Pigeons: Flying Rats or Friends?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Piazza San Marco and pigeons (Photo: Colin Jerolmack)

Sociologist Colin Jerolmack set out to write a thoughtful book on the changing cityscape — something like Jane Jacobs’ seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities. But that was before a pigeon pooped on him.

He’d been observing changes in a pocket park near Carmine Street on the West Village called Father Demo Square when he was abruptly made aware of the park’s other residents: 700 pigeons.

“I realized that pigeons were everywhere—they’re a part of the city.” And so his work morphed into an investigation of our relationship with a creature whose revilers refer to it as a “flying rat”, but which also commands many fans who breed, race, and sometimes just feed these adaptable opportunists.

Carmine Gangone, rooftop pigeon flyer

The result is his book The Global Pigeon, an ethnographic study that looks at how our interactions with the birds reflect on urban life, community, and cultural identity in locations ranging from Bushwick, Brooklyn to Venice, Italy.

Marty McGuinness, Bronx Homing Pigeon Club

Jerolmack said pigeons helped in a transitional moment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for example, when an older generation of Italian Americans passed their pigeon breeding tradition to young boys of color. "There was a lot of racial tension and even rioting around it, but there was this little subculture that emerged that united these people across these generational and racial lines around pigeon keeping," he said.

For Jerolmack, pigeons are often seen as disorder because they compete for space with people. "Pigeons are so successful at adapting to the built environment," he said. "They’re pedestrians, they literally walk on the street, they sit on the benches. These are spaces that we’ve designated are for people only."

Produced by:

Sarah Montague


Gisele Regatao


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Comments [1]

Sharon Tracy from Brooklyn

Pigeons are exemplary citizens in many ways. They have a compassionate social order, are expert parents, mate for life, and are heroic in
their ability to survive. I see the "String Foot" phenomenon so frequently that it is alarming. This is a horrible problem where string, hair, or varied other debris gets tangled around a bird's foot and causes a slow, obviously extremely painful, amputation or death. I have seen them suffering greatly, where their whole body is trembling in pain, but theyup are still trying to find food and to care for their young. I have also seen pigeons stay by the side of their mates, putting themselves in danger, as their mates were dying. And I have seen a grieving mate try desperately to revive a dead mate. We should be as exemplary.
"You can tell the moral progress of a people by how they treat their animals."

Jul. 01 2014 10:21 AM

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