Topic of the day: Pigeons.
I hate pigeons: more than I hate seagulls, and about as much as I hate Canada geese except they’re more prolific and aren’t the national bird of my homeland. Pigeons are gross – except when they are in a large group and someone interesting looking is feeding them and I’m holding my camera:
(even I can’t deny that’s a great shot and all the pigeons are what really make it great!)
Sure there are pigeons in Toronto, Winnipeg, NYC, Venice, Rome and most other large cities. There are even pigeons in Port Credit. But here in Paris, I think the pigeons are both significantly more numerous and at least twice the size:
You can barely take a step in Paris without stepping on a pigeon (they don’t move for you) or stepping in pigeon poop. In fact, although I can find no precise statistics regarding the pigeon situation in Paris, various sites I read estimate the number of pigeons anywhere from 80,000 – 90,000: and those estimates are from a few years ago! That means that there’s a pigeon for approximately every 25 inhabitants of this lovely city:
With pigeons numbering in the thousands perhaps the government should look at restoring the use of carrier pigeons as a mainstream method of communication in order to try and lift the reputation of this maligned bird. I mean, why not? Pigeons were used in Paris during the siege of 1870-71 when the city was surrounded by Prussian troups and the only things getting in or out were the pigeons. A photographer, René Dagron, figured out a way to take pictures of hundreds of pages of writing at one time then reduce them to a very small size and copy them onto micro-film. These films were attached to goose quills and then attached to the tail feathers of the pigeons who flew off to deliver their messages. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 60,000 letters were delivered to Paris addresses during the siege!* That’s quite something for a dirty little bird eh?
Now my problem isn’t with the pigeons themselves. They’re not an unattractive bird (as birds go) and they actually do make a nice cooing sound: I should know as we have a family of pigeons nesting in a ventilation duct in the courtyard outside our bedroom window:
. Every morning around 6:30am we hear the “daddy” (or is it the “mommy”?) pigeon cooing to wake the family and welcome everyone to the new day. It’s actually not annoying at all and I don’t begrudge them their space (except when I’m trying to sleep in).
My problem is that pigeons are messy and stinky. They poop everywhere, and I mean everywhere, including – I read on-line – on the President of France when he was consoling the staff at Charlie Hebdo back in January of this year.
Although that particular incident gave the newspaper staff a much needed chuckle at a difficult time, I have a few recent personal examples that show pigeons in a less positive light:
First, last weekend Gary’s brother Paul and his family were visiting. I walked with them up to the Arc de Triomphe where we oooed and ahhhed at the amazing structure and the myriad roads running into it. There, under the Arc, were literally hundreds of pigeons. En masse these pigeons looked really cool, very Français and all that (don’t ask me why but they just seemed to look and act Français) and I took quite a few photos:
At the same time the smell around the entire area the pigeons occupied was horrible and it was difficult to find a clean spot to sit down. As well, there were numerous pigeons that looked sick and did not seem pleasant at all. But it was the smell that was the worst. All in all quite a gross part of an otherwise stunning structure!
The next day, as we strolled through Luxembourg Gardens eating ice cream cones, looking for a place to sit down we again had a really hard time finding a bench that wasn’t all covered in pigeon poop. I ask you – why do the pigeons like to sit on the benches anyway? Or maybe they just use them as toilets? Maybe it’s their way of messing with humans, both literally and figuratively. They clearly get a better view and seem happier when they perch on the top of the statues or in the nooks and crannies of all the old buildings:
As for us back in Luxembourg Gardens, well, we tried sitting on the grass – a risky move at the best of times in Paris – but that lasted no more than 5 minutes before we were ousted by the “grass” police (an important government department).
And last, but definitely not least, walking on the grounds of Notre Dame Cathedral today with Elaine and Kevin (BABE in town!) there were, of course, hundreds of pigeons. In the midst of all these pigeons stood a guy, similar to the fellow in my photo above, collecting donations via giving children and their unsuspecting parents food for the pigeons. These pigeons could then, of course, be lured onto the arms, shoulders and even heads of the children or adults providing that “ever so cute” Kodak moment. Except when the pigeon let it go on the head of one little boy – I think we were the only ones who found that incident quite hilarious. Frankly I wish I’d caught that particular moment with my camera but I just missed it (caught the clean up):
Now, I know the government is aware of the pigeon problem and is trying to do something about it. Indeed, left uncontrolled the pigeons could take over the city! Since 2003 the Paris government has installed pigeon houses that they call “pigeonniers contraceptifs” to try and help control the pigeon population. Apparently pigeons always return to the same place to roost and they lay eggs a few times a year. It is possible to entice them to breed in a specific location (aka these houses) using food as bait and then, after they have nested, a government worker shakes the eggs to ensure that no baby pigeons are born. Okay, don’t get all weepy on me now – the government is not callous, they let the pigeon parents have one set of eggs (what is that called anyway – a litter?) but, after that, all future groups of eggs by those parents are shaken and thus “sterilized”. And yes, there are actual government workers who are responsible for these pigeon houses. I wonder what the title on their business card says? “Manager Pigeon Patrol”? “Pigeon Death Squad”? LOLOL. As an aside, I’ve yet to see one of these pigeon houses and I can’t find any recent information on them but you can bet I’m on the lookout and will let you know when I find one!
I don’t want to belabor the point, which is: there are a lot of pigeons in Paris, and you should be prepared should you come here. You can take pictures of them pretty well everywhere, and some of these photos will be amusing while others will be heartwarming. That’s the good side. You could also try to get them to carry a message for you. But, on the other hand, be careful before you sit down anywhere and don’t be surprised if you smell something fowl if you ever find yourself in the middle of a kit (yup, a “kit”) of pigeons.
- Apparently, there’s a very good book about the whole carrier pigeon thing during the siege of 1870-71. It’s by Richard Holmes, and is called, Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air, William Collins, 2013. I haven’t read it yet but I think I should!