Fifty Shades of Grey

September 12, 2017

If you don't like pigeons we need to have words. 

Not let’s take this outside words, but words. Please hear me out.

Pigeons are despised and antagonized for no apparent reason. Don’t believe me? Ask someone around you if they like pigeons. What do they say? Ninety percent of the time the answer is no. I'd be surprised if they say they like them. Next, ask this same person why they don’t like pigeons? They might say they’re dirty (as if humans are not) but otherwise they’ll probably shrug and say, I don't know, I just don’t like them. 

I dated someone once who actively despised pigeons. Seeing a group of them on the sidewalk would cause him to rant or at least comment, “stupid pigeons.” I should have known that that was a sign of our incompatibility; how someone feels about pigeons shows a lot about their values.

Please, hear me out.


If you decide you dislike something, you first ask yourself whether it is friend or foe, right? Ever heard of a “fair weathered friend?” Montreal has lots of those. 

Birds from all over come to frolic in our famous summers. Geese come back north (unless they are too well fed in the south); mallards, hooded mergansers, wood ducks, monarch butterflies and many others all pay extended visits. And that's great. I didn’t grow up in the city so I like to have the presence of wildlife on the daily, it seems to keep me a bit saner. But even early in the fall their decline is noticeable. By February, you are asking yourself if it’s possible that monarch butterflies ever came here at all, or, if it was some kind of mirage all along. Even the mallards are gone. So what is left? You guessed it. Our faithful, hardy friends: pigeons. 

All year round, they stay. Cooing their coos, loitering and teetering on the edges of sidewalk and road, usually in groups, hanging out on telephone wires or inside rooftops. Keeping eyes on all things, being there. If it wasn’t for pigeons our city in the winter would be like a post apocalyptic movie setting: quiet and barren-white with only the sounds of our engines and our hushed, frantic voices. When all other life has left for greener pasture, pigeons are still here, so we know everything is going to be ok. 


And they’re lovely birds, in their own way. Doves are only white pigeons, after all. The blue ones have those iridescent feathers that change colours from different angles. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (isn’t it?), but pigeons’ diversity is undeniable. 

Nikola Tesla is reported to have loved pigeons, feeding them daily and apparently even falling in love with one. Ok that’s taking it too far, but it just goes to show, doesn’t it. And they're brave;  pigeons were awarded the ‘Dickin medal’ - a bronze medallion to honour the work of animals in World War II -  32 times! They had delivered messages to the navy without being intercepted. I mean, come on! The next runners-up were 18 dogs. 

I won’t lie, my active respect for pigeons amped up after I saved one a few years back, launching my debut into pigeon lore.  I already appreciated them, but this one day I was walking along Saint Viateur, like most others only half paying attention. But a flapping does catch my eye and it registers that there is a bird in distress. It turns out to be a pigeon hanging by the foot on some kind of rope attaching it to the carcass of another pigeon. They're dangling over somebody's balcony. Not pretty. We get the pigeon down eventually and, on the brink of life and death, I sense it needs some comfort. I pet the pigeon and for a minute it looks at me; I can see past its wild bird eyes, into the nature of a living creature - just like me. Then it blinks a few times, and, becoming a pigeon again, squabbles and coos before flying off. 


At that time, I lived just a couple of blocks away, also on St. Viateur. Everyday, for six months following that incident, I had a pigeon at my doorstep. Every day: rain, shine, freezing ice. 

If I still haven't managed to convince you of pigeons’ inherent worthiness or to at least be nice to them, think about this: Jared Lanier begins his book, Who Owns the Future, by painting a scene in California where seagulls are really drones, observing the needs of people around. In a parallel Montreal scene, the drones will probably be pigeons (another form of stool pigeon).

If these creatures are watching you, whether it be for corporations or the government, you do want to be on your best behaviour, don't you?

 

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