Monday, September 24, 2007

Pigeons

by Michael Dymmoch

You can’t really dish dirt about Chicago without mentioning our unofficial city bird. They’re quintessential city residents—smart (as birds go), adaptable, omnivorous.

Maybe there are huge flocks of them in parts of the city I don’t often visit, but they don’t seem as numerous as when I was in college. Maybe because the city’s Official Bird, the peregrine falcon is keeping them in check. They’re still ubiquitous as rats, though, and they’re frequently referred to as rats with feathers.

I usually encounter them on El platforms in the Loop—in spite of the spiky plastic strips the CTA installed to keep them from roosting above waiting passengers. As long as they can roost somewhere on the El structures and until all CTA passengers are housebroken—and stop dropping their trash on the platforms—there will be pigeons up there. Like muggers, they go where the loot is. Like panhandlers, they keep coming back if you feed them. Pigeons have the same kind of street smarts.

The parking structure at the Cook County Criminal Court House has a small population because it provides housing and free lunch. Visitors drop trash in the garage and along California Boulevard where the lunch wagons park. I hope the food is healthier for people than pigeons, because the birds at 26th and Cal do not seem to be thriving. The few pigeons in my neighborhood look pretty sickly, too, but that may be because they aren’t well fed.

No question pigeons are a nuisance. Probably a health hazard as well. Most people would be happy to see them vanish altogether. But then, what would our official bird eat?

And when a flock takes flight and wheels over the cityscape, they’re breathtaking.

PS I was going to include a picture of a flock of pigeons free-wheeling over an interesting building on the near west side, but it's still inside my camera. My old fashioned film camera. If I ever finish the roll (and if the picture turns ou) maybe I'll include it in a future blog on neat places to commit murder in Chicago. Meanwhile, if you go outside in the city and look around, you'll probably see a flock of pigeons. And if you want to see them flying, just watch them a while.

25 comments:

Sara Paretsky said...

We have a ton of pigeons in our back yard, and when ten or fifteen land on the antique phone lines at the same time, I shudder along with the lines. Sometimes I see them in the ash behind my house, where they look oddly ot of place.

Barbara D'Amato said...

There was a dark gray pigeon that used to come to sit on my windowsill here in downtown Chicago. He or she had a perfect white diamond on his back, probably framed that way because the wings folded to frame it. I called him or her Nevermore. He or she didn't know that, of course.

woodstock said...

A neighbor of mine worked as a 5th-6th grade science teacher, and often collected injured and abandoned wildlife which lived in her classroom during recovery, and often came home with her when the school year was over.

One year she brought home a pigeon. Pidge became a pet for the entire street. She loved the sound of a large engine, and would fly over when we mowed the lawn and walk along side the mower and keep us company as we worked. My neighbor rigged a box above her patio, and (I'm not making this up) Pidge never made a mess on the patio.

I had a party to which my neighbor was invited. Pidge followed her down the street, and spent the evening clinging to the screen on my kitchen window. The other guests did not know whether to be enchanted or disgusted.

The end came when she fell in love and brought her suitor home to meet the neighbors. He did not understand about making a mess, and the box came down. Both birds found other roosting places, we occasionally saw Pidge sitting on the wire behind our houses, but eventually she was gone.

One can feel affection for a pigeon.

Anthony D'Amato said...

One of Tom Lehrer's more endearing songs was "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park."

Michael Dymmoch said...

Humans have an amazing capacity to bond with things they spend time or effort on. And we're really good at making exceptions for our "pets," even when they are otherwise odious creatures. (I once harbored a city rat, but that's another story.)

Pigeons are very entertaining if you take the time to watch them, and the only wildlife some of us ever see.

Matt said...

I've read that pigeons were our first domesticated animals, long before the dog.

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