The pigeon, such a bad reputation

The pigeon, such a bad reputation

What is this animal?

It’s the name of the famous photograph by Robert Doisneau: a pigeon perched on the head of one of the children lined up at the school’s pissoir. In other words: even there! With all these pigeons, one cannot be quiet : neither in Saint Mark’s Square in Venice, nor in Cracow. And a fortiori not in Paris: 100 000 pigeons counted, that is to say one for twenty-two inhabitants!

Too much is too much: this is why the law forbids feeding pigeons, which are classified as stray animals, “wild or that have become wild, especially cats or pigeons”. This prohibition concerns the public and private roads. The fine amounts to a hefty 450 euros. That’s a lot of money for a crumbled baguette.

At the same time, some hospitals (the one in Granville or the one on the Ile d’Yeu) use pigeons to transport blood tests. And the US Navy uses their visual acuity to save shipwrecked men. So, what’s up?

The rock pigeon, the pigeon of us all

You will tell me, there is pigeon and pigeon. The one that almost seems to be part of the urban furniture is the rock pigeon (Columbia livia): with its dull gray plumage, certainly enhanced with green turning purplish at the throat, it harmonizes with the sky of bad days. And it blends so well with the city, that it could have been invented by Decaux.

If it flies away in clouds at the slightest alert, it is to better come back in group, at the foot of the grid of a tree, at ground level in the gutters, on the terrace of a bistro, on a public dustbin and on the public benches which it corrodes with its dejections. He just doesn’t take the subway! What does he do? He is looking for his food!

But do you know that his life in the city is difficult? Yes, because of the lack of thrushes, the poor bird eats blackbirds: because this granivore doesn’t see many of them passing by. This is even the reason why, by dint of feeding on bits of pizza and the remains of human meals, its life expectancy, elsewhere about fifteen years, is reduced in town to less than six years.

Its natural habitat is not the city, but the cliffs and rocks of the Picardy and Brittany coasts and the Massif Central. As for its fellow pigeons in town, they are the wood pigeon or palombe (Columba palumbu), a little bigger and distinguished by its white spot on the neck, and the pigeon (Columba oenas), the smallest of the three.

You will also say to me, there is not only Paris: eh yes, there is also the “bleu de Gascogne”, the “manotte d’Artois”, the “mulhousien” which is very round, the “roubaisien” which is dry like a cyclist, the “Montauban” which is all white, etc: one could almost make the tour of France of the pigeons! Not to mention the “huppés”, the “huppé picard” or the “huppé de Soultz”.

Legends and stories about the pigeon

By the way, why are we

a pigeon?

Speaking of pigeon, here is the explanation to the widespread expression “to be a pigeon”: until the 14th century, the pigeon or rather “pijon” designated the chick of any volatile species, in reference to its chirping (in Latin, “pipire”). As for the fact of being fooled, it comes from the contraction of “de-hupper”. Except that in Paris, crested pigeons and even hoopoes are not common. No matter, being a dupe has become being a pigeon.

The bewitched square of Krakow

Other more glorious legends have attached to the bird: in Krakow, the pigeons of the Market Square would be bewitched. In the 13th century, when a certain Henry IV Probus wanted to unite the country, a witch helped him to collect the necessary money, transforming the knights into pigeons, which came to peck at the top of the church, from which gold coins fell. Unfortunately, the king feasted on the loot.

Is it because such magic did not happen in Paris, that we do not like our pigeons? They were messengers, certainly during the dark period of the wars. But it was not their fault, if the world was in conflict.

An intelligent bird

The messenger pigeon is able to travel a hundred kilometers and arrive at its destination without making a mistake. It is trained to do this, with a few subterfuges: the return to its nest, or the forced widowhood, which makes it cross unheard of distances to find the damsel.

But, by itself, the pigeon is intelligent: you should know that, although it does not have a parietal brain, it has a neuronal density six times greater than that of a human being. As a result, the distance between its neurons is shorter and it is a hundred times more reactive. The proof is that when you try to catch one, who is the fastest?

Moreover, as scientific studies have shown, it masters such abstract notions as space and time. Put a black spot on its chest and place it in front of a mirror. The pigeon will look at itself and scratch the spot, proving that it recognizes itself in the mirror.

An ecological lesser evil

Luckily, the diseases that pigeons carry are not transmissible to humans: they do not even transmit the H5N1 flu, to which they are highly resistant. To date, there is no risk of contracting a nasty disease from pigeons. Besides, considering their number, there would already be some epidemics!

On the other hand, nature abhors a vacuum: what species would fill the “ecological niche” once the pigeons have been eradicated? Who knows? Or maybe it’s better not to know. In short, don’t feed the pigeons, but don’t be “pigeons” of the unique thought that considers them as a nuisance.