I’m Sorry, Pigeons …

For as long as I’ve known her, my wife has had a profound hatred of pigeons.1  She claims this has something to do with having grown up on a farm.  However, I suspect her feelings are part of a larger cultural bias.  While I don’t have anything against pigeons per se, I try to make a practice of taking Mary’s side whenever I can.  It is for that reason that I turned a blind eye after a trip we took to New York last year.  The trip was publishing related, and while I was talking with editors and such, Mary was free to  wander the city.  One afternoon, we met up and she was so excited to tell me what she had done at Central Park, something she had dreamed of doing for years:  She kicked a pigeon.

You know how pigeons are always playing chicken (as it were) with pedestrians?  Remaining in place until just the last second before flying away?  This mocking behavior had led to something of an obsession in my wife — she had long grumbled that one day she’d show those pigeons who was boss.  At last that day had come.  She kept revisiting the scene that night, explaining how she snuck up on it, closed her eyes, and gave it a good wallop — “Pow! Right in the tail-feathers!”2 I even drew a picture of her triumph in my journal:

End of story.  Or so I thought.  During my recent illustration bonanza, however, I found myself free to listen to a lot of podcasts.3  Among those podcasts was the show Radiolab.  For those that don’t know, Radiolab is a show that blends pop-sociology and science — if This American Life interviewed scientists and had sound effects, it would be this show.  One of the episodes I listened to was called “Lost & Found“.  It was all about navigation, and it featured a profile on carrier pigeons.  Over the course of the show, I learned the following facts about these so-called “soccer-balls with wings” (another of Mary’s nicknames):

– Carrier pigeons are monogamous. In fact, if you make a carrier pigeon think his mate is being hit upon by a rival, he will fly home even faster.

– While many birds have a sort of internal compass, carrier pigeons have an internal GPS.  This means you can knock one unconscious, ship it halfway around the world, and when it wakes up it will instantly know its coordinates.

– There was a carrier pigeon in WWII named “G.I. Joe” who single-wingedly saved an entire Italian village.

Pigeons, you have my heartfelt apologies.


  1. Actually, there is one pigeon that Mary approves of. It is her yellow Flying Pigeon Bicycle, imported from China. It is magnificent … and it weighs 500 lbs.
  2. After reading this post, Mary has asked me to clarify that she “barely grazed” the bird, and that the creature sustained no injuries. Having been kicked by Mary before, I sincerely doubt it.
  3. This was also my chance to work through many episodes of Katie Davis’ publishing podcast Brain Burps About Books … truly wonderful stuff.

9 Comments Leave a Comment

  • josh barkey says:

    Ha ha ha. It is to laugh.

  • Leuinda says:

    How, exactly, do you make a carrier pigeon *think* his mate is being hit on? “Hey, Steve,” says one pigeon to the other, “I saw Brenda talking with Cameron the other day. When did those two get so close?”

    Leu

  • Leuinda,
    I think it’s a matter of letting him see another male near his mate before he’s carted away. Also, you know, she changes her relationship status on Facebook.

  • Fern says:

    Now that you know all this information about Pigeons and their mad skills, don’t you fear that they also remember those who inflict pain on them and will seek out revenge? I know I would…

  • alex says:

    all i could think of while reading your post was bert’s “doing the pigeon” song & dance from sesame street. if you don’t know it (or even if you do), it’s worth a watch:

  • Matt Bird says:

    Betsy loves Radiolab, but it makes my ears bleed. I love the subject matter, but I can’t stand the incessant sound effects and the forced banter. It’s like they can’t bear the thought that there might even one person out there who doesn’t care about science, so they feel they have to force-feed it down everyone’s throats in a morning-zoo-crew candy coating.

    My mom calls pigeons “rats with wings” but I’ve always liked them just fine. Betsy, meanwhile, is just offended by their laziness. What sort of creatures prefers to walk when they could fly?

  • Matt,
    I think I probably fall somewhere between the two of you on the Radiolab issue. I’m with you about hating the sfx (though I’ve found that listening with speakers instead of headphones helps). The banter, though, I like. One of the things I prize most in a thinker is the ability to frame new ideas — I think the host’s banter, however forced, does that extremely well.

  • Do you remember the pigeon characters from Animaniacs – The Godfeathers? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Az3iAuKC1qY I loved these pigeons. The others — not so much. They are impossible to get rid of!

  • Melissa: It’s funny you say that — I was planning on adding a video clip from Goodfeathers! Also, welcome to The Scop! I’ve been reading Imagination Soup for a while now, so it’s a treat to see you here!





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