Saturday, 14 January 2012

London's flying rats - how pigeons rule the roost

The last straw was the cyclamen plant.  When I drew up my blinds the other morning and looked out over my tiny window-sill garden there was a conspicuous gap where a pretty pink cyclamen in a terracotta pot had stood.  There were large shards of said terracotta pot on the terrace of my downstairs neighbours.  A tragic cyclamen stalk was tossed to one side.  And what was to blame?  Not a frantic gust of wind or a wobbly sill.  A bloody pigeon.  I have watched a couple of them huddle on my window-box and plant pots in the past, craning their horrid little heads up to the bird-feeder attached to my window which is intended to feed pretty little blue tits and the like; their dim brains wondering if they could somehow get themselves up onto it to feed their fat little bodies.  They really can't - the feeder is designed for birds a fifth of their size.  But they are dim and greedy and so they try.  And now they have lost me a pot-ful of cyclamen and I am annoyed.  (And I owe the downstairs neighbours a grovelly apology for the mess it's made of their terrace!)
Pigeons are everywhere in London, an urban life form which is ubiquitous yet undesirable.  They are to London's rooftops and skies what rats and mice are to the sewers and Underground system.  Their greyness blends in with much of the concrete and slate of the city, camouflaging them within their urban habitat.  Pigeons conquer the highest points of the city, up to which human inhabitants can merely gaze. They deface statues and great architecture with their grey, sticky guano.  They paddle in fountains and lakes, even in the oily water that fills the larger potholes in London's roads.  They stalk the streets and window-ledges on scaly, spiky feet, or stumps; pigeons seem to have a rather unsavoury habit of losing their feet or just a random toe, yet hobbling on without appearing to be too inconvenienced by it.  Shudder.

Most Londoners feel nothing but distaste towards this winged germ-disseminator.  There are of course the odd few who feel a fondness for pigeons.  One can often spot them in a park or square, plastic supermarket carrier-bag tucked over the crook of their elbow, distributing the best part of a loaf of bread in shredded pieces on the floor before them; that floor a carpet of grey feathers and scaly beaks.  I have an Accidental friend (now a Londoner herself) for whom pigeons are like kryptonite.  She flinches and heaves at the very sight of one.  One in flight nearby will provoke the sort of response I imagine one might see if a bomb siren went off or one was told to adopt the brace position on an airplane in free-fall.  She once went to Florence and reported the trip was, if not ruined, overshadowed by the presence of a multitude of pigeons.  (I should add that she comes from a remarkable family of ornithophobics - she has a sister who claims to feel physically sick at the sight of emus!)

To keep the numbers of these birds down several pigeon hotspots in the city are now patrolled by hawks; a natural form of vermin control.  Yet a loyal band of pigeon-fanciers still petitions to preserve this feathery fiend, even arranging feeding sessions so pigeons are not starved out of the city.  It has also been claimed that the myth of pigeons spreading disease is over-hyped, and that pigeons are delightfully resourceful creatures and are able to navigate their way around the city by recognising landmarks.  They must be pretty clever, as one of London's pigeons even blogs! Alas, the ones sitting (and crapping) on my window-sill are doing nothing to endear themselves to me. Destructive, greedy, clumsy...I'm off to get myself a hawk!  


  1. I am not too fond of pigeons. London it trying to get rid of them the "natural" way: I have seen men sending falcons (or eagles -I wouldn't know the difference anyway!) to prevent them from nesting. Not sure it works...

  2. Aw. Poor little one-toed pigeons! I feel a fondness for them because they are so dim. On a different note, I saw three parakeets flying by in Richmond Park today! I had heard the myth, but never actually seen them: I gawped. They are vermin too, according to the Telegraph!

  3. Well I suppose birds of prey are better than poison for weeding out pigeons, MuMuGB, but yes, one wonders how efficient they are.

    Ooh the parakeets; I think they're rather sweet, Emma. Certainly far prettier than ugly old urban pigeons! A nice surprise when one looks up into the trees.

  4. Ugggh, gag me! Your Accidental friend may be my twin, I nearly couldn't keep my lunch down reading that! Maybe you can get those spikes to ward them off? ick ick ick ick

  5. Oh dear, sorry about that Ariel! Will issue a cautionary warning next time I right about pigeons.


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