The Passenger Pigeon succumbed to hunting and the wanton destruction of its natural environment by the white settlers of North America. It was not the first and certainly won’t be the last extinction at our hands. How important are Pigeons and do we care??? Not very important if you listen to Ken Livingston, who christened London’s Feral Pigeons ‘Rats with Wings’. But surveys by the RSPB suggest that the average city dweller finds the companionship of wild birds important for their wellbeing.
Of course, the truth behind London’s Feral Pigeons is, as usual, exploitation by humans. They are descendents of Rock Doves (still treated as one and the same species by ornithologists) gathered from the cliffs of Northern England (where Rock Doves still live in natural colonies) and domesticated to provide food for the inns and fine houses of London back in the middle ages. The average populace lost the taste for Pigeon Pie a long time ago and the ‘dove cots’ where the birds were kept long since disappeared, leaving a Pigeon population that lives off our detritus – hence ‘Rats with Wings’.
Pigeons are not the sharpest beaks in the bird box… numbers die on the roads and rails every year as their greed makes them linger a bit too long over a feeding opportunity. You won’t find Crows caught the same way – though they’ll happily pile in for fresh squashed Pigeon.
But a few individuals seem to be smarter than the rest. I was somewhat surprised to find a Pigeon on the platforms of Moorgate Station. Not the sub-surface platforms of the Metropolitan Railway but the deeper tube lines of the old Northern Line route from Finsbury Park! This is a land of artificial light and mice. There is no expectation that you would see birds down there. But most London travellers will tell you about the Pigeons that hop on the train at one station and hop off at the next – it’s much more efficient than flying and the ticket inspectors don’t trouble you! I assume that this enterprising Pigeon, having disposed of the bits from someone’s regurgitation, will head back to Finsbury Park, stopping off at Old Street and Essex Road on the way. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a Gooner and will be at the Emirates Stadium every time there’s a home game… A true Passenger Pigeon 😉