Pigeons: The fresh rats of the belle air

An ode to an overlooked and underrated species.

In recent years, the humble Aussie bin chook—the ibis—has been elevated to celebrity status, glorified for its dietary choice of garbage and its unnerving, scaled beak. It has amassed Facebook pages and documentaries in its honour, but it is not the only bird around campus. In the wake of ibis fever, the gentle pigeon has been neglected. Not only that: in the past, these timid creatures have even been forced out of their own homes by University management. Shame. In 2011, the winged residents of the SCA campus were baited and poisoned in an effort to cleanse the College. But now in 2018, it’s time to appreciate the pigeon for all their worth.

They are the rats of the sky; the feathered vacuum cleaners that peck up our crumbs as they fall from our mouths, the disease-spreading vermin that scuttle between our legs while we rush through the city. This is the harsh reputation our peaceful city slickers must face—a reputation not only riddled with falsities, but also blatantly unfair.

These winged angels are more than just poop machines tarnishing the facade of our glorious quadrangle.

At the peak of their reputation, at the close of World War II, pigeons were lauded for “conspicuous gallantry”. But since then, these beady-eyed critters have experienced a fall from grace. For this, the pigeons are blameless. It is, instead, humanity’s growing lack of tolerance towards nature that has created this new image of the pigeon.

These humble citizens of the sky are modest in their attire. Only their iridescent collars, which gleam through leaden feathers, hint at their true majesty. True restraint—unlike their colourful cousins, the peacock and the toucan, who holler for attention with garish displays of plumage.

They are also a bird of many talents. Within the animal kingdom, they are part of an elite group, who possess a rare faculty—the ability to recognise themselves in a mirror. Self-awareness is an accomplishment not even all humans can boast. But their intelligence doesn’t stop there. These feathered geniuses can differentiate letters of the alphabet and can distinguish gibberish, made up of these letters, from real words. It seems pigeons are only one small head bob away from joining the world of the literate.

What’s more, these winged prodigies boast a remarkably progressive attitude. If, after a wonderful night of passion and mutual pleasure, a young female pigeon discovers that she is with child, you won’t find the male pigeon running off and hiding in some deserted part of the park. No, he will instead stay, sharing the responsibility of incubation equally with his partner.

However, it is the male’s actions after the eggs hatching that truly makes him ‘Progressive Father of the Year’. This is because the male pigeon begins to lactate. It is an unusual talent for two reasons; firstly, it is usually the female of a species that takes responsibility for producing milk and secondly, lactation is an ability typically found in in mammals alone. Yet, the first ten days of a new pigeon’s life are spent nourished by the milk of both its mother and its father. These progressive parents are working towards eradicating sexism in domestic relationships.

There is a lot we can learn from the underrated pigeon. And so, we must endeavour to change the reputation of these misunderstood creatures.

So, next time you see one of these feathered friends roosting on the suitcase sculpture in Manning, don’t turn away in disgust, instead tip your hat and offer a “m’lady” to one of the finest members of the avian kingdom. Because if we can learn to appreciate the Aussie bin chicken, then we can grow to love the softly-spoken, jewel-collared pigeon.

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