Remember Your Friends
The perception of the general public on pigeons has over the years been clouded due mainly to the unpopularity of city pigeons.
Pigeons are our oldest feathered friends and were originally known as the Dove .. the bird from the bible.. Pigeons are decedents of the rock dove (Columba livia) and was domesticated in biblical lands of the Middle East, long before many other domesticated animals and bids pigeons were part of virtually early civilisation.
The soft cooing and gentle courtship of pigeons made them a symbol of love and loyalty throughout the world. Every major religion, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu and Buddhist all recognised them as a living spirit of the Holy Spirit here on earth.
The pigeons that fly wild above are cities descend directly from the same bird that left Noahs hand to find the Olive Branch.
Whilst pigeons were being held in high esteem by religious orders, they were also being used as a major food source. During the Middle ages around Northern Europe, thousands upon thousands of Dovecotes and many millions of pigeons were being bred as a rare source of fresh meat in Medieval towns. Pigeons were not only an important source of food but also a form of entertainment. Just like dog breeders early pigeon keepers bred hundreds, then thousands of different varieties. Today the modern pigeon show contains birds so difference in appearance it is hard to realise that a single ancient species is the common ancestor to all of these fancy show birds.
Pigeons have also been able to serve as much more than pets , from the very earliest days of written communication, the Rock Dove was used to swiftly bring a message home from a distant sender. From the wars of Ceaser to the beaches of Normandy homing pigeons were vital allies. When other methods failed or radio silence was essential, these messengers came through. In both world wars the birds delivered vital messages with 98% reliability and were credited with saving thousands of lives.
It was not long ago in fact our grandparents celebrated our friendship with pigeons. In London and Lille, Brussels and the fields of Flanders are monuments to homing pigeons and their wartime service. It just shows how quickly we forget and how quickly we can ignore 5,000 years of history because we allow a lie, an untruth about a friend become fact in many peoples minds. It was never intended to be a lie, it was only a joke in a 1980 film by Comedian Woody Allen called ‘Stardust Memories’. When a city pigeon accidentally enters his apartment Woody Allen created a scene of confrontation between a health phobic urban human and a pigeon.
And thats were it all started ‘rate with wings’ a three word joke, linking pigeons to the most hated vermin on earth. This has had a profound consequence for our oldest feathered friend. Pest control professionals have since profited from an industry eradicating creatures that society see as a problem.
Pigeons have been a great feature of the worlds great cities for centuries, they are unlike seagulls, crows or other wild birds, they are descendants of former pets gone feral, just like feral cats. For literally thousands of generations these birds were raised by humans. They are careful but yet comfortable around us and are happy to raise their young wherever they find a food supply. A prime example was Trafalgar Square in London where a pigeon food concession led to a predictable explosion in the pigeon population. Efforts to eliminate this flock were sadly manipulated to state to the public they were a significant health risk. This change in public attitude has also seen a change in environmental attitude, during the last war government hunters virtually eliminated any bird of prey large enough to kill our military messenger servants that could be carrying vital information from spies and resistant fighters in occupied countries. Today these raptors are protected and their populations have exploded well beyond pre-war levels. Pairs of falcons are being introduced to towns and cities to hunt urban pigeons, ironically these hired killers do not discriminate between feral or peoples pet pigeons. Thousands of pet pigeons many descendants of heroic military messengers are eaten annually by raptors. But public perception has changed and many believe the falcon deserves to prosper while the poor pigeon is expendable.
Todays media tends not to be so kind with more than 80% of stories that now appear on pigeons, even those with a positive slant, mention ‘rats with wings’, misinformation fuelled by grossly distorted messages has influenced a health hysteria that has helped to convince the public and local authorities that our oldest feathered friends have recently morphed in to a dangerous vermin…They simply have not ..
How grossly exaggerated the health claims against the species are should be obvious to anyone who realises that there are several million people around the world keeping pigeons, working with then everyday, without serious health issues.
On the continent in countries famous for health and hygiene, such as Switzerland and Germany, the government authorities are much much more realistic. Feral pigeon populations are controlled by simply limiting the number of people who can feed the birds. Other countries such as Belgium where Pigeon Racing is recognised as a National Sport, pigeons can be kept in the attic or the loft space above the living area.
Public perceptions should not cloud or penalise pigeon fanciers because people do not like feral pigeons. For example stray feral cats are now much more clearly documented as environmental problems in urban areas than before, but the perception of cats. Pigeons with rings are the same as cats with collars. They are used as identification as pedigreed pigeons just like the heroic messenger pigeons of the war. No pigeon can win a race or a show without a ring. Each ring proves ownership to get a lost pigeon back to its owner.
HM Queen still races pigeons from Sandringham and has her own rings and her family have raced pigeons for over 125 years, and at the Vatican, pontifices often release a symbolic white dove on holy days. Ironicalluy the release of white doves is now a feature around the world. The Irony is these birds are actually white homing pigeons, called doves for business purposes because the term pigeon has been so unfairly tarnished in the publics eyes.
The vast majority of pigeon enthusiasts first learned to love pigeons as children. While pigeon keeping has always been part of rural life, for centuries its thrived in our cities. In fact keeping pigeons is one of the last means to bring nature in to the lives of inner city young people. A way to relive the stresses of the modern world behind.
5000 years of human creation and appreciation of our ancient friendship with the pigeon cannot be wrong. The change in shape, size, plumage colour and feather texture of pigeon genetics is living proof that no other pet has lived with us and has been changed by us for as many generations as the decendents of the Rock Dove.
Next time you see a feral pigeon or you hear the Woody Allen joke, just consider the facts. This grey bird is no carrier of plague or vermin. It belongs to a family celebrated in art for its positive impact on children and service to mankind. This is the creature that returned to the Ark and the descendent of Military heroes whose wartime service saved the lives of thousands of soldiers. It is the symbol of peace itself.
Remember your friends through thick and thin, This is no joke .. it is a creature created by man and an ally that has given gallant service and sport. This is our oldest feathered friend.
Copyright: Jim Jenner/Pigeon Racing UK & Ireland/The Racing Pigeon 2014
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