Why Are We So Mean to Pigeons?

I have to admit, I was a bit thrown by this question when my 9 year old asked it of me. I mean, I can’t honestly say I’d spent a great deal of time – or any time at all – thinking about it. I explained to her that pigeons were considered vermin, and what vermin was (although that bit she already knew) and so people thought it was a good thing to keep the numbers down.

“But they don’t do anything,” she protested. “I’d hate to be a pigeon. All I’d do is fly about and eat stuff, and people would hate me. That’s not very nice is it?”

And all my arguments went out of the window; especially since I’m known to be keen on rehabilitating other forms of vermin, like the rat (highly intelligent), slugs (food for hedgehogs), or foxes (pest control on their own). How could I justify pigeons as vermin if I wasn’t prepared to explore what they do and how we treat them?

The problem is that pigeons are predominantly an urban bird; and I grew up in the good old days when Trafalgar Square was knee-deep in the things. It was very much a rite of passage in those days to have pictures of oneself taken with pigeons perched on head, arms and shoulders, pecking seed from little plastic cups. When the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, had them cleared from the Square, the idea of pigeons as vermin seems to have been cemented and they’ve become much less appreciated ever since.

My daughter is right in her assertion that pigeons don’t actually “do” anything; they’re not intrinsically destructive and are no more disease-ridden than any other creature (and probably less so than rats, for example). They nest in abandoned buildings, they will feed from a bird table if there is one or scavenge if not and, like all birds, will poo whenever and wherever the need arises.

So why are we so mean to pigeons – and isn’t it time we stopped?