SOPHIA - 18
Are pigeons friends or foes? G-Ma learns a big lesson in "pigeon
prejudice." Attacked by pigeon droppings, G-Ma turns to the
web to find out how to stop the Terrorist attacks on her head and window
sill. Grandchildren Matt and Sarah also suffer from "pigeon
prejudice," disliking the 40 million pesky birds that wait in trees
throughout New York City to drop their "bombs" on G-Ma's head, eyes and
glasses. But when G-Ma starts to learn about pigeons, she
finds a fascinating story of Vigilance--one that turns the Terrorism of
pigeons into unfolding pages of Courage, Conviction and Right Action.
She shares her knowledge with Matt and Sarah and teaches them that "pigeon
prejudice" is about ignorance, and provides a lesson for herself and the
kids on how to respect the Pigeons of Vigilance.)
“The pigeons are coming, G-Ma. They’re sitting
in the trees and are so-o-o-o-o-o-o ready to poop right on your
head.” Matt, my 5-and-7/8th-year-old grandson ran ahead of me bellowing
out the warning.”
We were approaching a not-so-well-disguised pigeon ambush.
Encrusted, efflorescent, offensive pigeon-poop littered the sidewalk on
our way to Matt’s and his 3 and 7/8-year-old sister Sarah’s apartment.
Several of the older human male inhabitants were seated on the courtyard
benches in the yard of the building where a mini forest of limbed perches
provided the pigeons a hiding place to wait for unsuspecting passersby. I
wasn’t one of them.
previous I had been targeted by two “poop bombers.” As I yelled, surprised
by the “sneak attack,” the delighted cackles of my little birds, Matt and
Sarah, rang down the street. The old coots sitting on the benches
laughed so hard they almost fell off their cement perches. I wasn’t about
to get ‘slimed’ again. This time I was readied myself to ‘fly’ through
the avian excretion jungle.
Sarah offered her protection. She issued her
warning: “Pigeons, I command you to go away. Leave my G-Ma alone. Do
not poop on her head. Do not. I am Princess Sarah and I am in charge of
the world. I am making a magic spell on you birds.” She thundered into
the flock of feathered nuisances on the sidewalk, her arms flapping
wildly. The birds’ wings whirred as she scattered noisily about. Some,
unfortunately, flew up into the overhanging branches we were about to walk
(or run) under.
“ At last, someone has come to my rescue. Thank you, Sarah. We
girls have to stick together.” She presented me with a huge Sarah
“Yes, we are partner, buddies and pals. I
know.” Sarah trilled like a lovely bluebird as she gracefully twittered
back to my side. I patted her head appreciatively.
Many years ago I had laughed myself silly watching a Dean Martin and
Jerry Lewis movie in which they sang to each other “You and me. We’re
gonna be partners. You and me. We’re gonna be pals. Forever and
always. Partners, buddies and Pals.”
My younger daughter and I sang the inane ditty as she grew up and
often referred to one another as a Partner, Buddy and Pal. I continued
the tradition by teaching Sarah the song and how she was a member of an
exclusive club with myself and her Auntie E. It was our version of the
I noted Matt’s
scrunched up face and blue eyes glowering at the antics of his
unsupportive sister. He was hoping for a “sneak attack” and didn’t like
the fact his sister had acted to foil it. The old codgers sitting on the
concrete benches waited eagerly, knowing I still had to make a dash for it
despite Sarah’s interference and spell she had cast.
I set my jaw determinedly and barked: “Let’s Roll, Sarah”. I
used Todd Beamer’s last words heard by the ground operator before he and
the 37 fellow passengers 37 on Flight 93 charged the terrorists to
prevent the destruction of the White House or the nation’s Capitol
building. I don’t think his wife Lisa would mind. I was not relishing
being bombarded with pigeon poop and considered them my feathered
“Hip hip hooray, G-Ma. We made it.” Sarah whooped as we zig-zagged
safely through the combat zone.
blustered out the word—his favorite form of emitting frustration. “Oh,
G-Ma. That’s not fair. I demanded the pigeons poop right
on your head. Sarah didn’t really cast a magic spell on you.” Matt
crossed his arms and pouted, refusing to hold my free hand until we
reached the corner where he had to abide by the
Matt was justified in his consternation. I had
an extended history of being a target for New York City pigeon poop. I
was, as insurance companies like to say, “Poop Prone!”
I’ve been plopped on in upper west side neighborhoods all the way
down to South Street Seaport. I’ve even had a warm slithery glob of
excrement manage to land right in my eye even though I had on glasses. The
perpetrator, obviously, was a member of the elite “Pigeon Poop SWAT
As a “Poop Prone” person, if anyone is going
to get zapped by the winged terrorists-of-the-sky, it’s I, G-Ma. Matt
fumed, for he laughed so hard when I got hit by pigeon poop one time he
almost wet his pants. Sarah had turned his glee into gloom.
“They’ll surely get me next time, Matt. You can
count on it.” I tried to cheer him up. I had cost him a great belly
laugh. “What can you tell me about pigeons, anyway?” Diversion was key
to erase his sulks. I didn’t want them to join us in the apartment and
ruin the rest of our day.
“I know there are too many,
G-Ma.” Matt had this obsession since I could recall that he knew
“everything,” and all it took was a little prod to his ego to set him off
in his encyclopedic mood. It worked. He took a deep breath and started
telling me everything I needed to know about pigeons.
“Mommy was watching the TV news and
the man told us there was too much pigeon poop in our city this summer
because of too many poopy-pigeons. He said the poop might make us sick if
we are not careful.” Matt had snapped completely out of his pouting
mood. His mouth formed a tell-tale “0”-shape, indicating he was more
interested in learning than pouting--especially when the topic of
conversation was about an animal or a bird. I thanked Discovery Channel
and Nigel’s Wild World for his transition.
“What kinds of germs are in pigeon poop, G-Ma?”
Matt glued himself to my side, giving up the usual dash to be the first to
reach the ‘buzzard’ to his and Sarah’s apartment. Sarah skipped on ahead
to buzz the door open, leaving Matt and I to enjoy pigeon patter.
“Let’s go inside first, Matt, and I’ll tell you
what might be in that white or green or brown slimy gunk.” I inwardly
shuddered recalling the many times I had been successfully bombarded and
wore the goop home sometimes not even aware it was decorating my head or
We Three Amigos deposited our backpacks and I
fixed the usual juice refreshment for the kids. Matt, currently in one of
those normal ‘boy stages’ finds anything to do with pooping or farting
hilarious and dear to his ear. He was eager to hear about pigeon-poop
and hopped onto the couch.
“Let’s go, G-Ma. Tell me about the pigeon-poopoo-poop.” Matt held
his belly and attempted a hearty laugh. “Ho Ho, Hoop Hoop, G-Ma, tell me
about the pigeon-poop.”
“Matt, you are so-so-so-so funny. G-Ma, I want
to hear what germs are in pigeon doodoo, too.” Sarah also bounded onto the
couch. I joyously found myself with two precious nestlings on either side,
eager to hear what G-Ma Bird chirped to them.
Matt and Sarah’s mom had mentioned TV news
announcement warning about the piling up of pigeon excrement. She new I
had a medical laboratory background and knew how to research potential
Until a few years ago I worked full-time as a microbiologist and was
somewhat familiar with diseases caused by birds and their causative
agents. I had a special interest in pigeon waste. It was invading my
The window sills of my
six-story apartment complex had an overwhelming pileup on the ledges.
Whenever I looked out the kitchen window I could see the pile-up grow.
It seemed to me pigeons were everywhere and their poop was accumulating at
a rapid rate this year. In preparation for the kids’ pigeon lesson I
researched the web using my favorite search engine:
Several references poo-poo’d the health hazards
of pigeon poop—my primary concern. I knew there was some health danger,
but to what extent was my question. I kept searching despite the general
brush off given by the sites I visited.
Pigeon Watch’s Karen Purcell reassured my suspicions were correct.
I contacted her by phone. She said caution must be employed when
noticeable piles of excrement accumulate since the feral (wild) pigeons in
cities (NYC) do carry Psittacosis (also known as Ornithosis) caused by the
Chlamydia organism. Also, the fungus Cryptococcus is harbored by pigeons
and when excrement piles up and dries, spores of the fungi are
disseminated by the wind. The diseases are especially dangerous for those
who are immunosuppressed and the very young or very old. I decided to
impart that and other information from Pigeon Watch (a program of Cornell
University’s Ornithology Department) to Matt and Sarah. But, of course,
in non-technical terms.
“Kids, the last time you were over at G-Ma’s,
when you were climbing up the stairs, what did G-Ma tell you to be careful
not to touch or get close to?”
“The yucky windowsills, G-Ma. Oh, I get it. All
that white gunk is pigeon poop. Y-Y-U-U-CCKKKKK!” Matt wrinkled up his
lightly freckled nose and looked as though he was going to throw up.
“But, G-Ma, you got the snakes to make your
pigeons go away so they won’t poop anymore on your windows, right?” Sarah
nodded her head, affirming her desire that G-Ma and G-Pa wouldn’t have to
worry about pigeon poop or be in pigeon-poop-pileup jeopardy
“Yes, you are right, little one. You both
were with me to help me pick out the rubber snakes to glue on my outside
window-sill. It’s an old trick to scare those pesty birds so they would
land elsewhere. I’m hoping they’ll be fooled. But because snakes aren’t
usual inhabitants of New York City, the pigeons might realize the snakes
aren’t real before too long. But, it was fun to put them out and
right now they seem to be working.”
“I like the colorful one, G-Ma. If they
don’t scare the pigeons can I have it and Sarah can have the black and
white one?” Matt was always planning ahead especially when it involved the
possibility of acquiring an animal toy.
“You have a deal, little man. But, I’ll have to
clean them very well first. Anyway, it’s important to not be around
places where you notice a lot of the dried white gunk piled up. If the
wind blows, the dried bird poop gets soft like powder and can be carried
through the air. There are germs in the poop so it’s also important that
you two always remember to….”
“….WASH OUR HANDS, G-MA!” Both Matt and Sarah
screeched together. “We know, G-Ma, we know.”
Matt re-emphasized. “You’re forever telling us that,
“Maybe, G-Ma. I don’t like pigeons. You don’t
like pigeons. Why would I want to count them. They might poop on me?”
Matt laughed at the very idea.
“I always said I hate pigeons, little birds,
but in reading about pigeons I found out while a lot of people like your
G-Ma detest their mess and believe them to be nuisances, they are very
intelligent and interesting. Pigeons are descendants of the Rock Doves
brought to the United States through Nova Scotia from Africa, Asia, the
Middle East and Europe in the early 1600’s – that’s more than 400 years
“G-Ma, G-Ma why were they brought here? Who
would want them and their mess here?”
Matt was busy thinking ahead again. His avid interest in animals
and birds was fed by Discovery Channel, the family membership to the
Natural History Museum, library books, his own personal books and his
continual questions in search of reasons behind animal behaviors. And, I
can’t forget the dinosaurs. He has a limitless collection of all kinds,
and books galore on their history.
“Pigeons have very special sense organs.” I
touched the kids’ noses. They giggled. “They are similar to a magnet and
help them fly from one place to another. You little birds know about
North, South, East and West—the points of the compass, right?”
“Yes, G-ma. We have the computer game where Tigger goes on a
buried treasure hunt…you have to hop-hop north…or hop hop hop south.”
“Well, pigeons can tell compass directions from the sun. They
learn to set up their own sun compasses. They also have inbuilt maps
consisting of a mosaic—kind of like a quilt—it’s a pattern of familiar
landmarks that helps them recognize locations through familiar smells and
sights. These special inside maps, keen vision and the pigeon’s great
memory for recognizing land details make a pigeon able to find its way
just about anywhere. People tamed pigeons and used them in races and to
bring messages. Pigeons
who carry messages are called carrier pigeons.”
they carry, G-Ma? Did they carry stuff to their home? Is that what you
mean?” Sarah, eyes bright as a bird’s looking for a worm, tugged at my
“Well, little one, they were used a lot by soldiers
in England. Some were even trained to fly at night and landed with
paratroopers – the soldiers who parachuted from airplanes. The birds were
fitted with cameras and pictures were taken of the enemy’s fleet, troops
and targets. British and a few American museums have memories of our
flying heroes. Pigeons were given medals and buried with military honor.”
Pigeon War Memorial in Brussels
“What’s that mean, G-Ma? I saw a picture of one
of city firemen with a flag on the box he was in after he was dead. Are
the pigeons in boxes with flags?” Matt as usual was assimilating old and
new information like a homing pigeon flapping its wings wildly at takeoff,
getting its bearings and reading and assaying new information to add to
and compare with the already stored information.
“Matt, I knew I would be talking to you about
pigeons since you helped me put my anti-bird-poop snakes on my window
sill. So I did a little research on the Internet. I learned there were
54,000 military pigeons in the United States Pigeon Service. You are right
about them being buried in a flag decorated casket. A casket is what the
burial box is called.
One of the most well-known military pigeons was
called GI Joe. He flew in Italy and was honored in London by the Lord
Mayor. He was one of 31 pigeons to receive the Dickin Medal of
Gallantry. Snow White flew in Berlin during heavy bombings and she was
honored with the “Military Cross.” Mary was wounded 22 times yet flew 5
years for the Allied Powers—that was America, Britain and Canada. Poor
Mary was killed in action.”
“Oh, G-Ma, was Snow White named for the Snow
White in the story? I’m so sad. I feel bad for the birds. They must be
different pigeons than the ones who always poop on you.” Sarah squeezed
my arm and snuggled closer.
“It seems the military pigeons of those days
were stronger than our modern race pigeons. And, yes, the carrier and
racing pigeons are more muscular than our everyday pesky pals. They had
to accomplish their duty in the most difficult circumstances: Bad
weather, flying at night, showers of bullets and different home lofts, and
strange perches where they would land to deliver their important
messages. Back then we didn’t have telephones like we do today, so the
pigeon was how people talked. Some of the airplanes and war-ships were
even accompanied by military pigeons. Military pigeons brought news of
717 crashed airplanes at sea. Ninety-five percent—that’s more than one
out of nine-- of the military pigeons returned from their missions. A bird
named “Cher Ami” trained by the U.S. Army Signal Corps delivered a
message from a New-York battalion. He was credited with saving 194
lives of the “Lost Battalion" - part of New York's 77th Division of the
“G-Ma what happened to ‘Shar-amy’. Did he die,
too.” Sarah was most upset hearing about some of the casualties of war,
even pigeon casualties. Her tear-brimmed chocolate eyes were as enormous
as a mother robin searching for one of her lost babies.
“Cher Ami was
taken to America along with 40 other military pigeons. He became the
mascot, that is the special pet, of the State Department. I'm sure he had
a wonderful, happy life from then on. His preserved body can be seen
at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Don’t cry my little sparrow.” Since
Sarah was visibly upset with the pigeon casualties, I decided to move on
to another story I found on the web.
“I’m not a spa-a-a-r-r-r-ow, G-Ma. I’m a
girl!” Sarah’s tears were quelled before they rolled down her bright pink
cheeks. She now was a little magpie or bluejay squawking and cawing at
me. She didn’t like it when I became solicitous to her. She prized her
emotional independence, a trait similar to both her mother and aunt.
“Calm down, little girl. G-Ma was just
trying to comfort you. Let’s hear some more positive stories about the
pigeons.” I gently hugged my now calm and quiet little ‘bird’ whom I
would try and not refer to as a little “sparrow.” I smiled to myself and
wondered if she would have preferred me calling her an “eagle” or “hawk.”
brother, G-Ma. Sarah is s-o-o-o-o-o sensitive. Let’s go with your
stories.” Matt rolled his eyes, then crossed them making certain I
noticed his eye antics.
Coast Guard Spotter Pigeon
“Let me tell you about how pigeons save people lost at sea. One of your
Daddy’s girl cousins is in the Coast Guard Service. That’s the military
branch that is known as ‘America’s Lifesaver and the Guardian of the
Seas’. The Coast Guard trains pigeons to peck a key when they spot the
bright orange color floating in the water. Orange is the color used for
life vests. The birds are suspended in a transparent--that is a
see-through—box from a helicopter hovering over the water. The pigeons
use their keen eyes to spot vests floating in the open ocean. When they
see one they peck at the key. The pilot knows someone is down in the
water. The pigeons help save lives.”
“I wonder if Daddy’s cousin works with pigeons,
G-Ma?” Matt would very likely remember to ask the question of his dad
later in the day. He flew on to another question. “Do pigeons carry
messages anymore, G-Ma?”
“Carrier pigeons are still used for emergency
flights in London to carry blood samples from hospitals to laboratories,
but we have more stringent laws here so our tame pigeons are mostly racing
or homing pigeons. But, if something happened and we couldn’t use the
phones, the pigeons could be used to carry messages. So they are kind of
like Sentinels of Vigilance, always there if you need them.”
“Some people have
pigeons on their roof, GMa. I heard someone talking about it at
school.” Sarah offered the comment eagerly. I smiled.
“Pigeons are a
hobby for a lot of people especially here in NYC. I remember watching
movies and seeing a few TV programs with pigeon coops on the roofs of
apartment buildings. The pigeons have bands on one leg for identification
and the owners let them out to fly or race. New York City has special
coop plans enforced by the Buildings Department so there aren’t too many
birds in one coop and the birds don’t become a problem for the other
people living in the apartments.”
“What about the racers, G-Ma? Do people race
their pigeons from rooftops here in our city?” Matt’s eyes sparked.
Racing pigeons apparently were in another class for Matt—not like the
feral ones who seemed to eat and poop for a living.
“Pigeon races are from 100 to 600 miles long
with the 300 mile race the most popular. There are thousands of racing
clubs throughout the world. There is even one in Staten Island. Maybe you
could talk to Grampa Joe and get him interested. He has a balcony
overlooking the Hudson River.”
“G-Ma, no way. Grampa and Nana bought a big
owl to put out on their porch so pigeons will stay away from their table
and chairs so Grampa won’t be pooped on when he’s outside. No racers for
him.” Matt laughed at the very idea.
“Maybe if you reminded him that racing pigeons
were owned by kings, princes and nobles he might think about it. Years
ago it was not legal for a common man to own pigeons. Another plus to
interest him further is that today birds might be the only way to ensure
the secrecy of messages. The Internet and telephones can be tapped.
Pigeons could replace high technology – Internet and telephones! He’d get
a chuckle out of that, Matt. We’d call them Low Technology Pigeons!”
“G-Ma, I could help him with his pigeons. I
can feed them and play with them. Look at me, G-Ma. I’m a racing pigeon.
Look at me go. I can race Matt and I will run faster and
W-W-I-I-N-N!!!!” Little Sarah did not like being left out of any
conversation and demanded to be heard and seen. She flew off the couch,
raised her arms and started to flap about. Finally, she plopped atop her
“S – A – R – A – H-H-H. Stop it. Now. G-Ma.
Make her sit down – and not on top of me. She drives me
crazy. RRRRRRRRRRUGGHHHHHH!!” Matt’s face was inflamed with ‘Sarah –
tosis’. Both grandkids had fallen off the couch and onto the floor with
Sarah atop her bellowing brother.
“Okay, Okay, you wild, feral Sarah-bird. Get
over here on your perch next to your G-Ma. Matt, you sit on the other
side and I’ll be the roost referee.” I patted either side of the couch
and waited until my agitated and noisy homing pigeons to fly back to their
I thought a little diversion was in order. The
kids were getting restless. Juice and Spider Man cookies to the rescue, I
decided. The kids reached out their arms like the bobbing beaks of hungry
baby birds and swiftly pecked at their snacks.
I rejoined them on the couch. “Matt and Sarah,
you know how I love the wolf. Remember, I told you one of the laudable
characteristics of the wolf is that the daddy wolf helps to raise the
kits, the little ones. Well, the daddy pigeon takes his turn sitting on
the eggs just like the daddy wolf helps out watching his children. The
daddy pigeon takes the day shift. He sits on the eggs during the day and
the mommy does the night duty. When the eggs hatch, the nestlings--the
name for pigeon babies--are fed pigeon milk from the crop of both
pigeon mommies and daddies.”
I reached up and pinched some skin around my
neck. “A crop is a food storage bag, kind of like a refrigerator, in both
parents. Regurgitated food is
food chewed by the parents, then spit back up so the babies can eat it.”
I braced myself, knowing the kids would react to this part of the story.
“I-C-C-K-K!” yelled Matt and Sarah. “That’s
so gross, G-Ma. I’m glad I’m not a pigeon.” Matt’s nose wrinkled and he
put his pointer finger in his mouth.
“So, after what G-Ma has hold you, what do you
think of pigeons, my little ones?” I gave them each a gentle hug.
“G-Ma, I did learn about new kinds of pigeons
and what neat things they did years ago, but do you know what?” Matt
innocently looked up at me his innocent blue eyes agleam.
“What, little man.” I answered expecting a
usual brilliant response to his hearing interesting animal/bird/nature
“They all still poop on you,
G-Ma. Haaaaaaa Haaaaaaaa Haaaaaaa.” Matt grabbed Sarah’s hand and they
danced around the room singing a pigeon-poop-on G-Ma song.
“I give up, you little stinkers. Do you want
to hear how to really get rid of pigeon poop?” I hoped they
would settle down to listen to the rest of the information I had prepared
|Terror Eyes Deterrent
“We know already, G-Ma. You and G-Pa put out
the snakes and Grampa Joe and Nana are putting out an owl.” Matt and
Sarah resettled on the couch.
“I’m afraid devices
like ours will not work very long. Pigeons are very smart. Lots of people
have tried a lot of different deterrents – ways to keep pigeons away. In
my web-search I found information on a company named ‘Bird-X’. Their
policy is to provide non-lethal, non-harmful, environmentally safe and
ecologically sound products. It has received referrals form the Audubon
Society and the Animal Damage Control division of the USDA. It supplies
more than fifteen different products. A product called BirdXPeller PRO,
an electronic device is a programmable species-specific sonic deterrent
that operates on standard 110v electricity or vibrator. It replicates
birds’ distress calls. The choices include predator sounds to help scare
all the birds. Kind of like an Adam growl.
very expensive although some cities in New Jersey have used it with great
success.” My long and complex explanation had sent the kids reeling. I
decided a simple question would bring their interest back.
“Sarah, what might be another way to help
prevent the increase in the numbers of pigeons?” I had done a little
preprogramming of Sarah a few days ago and hoped she remembered.
are not ‘sposed to give the pigeons food. You said the more the kids and
parents throw out bread and stuff for them the ‘pesky varmints’ will keep
on making messes in our neighborhood and in the parks and on the streets
and the more poop they’ll plop on us.” Sarah wrinkled her pert nose
simulating my disgust with the pigeon population. She had definitely
remembered almost verbatim my comments.
“You got the point, Sarah. If we make our
neighborhood inviting to the pigeons, they’ll remain. Remember, too, the
pigeons like New York City and other big cities with big buildings because
they are cliff dwellers.”
“Wow, G-Ma, the pigeons think the ledges of our
buildings are cliffs. No wonder there are so many. Maybe you and G-Pa can
put something hard or sharp on your window sill besides the snakes to keep
the birds from landing there.” Matt was using his super noggin’ now (a
nickname because of the large size of his head when he was born—a sign its
volume needed to be filled constantly.)
“That does work somewhat, little bird man.
Open areas, such as vents or eaves can be sealed up to prevent pigeons
from nesting in the holes. Bird barriers like a ‘slinky’ toy can be
fastened to a ledge to prevent the pigeons from landing there. I’ve even
read about conditioning pigeons with lights or balloons or even spraying
them with water. Some residents who dislike pigeons even more than G-Ma
used to use a poison called Avitrol. It’s a chemical put on rooftops but
was used in public places where birds feed. The birds die from a heart
attack or breathing problems. Our New York governor signed a bill a year
and a half ago outlawing its use. The Peregrine Falcons and Red Tailed
Hawks that G-Ma really likes were being poisoned by
accident. So the wild bird activists and environmentalists helped pass
“That’s good, G-Ma. I learned about poison
from Discovery. There’s a tiny blue octopus that can poison ten people at
one time.” Sarah startled Matt and me with her booming outburst. I was
relieved she was still attentive. Her attention span isn’t as refined and
protracted as her big brother’s.
“Sarah, the ‘blue octopus’ shoots out as much
poison to kill ten people that’s what Nigel told us.” Matt was quick to
correct his sister.
“G-Ma how many pigeons are there in New York
City? Hundreds I’ll bet. Or, even thousands? Or, how about zillions?”
Matt tried to count a flock of them a few days ago when I was about to
make a ‘pigeon-dash’ across a potential poop dropping area. He gave up
when Sarah scattered the flighty flock with her shrieking assault.
I knew eventually Matt or Sarah would ask me
that question. I tried to have my answer ready but found no person, or
facility, or organization or even web site had even an approximate
number. I called the Audubon society, the New York City Health
Department; I sought the assistance of several librarians; I leafed
through books at Barnes and Noble; I contacted Pigeon Watch out of Cornell
University’s Ornithology Department; I spent hours researching ‘pigeon
population,’ ‘pigeon statistics,’ ‘number of pigeons,’ and ‘pigeon this
and pigeon that’ on the Internet. I couldn’t retrieve a number or an
estimate. At my husband’s suggestion I performed a ‘street survey’ asking
different ages, different nationalities, different sexes from different
economic backgrounds. My question was “How many pigeons do you think there
are per person in New York City?” Those participating were not surprised
at my question and promptly spit out their replies. The range was from 1
to 2 per person to 20 per person and the average number was 5
(interestingly, this was the number my husband had originally suggested).
“Well, my little ones, after G-Ma surveyed
people living in New York City, I believe there are close to 40 million
pigeons. That’s five pigeons for every person. And there are eight
million people in New York City.”
“Wow, G-Ma. That’s a lot. You told Sarah and
me some neat things about the pigeons. I think they’re kind of cool.
Helping to send messages, being pets and friends for people, some even
were heroes and got medals. Maybe they aren’t all pests like we thought.”
Matt had thought the bird issue all the way through. He was his parents’
child. He cares about people and animals, and now birds, and is willing
to put up with some distasteful and unlikable qualities if it means the
general public is served.
“I like pigeons, too, G-Ma”. Sarah nodded her
head much like a pigeon bobs its when it tries to better its eye focus.
“I think they are here to stay. They are tough just like me and Auntie E
and Wonder Woman. I just don’t like the pigeons that poop on your head,
G-Ma. Maybe if you say nice things to them and about them they won’t come
after you or make a mess on your window sill.”
I was amazed at what I had learned about past
and present day domesticated pigeons and even the tenacity and survival
prowess of the feral pigeons. Sarah’s and Matt’s mild lectures reminded me
I needed to get them committed to help with Pigeon Watch.
“Okay, Okay. I know you know. You both
are such wise owls. Would you like to be involved in Project Pigeon
Watch? Project Pigeon Watch is a grant from the National Science
Foundation's Informal Science Education Program. It's a program to
encourage kids like you to look at local environments in their own
neighborhoods and want to learn more. It involves people of all ages and
backgrounds in important scientific research.
You learn the
different pigeon color types, called "morphs" : blue-bar, red-bar, spread,
red, checker, pied white, pied splash and white are the different colors.
If you really become interested you can learn the different pigeon
courtship behaviors of the pigeons on your block. You receive a
Research Kit, with an Instruction Booklet, a Reference Guide, pigeon
posters. You also receive four issues of the Cornell Lab or
Ornithology newsletter, Birdscope."
"Will the magazine come to me,
with S-A-R-A-H on the front, G-Ma? Matt already has the
Natural History Museum 'magzine' with his name on the front".
Sarah sounded like a wounded bird with her trembling little peep.
"If you two are really interested the
newsletters will be in both of your names. I'll make sure of it.
Each year you continue to take part in the program you get several issues
of Pigeonscope, the PigeonWatch newsletter with photos, comments, stories
and other submissions from other PigeonWatchers. And the best part
is you can even send a story or pictures in for the
newsletter. What do you think?”
"G-Ma, what do we do." "Yes,
G-Ma, how do we watch the birds. Do we draw pictures of them?" Matt
and Sarah were chattering like little magpies locating a new pile of fresh
"I found out all you need to start is
a clipboard, pencils, and special sheets called Tally Sheets, a
PigeonWatch mini-poster showing the various colors and some easy
instructions. To join the program we need to have your mommy or daddy call
(800) 843-2473 (BIRD) or visit the web site at
to register the two of three. Let's check with your mom and dad.
Is it a 'go', kids?"
"But, G-Ma what are
we proving. Doesn't science prove something. Are we just
counting the pigeons and the different colors? Why?" Matt's
was a smart little bird, that's for sure. He just didn't want to
stand out on the sidewalk of his block and count pigeons. He wanted
to know the 'why and what for'.
that same question, Matt. I was told you will help people learn abut
the coloration and courtship behaviors of pigeons and it might help us
understand why pigeons exist in so many colors. I printed the
following material off so in case you were interested, I can read it to
you. Do you want me to share the information with you?"
"Okay, pigeon-poopy, G-Ma. G-Pa
courted you, right? You are both pigeons. Soooooper Doooooper Pigeon
Pooper, G-Pa. You better watch out for him, G-Ma. He will drop
doo-doo on your head. Yikes!" Matt was resorting to his silliness
again so I started right in.
strutting bird is a male pigeon courting and showing off for a female.
Males fluff their iridescent neck feathers, reflecting shimmering green,
bronze, and purple; they spread their tail feathers; they parade or dance
in a circle around the female; they coo loudly. This courtship
behavior may lead to mating or it might serve to strengthen the lifelong
bonds of an already-mated pair. We can see pigeon courtship all year long
but it peaks, is greater, in the springtime. I took a breath as I finished
my 'homework'. "I am getting excited about getting involved myself in the
project and doing it with you two. How about it?"
Matt was intently
rummaging around in his toy bins and didn’t respond. Secretively, he put
something behind his back and grabbed Sarah’s hand with his free one.
Grinning, they stood in front of me.
“Well, G-ma, we’d love to count pigeons, with
YOU, but only if you wear this on your head.”
Matt pulled out his slinky from behind his back
and slapped it atop my head. “There, G-Ma.” He triumphed, “You are
protected from the pigeon poop and won’t need to be mad at the pigeons any
more. We need to tape it on your head.”
Sarah danced around the room. “G-Ma’s got a ‘slinky so she won’t
be stinky’ on her head.”
I laughed accompanied
by my Vigilant grandson and his fun-loving sister. Matt took Right Action
to help his G-Ma not continually get bombarded with pigeon excrement. He
was tired of my complacency but not tired of laughing at the results of
I thought how other grandparents and parents could learn from Matt’s
awareness and his convictions that there are peaceful solutions to any
problem in order to live more happily. He taught me to walk through pigeon
poop and get to the other side by using my head (with a slinky on it).
Both Matt and Sarah also showed me how important it is to be
open-minded especially if it’s about something I detest (pigeons) and to
assimilate knowledge and learn to respect the other side of any issue. I
started out anti-pigeons and ended up honoring them.
I can use this lesson in all other aspects of my life. If I
wanted to keep walking in it – pigeon poop), I could. But, I could also
take Right Action (and put on a slinky) and continue to move forward with
my life – and not remain in the rut of dropping or piling up excrement. I
could work to resolve the pigeon issue, not just complain about it.
A Grandparent or Parent of Vigilance has special navigational
skills much like the pigeon. We have inbuilt maps of Courage
and patterns of Conviction to lead us to fly with Right Action
to keep our flock of children and our children’s children flying/living
safely in our world. Matt, Sarah and I, we three avian
amigos, learned from each other that there is more to a pigeon
than meets the eye (more than pigeon poop) if we are vigilant—that
is, if we have the Courage, Conviction and take the Right Action
to learn how to understand our world better.
I decided pigeons were
just another Sentinel of Vigilance, one I had overlooked.
I was glad I saw them with new respect, but I wasn’t quite willing
yet to look up in limb to see how many were there—just in case
an Osama bin Laden pigeon had slipped into the flock to Terrorize
me with his poop!
To Sophia 19: "Three's A Crowd"