Let Me Tell of My Love of Pigeons


Let me tell of my love of the beautiful and charming beasts called pigeons. They hold a reviled position in the feathered species. It’s a sad comment on humans that pigeons rank alongside crows and vultures. Those who hate pigeons hate life. Call them rats of the sky, but it’s impossible to deny that they’re the Most Amusing Bird. Eagles are majestic and bluebirds fetching, but the noble eagle is simply Not That Fun. Pigeons have gusto.

Two winters ago I had a job selling Christmas Trees on 3rd Avenue. People would stop by post-bagel/pre-work to take in our wares then return in the evening to select their Perfect Canadian Balsam. Business was terrible between ten o’clock and four, leaving just me, my fellow salesman Frank, our books, and the pigeons.* Our tree stand flanked the long side of an enclosed racquetball court. It was winter, so save the Saturday morning games between the Sweaty and Loud elderly men of the neighborhood it was a pigeon’s Mecca.**

Most mornings Frank and I would sit on the ground with our books (we were not allowed chairs; I do not know why) and bullshit for an hour about whether Rachael Leigh Cook’s cuteness was more intense than J. Lo’s mountainous ass, then get down to serious reading. I can only manage about an hour of Ayn Rand or Foucault at a time, so I’d wander into the racquetball court for a quarter of my day; chasing pigeons, skipping stones toward pigeons, spouting impromptu haiku about pigeons at pigeons.

Rush toward a sparrow and it’ll take to the sky; rush toward a pigeon (not too fast or too close!) and it’ll only run. Walk more quickly and a pigeon’ll take off and land seven feet from its staring point. With practice you can guide their turns by holding an arm to your side, intimidating them.

Ushering a pigeon around a city block in late December beats any glass of wine I’ve ever sipped, hands down. I take more satisfaction knowing I managed an In-Place Triple Jump from a pair of pigeons trying to avoid the scraps of chicken wings I was hurling than I do in my GRE score. A simple Rush-and-Scatter maneuver into a group of birds is thrilling even after you’ve advanced into the more technically advanced pigeon games; this simple tactic never grows tired.

The life of the pigeon-basher lacks poetry. There are people who strut through life mindlessly, complaining of their boredom yet never managing an hour of fun, then there are those who appreciate ice storms for how they transform parking lots into playgrounds for Figure Eights. Sad and vapid are the lives of the pigeon haters, for they are Missing Out.

* This statement is not true. On weekends we were joined by struggling actor Clayton Barclay Jones. Clayton made three guest appearances as ‘Billy Crocket’ on Miami Vice during the late nineteen eighties and had a starring role in the 1994 film adaptation of Lassie. In Lassie he played Josh Garland, rival of child protagonist Matthew Turner. Clayton’s character is initially hostile, stealing the Good Turners’ sheep for his own family’s profits, but after Lassie heroically pulls him from Certain Death in the Rapids he undergoes an admirable moral transformation.

** There aren’t as many good pigeons in my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, as there are in New York City. What few we have aren’t as fast or as feisty, but they have good hearts and they’re up for the game. The sidewalk by Round Corner drug store is probably the best option if you’re looking for a complex urban chase scenario. Rock-skipping off the sidewalk poses challenges you don’t have with asphalt, but it’s the best spot if you want to tackle street crossings and pedestrian interference. I sadly know of zero reliable spots for spotting large groups; Lawrence lacks the infrastructure of New York that supports the magnificent pigeon population.


Filed under Commentary on November 3rd, 2003