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The Book on Pigeons

Pictures of Grand Street pigeons by Pat Arnow

by Pat Arnow

I hate pigeons. Except for one. It was a homing pigeon who got lost and landed on my balcony. I fell in love with her but ended up returning the sweet, friendly, personable bird to her Maspeth owner.

Forget the rest of her feral brethren. Even the doves (a relative of the pigeon, which is technically called a rock dove) who built a nest on my balcony didn't move me. Once the pair built a nest and had a couple of eggs to tend, I didn't kick them out (I do have a little bit of a heart). And it was fascinating to watch the egg-sitting, hatching, feeding, cooing, cooperating, teaching the babies how to fly, and sending the nearly grown birds off on their own. But before mom and dad could get settled into empty nest syndrome or lay some new eggs, I did chase them away. The big dull birds that looked and sounded a whole lot like pigeons just aggravated me.

Out on the street, I want to scream at the little old people who throw seed and bread for the pigeons to stop feeding the little poop factories.

Into such a swirl of inchoate love, interest, and irritation, a friend dropped a copy of a new book, Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew Blechman. It did nothing to solve my ambivalence. But this wonderful book did show me that there are plenty of people far nuttier than I in their emotional response to pigeons. There are fanatics all over New York who raise and race homing pigeons. In fact, pigeon racing is an international sport with enthusiasts as diverse as Mike Tyson and the Queen of England.

Then there are the nuts who feed the pigeons every day and their opposites, the fanatical pigeon haters. The author also interviews pigeon control experts to see what can be done about what most people agree is a problem of proliferation. Most experts resort to poisoning, which does little to curb the population. Pigeons just reproduce more to fill the vacuum. Some places use falcons, but putting netting over roosting spots is the best current solution for keeping the birds away from an area. Spikes don't get much respect, and both the experts and the pigeons scorn fake owls.

The book covers people who raise the birds for eating and others who capture them for target practice (both tempting choices at times). But the author provides reasons to admire the lowly and prolific rock dove. All they want to do is eat and loaf and raise their babies (up to six pair a year, when food is plentiful).

Because the writing is so engaging and the information about our little filthy neighbors is presented in such an interesting manner, Pigeons makes an excellent read.

Grove Press: $24


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