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A review of the book “Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird” by Andrew D. Blechman (2006).

I must admit I had high hopes for this book. I’ve read a lot of books in this style and have liked them, but this book let me down a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it had some good information and writing in it – touching on a wide range of pigeon related subjects, such as pigeon racing, pigeon fanciers, pigeon shooting and pigeon control, however, it didn’t quite hit the mark with me. Maybe it is because I’m so pigeon crazy that I couldn’t help notice the lack of emotion on the author’s part. Maybe I’m wrong in saying this, since I know that his involvement with this book and pigeons has turned him into a pigeon advocate – and I love that!! However, this book feels more about the people who love and hate pigeons, rather than about pigeons themselves – therefore the title of the book is a bit misleading.

I felt that there were a few things that could have been left out of this book – particularly the chapter in which the author tries to talk to Mike Tyson about pigeons. That was a useless chapter; more about celebrity chasing than about pigeons. And although I was horrified to read about squab farming and how they are killed (I think the image the author has pushed into my brain will stay with me forever. It brings tears to my eyes now thinking about how these helpless birds are killed) – I think it is necessary for readers to hear about the horrific practice of squab farming. However, I think it was very tasteless to add a recipe on pigeon pot pie at the end of the chapter.

The author got some good quotes from pigeon people, such as the one by Dr. Jean Hansell, “People just don’t make the connection between the dove of peace and the pigeon in the street.” How true is that?! If everyone simply realised that a dove and a pigeon are one and the same then maybe they’d not view feral pigeons as vermin and dirty. I thought it is interesting how some pigeon fanciers think feral pigeons give their fancy pigeons a bad name. Fancy pigeons came from ferals so where’s the logic in that?

Then one of the pigeon fanciers, a man nicknamed Dr. Pigeon, states that maybe pigeons don’t feel pain since pigeons often don’t act like they are in pain after being hurt. No offence, but that’s a ridiculous statement. Pigeons have to have a strong survival instinct because of all the dangers in the world and cannot show weakness when hurt, so they don’t make a fuss about it. A lot of animal species are like this. Just because they’re not wailing and crying out in pain doesn’t mean they don’t feel pain.

One breed of pigeon I hadn’t heard of before I read about them in this book was of Parlor Rollers. These pigeons are bred to somersault backwards on the ground. People compete to see which pigeon can roll the furthest and the longest. I’ve seen a few videos of this on the net and have taken an instant dislike for such practices. Why breed a pigeon that has a need to roll on the ground for no purpose whatsoever? What’s the attraction? On top of that, I think it is inhumane. Poor pigeons – humans have bred this trait in them to the extreme. They don’t have much choice in the matter.

One good thing about this book is how he highlights the cruelty and uselessness of pigeon shooting. You can really see the ignorance and small-mindedness of the people who consider pigeon shooting as sport. I will never understand how the minds of these people work. How can someone consider shooting an animal as a victory?

As well as writing about pigeon shooting, the author writes extensively about pigeon pest control and the ineffective and inhumane methods pest control companies use. He talks to two prominent people who fight against these methods and promote humane and realistic methods of pigeon control. One such person, Dave Roth, who runs the Urban Wildlife Society, says something (talking about his loving relationship with one of his pigeons) that I wholly agree with: “If everybody could experience this kind of relationship with a bird, then we wouldn’t have all the problems we have today with the pigeon haters.” This is exactly how I feel about my pigeons.

Another pigeon advocate is Guy Merchant, the founder of the Pigeon Control Advisory Service (PiCAS). He states, “We are the only independent source of unbiased information out there. By comparison, the pest control industries are only motivated by greed. They invest millions of dollars each year on anti-pigeon propaganda and misinformation. It’s entirely unethical. In fact, there are no ethics involved at all. Believe you me, the world hates pigeons because of them.”

On the subject of pigeons and disease, Dr. Nina Marano (an epidemiologist) states that “Pigeons are no more filthy than any other wild bird or animal,” while Dr. Arturo Casadevall (an expert in pigeon faeces) states, “Pigeons are no different than other animals. When it comes to spreading disease, they don’t stand out.” Good solid statements that they can back up since they are the experts. Hooray!

The author writes about the dangers of over-feeding pigeons, how we can do more harm than good. I do agree. By supplying huge amounts of food we are helping pigeons breed in vast numbers that attract unwanted attention. That’s when pest control companies are called out. Good intentions can also be the problem.

I’m not sure I can describe why I am disappointed with this book, it could be because of the horrible things people do to pigeons that he’s written about. It’s left me feeling sad and maybe that has tainted my feelings about the book. If I am to be objective then this book has a good array of information of the positive things about pigeons and the negative side of humans, however, reading it may leave you a bit depressed if you are against animal-abuse and exploitation because the author has written about these more than anything else. Maybe a bit more about pigeon loving should be in the book.

Ps. Some might view this post as an attack on pigeon shooters, fanciers, etc., and I admit it is (although a much restrained attack). These are my views and many pigeon people might not like them but my interests in pigeons have nothing to do with how fast they can fly, how ‘pretty’ they look, how long they can roll or how good they might taste. I love pigeons simply because I have the good fortune to know that they are unique in character, have wonderful personalities and have a rich and diverse social life. They are unique beings and should be loved for just being themselves – not how much money they can make us.

Note: All quotes in this post are from the book: Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird, by Andrew D. Blechman, 2006.