In the countryside where I live, people generally have a fleeting but positive view of birds. We live our lives and they live theirs, or they would if the birdwatchers would ever leave them alone. We live in our houses and they live in the trees and shrubs, so at least even the non-birdwatchers know where to look when they want to see one. Birds, anyway, know their place in nature, which is more than I can say for many people.
It doesn’t take a perch on the Empire State Building to notice that city people have a much different view of birds. And of nature. This is because they have almost no view of trees and shrubs. All they have a view of really is pigeons, which live everywhere from high building ledges to underfoot, and on all the statues in between. To city people, nature consists only of pigeons.
This is not a view that has worked out well for either pigeons or humans. Or nature, for that matter. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say, but in the city it also breeds more pigeons. So many there aren’t enough statues to go around, which results in flocks upon flocks of pigeons just milling about not knowing what to do. This is never a good thing in any species, but it’s especially bad for one whose only role model gets its sex education from TV shows like ‘Sex in the City.’
Without any instruction whatsoever in the finer details of mating, pigeons have taken reproduction to levels that astound even the mathematicians, never mind the biologists. For one thing, unlike mathematicians and biologists, they breed continuously, apparently making no allowances either for parades or headaches. Somehow they manage to keep six nests going a year, which results in twelve new pigeons, each of which are ready to mate in only six months. While biologists blame some sort of new math, and mathematicians blame a new biology, city people blame a new nature that allows two pigeons to grow to one thousand in under two years, and pigeon family gatherings that no amount of statues could ever accommodate.
For these reasons, city people have taken to calling pigeons rats with wings. In fact, they aren’t even really pigeons, which shows you how much city people know about nature. They are rock doves, members of the Columbidae family and a relative of pigeons, but they have been rock doves all along and couldn’t be pigeons any more than city people could be country people. If you don’t believe me, try relocating a city person to the country yourself someday to see human nature at its most insecticidal. For the sake of any city people reading this however, I will continue to call them pigeons. It would do no one any good having them believe country people are against them too. Unfortunately, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell them that history is not on their side either.
Personally, I think it’s sad to see how far city people have fallen. Once upon a time, when they were ancient Greeks, they saw pigeons as a vital part of human culture. And diets. But the Greeks knew a multi-talented bird when they saw one, so beyond breeding them for their talents as a food source, they also used them to carry messages, possibly about the world’s first food delivery service. In addition they bred them for their beauty and for racing events, and they regaled them in art, literature, and religion. For the average pigeon, these were heady times indeed.
Most pigeons, however, were above average, which is a pretty neat trick if you think about it. And as time went along, people even began to realize that pigeons were among the very smartest of birds. So smart in fact that researchers today say they understand time, and if that doesn’t impress you then you don’t understand time. I think you know what that means.
Researchers have also shown that pigeons can identify all the letters of the alphabet, and up to 58 written words, enough, in other words, to get them through kindergarten. They are also one of the very few animals besides us that can pass the mirror test and identify who they are, enough, in other words, to get them through Philosophy 101. Still other tests have shown that they can tell the difference between impressionism and cubism in art, enough, in other words, to fool most city people at the museums and galleries. In other words, most country people couldn’t tell the difference between pigeon brains and city people brains.
Back before each species was domesticated, pigeons in their natural state lived high among the cliffs of the Middle East and Southern Europe, and city people in their natural state lived in the country. Eventually some people overcame their love of nature and built big cities, and the pigeons came with them. The pigeons even got so comfortable believing they were once again living among the high cliffs that they began to test people’s patience. Meanwhile city people, who are not comfortable anywhere, began to test pigeon’s comfort levels by trapping and selling them to organizers of live pigeon shooting events.
To my thinking, all the testing shows is that both species need remedial nature education. Or predators. I don’t think they would be acting this way if they knew that nature gives the final exam.