I have always had a strong affinity with pigeons. I am a big supporter of the underdog, perhaps because for much of my own life, I have been an underdog. The one thing I know about underdogs is this: Despite all the shit that life dishes them; they survive. They are unsung heroes even to themselves.
So what does the humble pigeon teach us and why should we give all the love they deserve?
They are confident & they know they are divine.
Pigeons do not care what you think of them and they do not require your validation. For thousands of years they have been worshiped as birds of the gods. Much of the confusion of their divinity has come from the translation of the word ‘dove’ in religious texts, a word that was used to mean both dove & pigeon. Actually there really was no distinction between these birds; they were one and the same. Today we use these terms loosely and interchangeable depending on context. ‘Dove’ is traditionally reserved for use in the aesthetic contexts of religion, literature and art, and ‘pigeon’ for more mundane matters, such as sport and culinary use. But they still are in fact genetically the exact same bird!
The pigeon is has been consistently the most spiritually revered birds across historical eras and religions. In Christianity it has come to represent the Holy Spirit, the messenger of the holy trinity. You see this throughout Renaissance art, the ‘dove’ representing the Holy Spirit about to merge with the Virgin Mary. Even contemporary pop artist Andy Warhol used the image of a Dove to represent the Holy Spirit in his piece, The Last Supper. Artists have forever loved pigeons, the artist Picasso even named his daughter Pamola, meaning pigeon. So given all of it’s past popularity, the humble pigeon really care doesn’t if they are currently en vogue.
They are very intelligent
Pigeons are crazily intelligent. Researchers found that wild untrained pigeons can recognise individual people’s faces and are not fooled by a change of clothes. So if you shoo away a pigeon, that bird is likely to remember you and know to stay out of your way the next time you cross paths. A study also found that pigeons were also able to distinguish between paintings by the artists Picasso and Monet (Watanabe, Sakamoto & Wakita, 1995). So your humble pigeon might be more cultured than the average person! Even more amazing is that Pigeons can be trained to detect cancer in radiology images something human medical professionals have years of specialised training to be able to do. So your humble pigeon may be stealing your job very soon!
They are our mirrors
Have you ever noticed in life that those we despise are those who are most similar to us? There are sects of the same religion that fight each other more than those of a completely different faith. That girl at work who goes on about another colleague’s behavior when she behaves exactly that way herself! That is the ego’s way; it protects us from seeing those parts of us we do not want to acknowledge. This is what the psychologist Jung refers to as “the shadow self”. So why is the pigeon, humanity’s shadow?
Accounts of the affinity between man and pigeon have been recorded since earliest times; man and pigeon have had lived hand in hand for thousands of years. These birds have had so many roles, as symbols of gods and goddesses, sacrifices, food and messengers. The city pigeons in towns all over the world today are largely refugee birds from abandoned man-made dovecotes. They were our original postal service and now feels like we have discarded them, forgetting all that they have done for us. How sad is our cultural tendency to require all things to have an economic purpose to be respected, people and animals alike.
The city pigeon once revered is now rejected. Just surviving; in place that it knows as home, living day-to-day, doing the best they can, to live, eat, feed their families. Just like many of us; living paycheck to paycheck, forced to take what they can get in a cruel and unforgiving city. For every bit of bread, there are hundreds of hungry pigeons willing to do what it takes to eat. But they survive, because they have to. So maybe it’s time to extend a little more love to the humble pigeon and maybe ourselves too.
But they are dirty . . .
As a pigeon rescuer, I often feel a sense of shame when I go and pick up an injured pigeon. I secretly tuck it under a towel and scurry home before anyone sees me. If I am seen, there is always someone ready to tell me how dirty Pigeons are or look at me like I am committing the crime of the century. So let me clarify something: Pigeons are not dirty disease carriers! If they were I would be dead already. In fact if you look at historically how closely we have lived with pigeons, it would be surprising that humanity would have survived at all, with such a dirty ally in hand. Actually the idea that pigeons are dirty goes back to an old husbands tale believing that pigeons would fly from farm to farm, carrying hog and poultry diseases with them.
Bird poop does have some health concerns but frankly all poop does. Our beloved household cat has poop that carries the parasite toxoplasmosis that is of a far greater risk to human health. Studies have also shown that your takeaway coffee has been found to contain a little bit of human faecal matter and we carry a lot of diseases but you’re still alive and kicking! (And still drinking it)
The diseases that are carried by bird poop do exist but are very rare and just so you know the other sources of the same bacteria include the soil – so I hope your washing your fruit and vegetables really well too!
If you haven’t learnt by now wash your hands regularly and relax a little.
What about children and pigeons?
We should teach children to respect all beings including people and animals that we might not like ourselves. If we do not actively teach them to love all, we are setting the first stone in a ‘them vs. us’ viewpoint of this world; that one being is worth more than another based on whatever construct seems relevant at the time. What this translates to in practice is children who grow to be less aware adults & more susceptible to being manipulated by the blame culture in the media. This blame culture media attacks whatever group of people or animals meets its agenda and sadly so many people take this information at face value. How many of you thought the humble pigeon was dirty disease carrying flying rat, actually took the time to research it for yourselves? The reality is that pigeon poop is expensive to clean up so the institutions do not want you feeling to sorry for this humble bird when they deploy hawks, pigeon spikes, steal their eggs and shoot them down from the sky.
We must train our children to be inquisitive and the first step in doing this is setting their hearts to the “love first” setting. They will then assume the best in all & question anything that contradicts this. This is the right way round!
It’s not worth the risk, even if it’s very small.
Life is risk. To avoid all risk is to not live at all. We are incredibly bad as a species at quantifying risks. For instance, the “death hornet” that the media recently sensationalised kills only 30-60 people in Japan each year. Yet how many of us die in car accidents per year? (I’ll let you Google that). We still we choose to use the car to go to supermarkets that we could walk to, or just because we fancy a drive or a change of scenery. We live in spite of risk.
The risk from bird poop can’t even be quantified and actually the biggest risk from it is via air conditioning units blowing it into our air supply, which is something that can be easily remedied through proper servicing. It may be of interest to you to know that bird feathers shedding carry the exact same bacteria as bird poop. So when you are letting you children chase those pigeons around the park or shooing them off your balcony all that frantic flapping is increasing the particles in the air around you.
And what about the spiritual risks to your children? Do we ever take the time to consider these? When you walk past an injured pigeon and you tell your child, it is too dirty to help. What blueprint do you set for their future relations in this world? What of the risk to their intrinsic compassion, to their heart.
Read the poem that accompanies this post here: pigeon by an other name