Nothing better demonstrates the axiom “familiarity breeds contempt” than the pigeon. Pigeons have remarkable navigation skills and are extremely powerful fliers. They perform courtship dances and mate for life (as much as any bird does, anyway). Both parents care for the chicks. They have an adaptation—”crop milk,” a substance that they produce and feed to their chicks, similar in concept (if not physiology) to how we mammals produce milk for our babies—that allows them to breed in habitats most birds could never hope to raise a family in. They thrive in urban environments, making them probably the first and most-often seen wild animal of many city-dwellers. They recognize each other as individuals. They are smarter than you think.
Concerning their usefulness to humans, pigeons are easily raised in captivity and edible. They have been bred into many domestic varieties with strange attributes, such as the propensity to roll over in mid-air. Charles Darwin studied domestic pigeons extensively, and they contributed to the formation of his theory of evolution by natural selection. They have been important message carriers in wartime; pigeons have received the Dickin Medal—like the Medal of Honor, but for animals—32 times, more than any other species (dogs are closing in with 31 medals).
“Rats with wings,” people say—patently untrue: you can’t get plague from pigeons. “Dirty,” people call them; as if it isn’t our dirt they are wearing, and yet thriving anyhow.
Pigeons don’t need our admiration. But why not appreciate them? They are all around us—and they were certainly getting into the Valentine’s Day spirit today. Look at these dancing birds:
Those iridescent throats are something to behold.
The females always look scornful, but bird body language can be misleading. Birds often look at things with just one eye, so a female who appears to be looking away might actually be watching the display.
Walking away is a pretty universal sign, though.
At least one couple did mate while I was watching them, but I had the good taste not to take a photo of that. (Just kidding! I definitely tried to take a photo, but I was too slow.)
Not all the pigeons were looking for a traditional Valentines. Many just wanted to eat.
Centuries of human breeding of strange pigeon varieties, and interbreeding of those pigeons with wild birds, has given us the variety of pigeon colors we see today. And not just colors: keep an eye out for pigeons with feathered feet, and other odd traits.
Would you like pigeons better if they all looked like this dainty white one?
These interesting colors are only present in feral populations now because some male pigeons with human-influenced genes were very persuasive dancers, and managed to romance some wild females, while some human-bred females liked the dances of wild males.
Let’s end with this guy: the happiest pigeon you have ever seen.