die yearly. It’s not easy being humanity’s most urbanized bird.

Their contribution to humanity is almost as long as civilization itself. Genghis Kahn and Caesar employed the birds for messaging. One report has a pigeon covering 11,000 kilometers in 55days. Pigeons were used as messengers in both World Wars, as well as on Wall Street. They are used by scientists in cognitive and learning studies because of their intelligence. Yet despite their millennia of service to us they aren’t really recognized for it, and are often slandered and derided.

My backyard study of these creatures has revealed many observations. I was suspicious they could identify me because they often collected around me when I was outside by myself, but they didn’t gather when strangers were present. According to an experiment performed for the program “Nature of Things” they can identify individual people, and not just by their clothes, but by facial recognition. The pigeon can see for 42 kilometers, and a keen sense of smell aids in their navigation. They self regulate available food by equally dividing areas among themselves. Almost any food they manage to ingest is turned into a milk they secrete for their young, and Mom and Dad take turns in child rearing.

We can learn a lot from the pigeon -- they live day to day scratching to live but never seem bent out of shape over worry and anxiety. They still play out their part upon the stage of life without ever wanting more than they need. I admire their tenacious determination to survive which I observed clearly in one bird I named Tiny Tim. He had only one leg. While he could fly like the others he struggled to hop from food source to food source. Over time I coaxed him next to me to ensure he got a fair share of seed. Sadly he disappeared one April never to be seen by me again.

Despite the odds against them they never give up and live their lives with enthusiasm. Good weather or bad, minus 30 degrees Celsius or plus 30 degrees, they still strut and coo. As of this writing (beginning of March and minus 26) my pair have once again collected their sticks into a loose nest on top of the AC unit, determined to resurrect their dreams of parenthood.

If you’re ever looking for inspiration to keep going through tough times look no further than your neighbour the pigeon.

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