The robin and pigeon both enjoy an iconic status in Britain. The cheery, red-breasted chap brightens our winters inside and out. He’s a common sight in our gardens and on our Christmas cards.
His larger cousin, the feral pigeon, has pecked itself into a symbol of city living and formed an unassailable bond with a national institution, Trafalgar Square. When Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London at the time, tried to evict pigeons from the landmark in 2000, he met with unexpected resistance from the birds’ human supporters.
Is the little bird who visits your home or office a pest or a pleasure? A bold little robin is entertaining the folk of Aberdeen this winter, popping into his local Co-op for a daily breakfast of crumbs. But he might not be so welcome if he were a Feral Pigeon. Despite having a small, vocal fan base, feral pigeons are not popular with most city dwellers. They’re called ‘rats with wings’ by many of us. They make unwelcome visits to homes and commercial premises across our cities, perching on window sills and roofs and leaving unwelcome and damaging deposits. Their acidic droppings eat away stone surfaces and car paintwork.
Pigeons are often the target of pest control measures, designed either to deter them from moving in or to persuade them it’s time to move on. The brand new Ordnance Survey building in Southampton has a kite flying from its roof, which carries the image of a bird of prey. So far it’s proved an effective pigeon deterrent.
Unlike the little robin, who usually travels alone, feral pigeons move in packs. Well, flocks to be precise, but that term doesn’t capture the arrogant swagger of fat grey birds with aggressive territorial ambitions. They appear to eat almost anything and it’s by living off our rubbish that they’ve earned their reputation as aerial vermin.
Feral pigeons are descendants of the Rock pigeons that we domesticated hundreds of years ago. While we might now despise these grimy, ungainly birds, they’ve been dependant on us for food for generations. But that’s not to say we should have to accept their mess and nuisance.
Effective pest control measures have significantly reduced the number of feral pigeons in London. The 4,000 in Trafalgar Square have been cut to around 200. If they continue to become less common, they might even win back a place in our affections, alongside the round, red robin.