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Pigeonholed

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Some people call them “flying rats,” but as a city girl growing up in Manhattan, pigeons were among my first animal friends. Sitting out on the fire escape during the hot summer months was not uncommon in my neighborhood. It was a perfect “skybox” for watching the pigeons circle and fly through the air. They lived in a rooftop coop directly across the street and followed the dance of the wooden rod held by the coop master as it cut though the heavy, humid air. Now, of course, I am well aware of the cruelty of confining birds—but back then, I saw only the beauty and grace of the pigeons as they floated across the sky like dark, iridescent ribbons and heard only their gentle cooing that lulled me to sleep each night.

In relaying these heartfelt memories as an adult, I am always stunned by the incredulous looks and comments that I receive. Recently, after receiving a flier on my car on the topic of “Pigeon and Other Pest Management,” I called the number, feigning disdain at a new pigeon family who’d taken up residence in the rafters of my home. I was mortified upon hearing that this purportedly humane company’s management method started with “a spray wash to pry ‘em loose.” I won’t relay the rest of the conversation other than to state, unequivocally, that “humane pigeon removal” was among the most horrific of oxymorons when it came to this company’s approach.

Fortunately, pigeons do have some allies. In fact, in my old hometown, there are a number of groups that support pigeons—not only by engaging in rescue but also by actively promoting the extraordinary history of this much-maligned bird. One group in particular is campaigning for the acknowledgment of a National Pigeon Day—a campaign that began in honor of the legendary Cher Ami, a U.S. Army Signal Corps carrier pigeon who saved 200 lives in World War I by carrying messages across enemy lines. His last message was delivered after being shot through the breast, being blinded in one eye, and suffering an injury that left his leg barely attached. Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre for heroic service.

This sentiment, however, seems lost of late as we continue to see pigeons treated less than honorably. Live pigeon shoots are still common occurrences in Pennsylvania, the one state that openly allows them and continues to redefine levels of cruelty perpetrated against these majestic and intelligent creatures. For weeks prior to the shoots, pigeons are baited and captured by those involved in the events and kept in trap boxes without food or water. When released, usually in close proximity to waiting shooters, their deteriorated condition makes them easy prey. Sadly, the pigeons are also denied a swift death. According to People for Pigeons, “A typical 3-day shoot contest can kill and injure up to 15,000 birds.” The group goes on to say that “70% of the birds are injured when shot and either left to suffer slow deaths or collected and killed by pigeon shoot ‘trapper boys’ or ‘wringers’, traditionally children, who break their necks, step on them, tear off wings, suffocate them, or cut off their heads with garden shears, among other abuses.”

Legislation to ban live pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania has been longstanding and slow moving. SB 626, Pennsylvania’s most recent submission, looked promising, but as of May, it had been removed from the table even after an 11-3 affirmative vote by the state Senate’s judiciary committee.

Perhaps it is about perspective. Did I mention that pigeons mate for life? Another great example from which we could glean a few pointers! And while we marvel over the image of the white dove of peace, how soon many of us forget that pigeons and doves are in the same taxonomic family; pigeons are just larger than doves. Also, some say that in the biblical story of the great flood, it was a pigeon—not a dove—who returned to Noah with an olive branch. Based on the cruelty that these amazing animals continue to endure, perhaps it is time to reacquaint ourselves with their rich history. And perhaps move a bit more swiftly toward a day when it is we who extend the olive branch of peace to them. For the pigeons of Pennsylvania, that day cannot come a moment too soon.

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    slg13 says...

    June 24th, 2011, 4:34 pm

    Thank you for this post! Pigeons are indeed beautiful. Their range of colorations is astounding. Have you ever watched one fly above you? The underside of their wings can be a beautiful sight–some have white wings with a gray-black band bordering the white.

    Michael says...

    June 24th, 2011, 6:27 pm

    Beautiful article. I too love pigeons. I fail to see them as any different from any other beautiful bird. The sad thing is why do people have to see them as beautiful to be kind to them? There are many many ugly-looking people out there but that doesn’t allow us to physically hurt them or to malign them. We understand that that would be wrong. It saddens me that so many people out there harbor hatred and violent-inclinations and they are always looking for an ‘accepted’ victim.

    I am shocked and disgusted to hear about this Pigeon Shoot in Pennsylvania! That one will keep me awake at night for a while.

    Thank you for your article.

    Catherine Davis says...

    June 24th, 2011, 6:50 pm

    Pigeon shoots? What the? This is dispicable and should be outlawed at once! And having children kill them off after they are wounded? That is horrible and certainly not a way in which to teach childrent to respect and love animals, all animals, on this planet. I’m sick about this!

    Vicky Slay says...

    June 24th, 2011, 10:32 pm

    I have a love for Pigeons. I have a white one who loves to play with toys and ring bells for attention. He is quite the character. I have saved Pigeons in the past that ran into windows of my neighbors house. One I recall, I named Sandy, I spent nights rubbing her wing for her until she gained the stregnth to set her free. She always came to my backyard feeding place for birds for about two years and I guess either people or the hawks got her. I live in Ohio, real close to Pennsylvania and did not know about the Pigeon shoots. I am appalled by this cowardly method to rid the world of Pigeons and so unfairly. I have not seen many Pigeons anymore in my back yard and have wondered if humans have interferred. I took my white Pigeon in as a rescue bird where the people did not want to care for him anylonger and would keep him outside in the summer. He is content and happy in my house and doesn’t miss the outside at all. He gets to fly around my house for excersize and I am glad I took him in.

    Michele says...

    June 25th, 2011, 7:08 am

    I feed pigeons right outside my door and will tell you I think I have them trained because they will tap outside my kitchen window in the morning to let me know they are out there and I go outand feed them bird seed, and they are like my pets. I even have them eating out of my hand sometimes. To me pigeons are big beautiful birds an I wouldn’t stand fr them t be harmed in no way at all. I love them big babies. :)

    Patrice says...

    June 25th, 2011, 10:01 am

    My house is not too far from the downtown area, so I get pigeons visiting the feeders and birdbaths in my yard. I love to see all the different colors they come in and I really love to hear the cooing sounds that they make when they are sitting on the edge of my roof.

    That pigeon shoot in Pennsylvania is so barbaric and the legislators really need to get moving to outlaw it.

    Joyce says...

    June 28th, 2011, 6:37 pm

    Terrific article, Kris. I too love pigeons, and have never been able to understand why they are such a maligned bird. They look, sound and feel so beautiful. I guess it’s just the same old ignorance we continue to come up against every day.
    Be nice to see a change.org petition aimed at stopping those pigeon shoots.

    Kris Lecakes Haley says...

    July 16th, 2011, 12:37 am

    Thanks to all for such beautiful and heartfelt comments. It gives my heart hope to know that there are so many others out there who love pigeons.

    LKW2012 says...

    August 20th, 2012, 5:37 pm

    I know someone who lives near this place in PA, (Powderbourne) and he says he finds dead and half dead pigeons in his yard all the time. They shoot pigeons for sport and these poor birds lie there suffering until they die. It’s so sad that these people find pleasure in killing animals/birds.

    William says...

    January 7th, 2013, 9:59 pm

    There are horrible videos of these criminals on youtube. And most are cops. I used to live in the area about 6 years ago and feel disgusted that this is how people of the US will imagine the people of Bucks County.

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