Few other animals are as oft-maligned as the humble pigeon, the feathered denizens with whom we share our cities, suburbs, and if they’re lucky, the occasional breadcrumb.
But despite their typically unflattering (and unfounded) reputation as pests or “rats with wings”, there are plenty of wonderful reasons to appreciate pigeons.
1. They’re the first birds humans domesticated
Humankind’s relationship with pigeons dates back to the dawn of civilization, and likely even earlier than that. Domesticated pigeons, also known as rock doves, were first depicted in pictographic writing on clay tablets in the Mesopotamian period dating well over 5,000 years old. Some scholars even believe that the birds were kept by Neolithic man as far back as 10,000 years ago.
2. They do backflips in midair, yet no one really knows why
Many birds are known to perform impressive aerial acrobatics in pursuit of prey or to avoid being eaten themselves, but few of those moves are more impressive than pigeons doing backflips. No one knows for certain why some types of pigeons roll backward somersaults in flight, though some suspect that it’s done simply for fun.
3. They’ve learned to ride the subway and are model passengers
Train drivers there say they’ve seen pigeons regularly riding the subway since the early 1990s – and that they’re actually model passengers.
4. They recognize people who are nice to them
Though they may seem to be a little spaced-out from time to time, pigeons remember faces they run across. In one study focusing on birds in the center of Paris, two researchers offered food to the birds or chased them away, respectively. When this was repeated over several visits, the pigeons began to avoid the chaser while being drawn towards the feeder, even if they were wearing different clothes.
“It is very likely that the pigeons recognized the researchers by their faces, since the individuals were both female and of a similar age, build and skin colour,” researcher Dr. Dalila Bovet and her team concluded.