Proud Emblem of the City

October 9, 2020
Photo: Dick Daniels

An encounter with a pigeon could have great import, because pigeons are guardians of civilization.

Pigeons are intellectual birds, associated with education, government, and religious institutions. They roost in libraries, government buildings, university buildings, and large places of worship. Wherever there are cities, there are pigeons.

Because pigeons and other doves roosted in the first temples, pigeons became associated with the goddess. Mesopotamians believed these birds came to the temples to carry prayers to the sky deities.

The white pigeon, especially, is a messenger of the goddess. Aphrodite, Ishtar, and Astarte are sometimes pictured with the white dove, which is a pigeon.

The pigeon is the ultimate pro-social bird of complex society. Interestingly enough, while the Mourning Dove and White-winged Dove thrive in open spaces throughout North America, the Rock Pigeon (that introduced species most people are referring to as the “pigeon”) doesn’t survive outside of cities due to predators. Even in the city, Peregrine Falcons and Red-tail Hawks feed on pigeons.

Pigeon numbers are decreasing, although they are not at all endangered. Is this decline caused by an increase in urban raptors or is it a reflection of the anti-intellectual times we live in? Many people claim to hate pigeons, but pigeons are connoisseurs of human institutions and culture. The urban dweller and the pigeon have much in common.