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How Did Pigeons Conquer the Concrete Jungles?

by Madonna Watts D'Souza
How Did Pigeons Conquer the Concrete Jungles?

April 18, 2021

While most animals have failed to adapt to the urban jungles, pigeons have been some of the most successful creatures in doing so. But how did a fiercely wild bird get accustomed to the complicated urban lifestyle?

People either get excited or get frustrated when they see a particular bird resting on their window sill- the omnipresent pigeon, aka the ‘rock dove’. While you may love them for their innocent eyes and brainless antics, you can also hate them for laying eggs everywhere and due to their incessant hoots.

And let’s not forget the omnipresent pigeon poop on everything possible. It’s as if these birds suffer from so much diarrhoea that whenever you see their blessings showered upon your car, you can only say, “well SHIT, here goes my car wrap”.

But apart from being incredibly annoying or a cute group of friends who can be fed anything edible, many don’t realise why other birds and animals could never be as successful adaptors as the pigeons in the urban jungle we live in.

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How Did Pigeons Win the Competition of Survival & Adaption?

Firstly, don’t blame those birds for ruining your windshields and the occasional jacket, since we brought them here (in urban areas). Historically, pigeons have been a critical part of our lives. The biggest reason why pigeons have been so successful is that we supported and nurtured these birds. Infamously referred to as  “rats with wings,” these birds initially entered the human settlements some 5,000 years ago.

The then citizens of Mesopotamia began making houses or coops for these birds. Once these wild birds became tamer and docile, humans did the best thing they could with these birds- they ate them up! But it’s understandable since the areas surrounding the people back then had a lack of wild animals in their region.

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In about 5th Century BC, they have been extensively used. From delivering messages to troops and spies throughout the World Wars to hospitals delivering vials of fluids and blood.

Cracking the Bird Code

But finally, after many years, humans learnt that these birds could be an excellent transporter of messages. And voila! The birds were used as messengers over long distances due to their homing instinct. Some of the most notable events in modern history that employed pigeons as messengers are the two World Wars (I and II) and even the Cold War era’s initial years. These pigeons were named military messengers and flew to every possible location to deliver messages.

So, as it turns out, these birds are pretty misunderstood creatures since they’re one of the most intelligent birds out there. Despite being so helpful to humans for many years, pigeons have received hate over the past century or so because they could carry diseases harmful to humans (a pretty legitimate reason for the hatred, perhaps?).

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Captain Caiger of the British Army Pigeon Service, holding a carrier pigeon on July 23, 1945.

Pigeons Love Buildings- Reminders of their Home

Remember we initially mentioned that they’re called ‘rock doves’ too? This is because the original habitat of pigeons were tough rocks and big cliffs. The ‘rock doves’ originated from the Indian subcontinent, South Europe and North Africa.

Owing to the topography, early pigeons thrived on cold, formidable cliffs and rocks (this explains why these birds love pooping on our buildings now). Regardless of the poopy jokes, pigeons have found that the urban settlements behave exactly like their original wild habitats, making it much easier for them to live here.

Pigeon's Urban Lifestyle

Speaking of settling in urban spaces, pigeons reproduce aggressively, and I mean it! Pigeons have a weird power- they can mate for life. No wonder we can see so many eggs laid everywhere, that is literally because these birds never stop having sex! However, this mating behaviour has been one reason why they successfully adapted to urban settlements.

Pigeons are serious about their monogamy. Once mated, the couple pigeons remain together for life (people, please take notes). Once their eggs hatch, the young hatched birds are called squabs. ‘Both’ male and female pigeons take turns and nurse their young ones with a ‘milk’ synthesised in their digestive system known as ‘crop milk’ (men, take more notes).

Rolling Into the Adult Life

This monogamous relationship is succeeded by the fact that the pigeon eggs hatch within 18 days. Then, four weeks after the birds are nourished by their parents, they become fat like tennis balls (but don’t use them as a replacement for your ball if it goes into that nasty neighbour’s backyard).

After the mandatory nursing period, it seems to the parent pigeons that they have had enough of their fat children, and then they push the squab to work out. No, I mean literally. The parent pigeons kick their squabs out of the nest to make them independent. Then the squab loses its bulkiness by going around and fending for food.

However, some squabs die because of this. Nevertheless, once the squabs become adults, the parents are back to work again (the reproduction process).

Love for Food

Pigeons are voracious eaters too. They feast on bread, cheese, grains, seeds, fruits, pizza crumbs, pasta, rice and even french fries if they find them anywhere. Unlike their wild counterparts, it isn’t a nutritious diet, but urban fast food is addictive even for birds. Even pigeons love McDonald’s french fries, and they will harass you for it when you’re coming out of the restaurant with fires and coke in hands.

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However, Pigeons Are Problematic

While pigeons don’t carry their diseases on their feathers, there is still a good reason why people hate them. Pigeons contain 60 pathogens that can be lethal to humans. The leading cause is their omnipresent poop (why do they poop so much, give us a break).

One should never touch or pick pigeon droppings with their bare hands, but since they love pooping so much, it is bound to land on your head at some point. Pigeon poop, once dried, is infected by harmful fungi and bacteria as it becomes a powder.

If this powder is inhaled irrespective of the situation, you will fall ill and can even die! Sniffing any white powder isn’t suitable for the human body, except if you choose to snort one, it will take you to a totally new dimension and then to the hospital (or a rehab). In contrast, the pigeon diarrhoea powder is mostly a faster route to the doctors’ office.

While pigeons can cause accidents, destroy property, and kill humans with diseases like histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, and psittacosis, humans have learned to co-exist with these creatures over thousands of years almost peacefully.

Still, if you see a pigeon coming your way, it’s best to chase it away.

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3 comments

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S Ferojuddin January 23, 2021 - 10:11 pm

Great research must be there back to all this information and explained it in simple way about pigeons. Very well and looking for many more.

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Rohan yasala January 28, 2021 - 11:12 pm

Very well written . Keep going on mate

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Sarthak sharma April 18, 2021 - 9:28 pm

A Well written informative Post ,Kudos to the writer

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