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Pigeons

In world literature, there are many beautiful and inspiring poems about birds that live in and around Hamilton – eagles, robins, seagulls, blackbirds, swans, hummingbirds, etc.

Few poets, however, praise the pigeon.

Why is that? Is it because of their lifestyle? Unlike those trendy and popular birds, which can be found soaring majestically in the sunset or sliding across a mirror-like lake or flittering from flower to flower, pigeons generally have less inspiring pastimes, like pecking at frozen french fries on the sidewalk and wandering around like idiots in a parking lot. Plus, most pigeons are slobs, leaving their feathers and their poops and their hideously designed nests all over the place.

Is that why it seems acceptable these days, even among so-called progressives, to be openly prejudiced against the entire pigeon community? There is no denying that certain people spend millions of dollars each year on netting and sign-spikes and falcon-breeding programs, all with the goal of persecuting this defenseless bird. Pigeons are often kicked at in the streets, having to quickly flap aside to avoid the boots of oppression. They are verbally mocked as “feathered rats” and “vermin” and “bird-brains.” They live in slum-like conditions, with little hope for a better life. And, to add insult to injury, we cruelly refer to people with mobility issues as being “pigeon-toed.”

There are a few men and women of conscience, however, who are brave enough to speak out in protest. Bert – from the long-running reality show Sesame Street – is a well-known pigeon’s rights advocate. His one-man Broadway show, First They Came For The Pigeons, raised awareness of systemic anti-pigeon bias and is considered a classic of protest theatre. (The anti-pigeon views of Bert’s partner, Ernie, eventually led the two men to a bitter divorce.)

Mike Tyson, the noted athlete and philanthropist, is also a strong pro-pigeon activist. He maintains a pigeon shelter in New York City and has released a series of videos, Backyard Pigeon Stories. (Google that if you want your privilege challenged.)

If people only knew more about pigeons, many of the hurtful stereotypes would, I believe, quickly disappear.

For example, too few people know that the original name of the pigeon was “wild rock dove.” The dove is the symbol of peace, so when I think of a “wild rock dove,” I imagine an individual who is peaceful and likes to get wild while listening to guitar-based music like The Eagles, The Jayhawks and The Byrds. If pigeons were still known as wild rock doves, I bet there would be a lot more poems (and rock songs) about them.

And did you know that pigeons were humankind’s first domesticated bird? About 10,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians started keeping pigeons for food. If history had turned out a little differently, there might today be KFP outlets all over – but the domestication of the chicken (in China, about 7,000 years ago) ruined any chance of that.

Pigeons have been used for centuries for carrying vital messages. A nobleman in Renaissance Italy, for example, would tie to the leg of a pigeon a secret note – e.g. Hey, Lorenzo, what do you think of my new pigeon? – and release the bird in the dark of night from the top tower of his castle. The pigeon would fly hundreds of leagues north, through treacherous weather, avoiding hawks and archers, arriving unerringly at the Florence castle of Lorenzo the Great, who would read the message over dinner and then tie a note to a different bird for return delivery – Your pigeon tasted awesome, Niccolo. What do you think of this one?

In those olden days, pigeons were kind of like today’s Twitter, but with fewer insane trolls and gentler cooing.

There is much to admire in the pigeon. They are true lovebirds. Courtship begins with a male puffing out his throat (like guys who stick out their chest to look more built), as he marches confidently towards the female. He makes low groaning noises and occasionally stops to bow his head in her direction and peck his beak into the dirt. The female finds this very romantic. Not wanting to rush things, however, she delays the moment they both fantasize about by coyly flying or walking away. The male follows. When she stops, he performs a few wing-flapping pirouettes in the air, then bows down and vomits at her feet. They dine on his regurgitated offering together, which is a pigeon version of a wedding – they are monogamous and inseparable from that time on, until death do them part.

As devoted as they are to each other, pigeons are even more devoted parents – often working their feathers to the bone to provide for their children, who still act like ungrateful and entitled brats.

Unlike many of the popular and trendy birds, pigeons do not spread bird flu. However, many pigeons do suffer from low self-esteem. I blame society.

Pigeons perform a valuable garbage-disposal function in downtown areas, but also are helpful to humanity by eating insect pests, such as roaches and centipedes. If not for the heroic efforts of the pigeons, there would be swarms of many-legged vermin in Hamilton, crawling maliciously towards our homes right now – should not that at least earn our gratitude?

Reader, if this ode to the pigeon has touched your heart and dispelled outdated stereotypes, I ask you to turn your feelings into action.

Yes, go outside right now and find the nearest pigeon. Apologize, then – to let the healing and the reconciliation begin – I want you to reach out and hug that pigeon, hold it close to your heart.

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