15 January, 2012


Kick a London pigeon week

If you can overlook his incontinent sanitary practices — a big ask, I know, but hey it's part of his avian culture, innit — the London feral pigeon is a decent enough sort of chap. A very lower-middle class bird, like a humble Dickensian clerk who has, by dint of years spent assiduously watching for dead men's shoes, finally achieved his goal of becoming overseer. He quietly and uncomplainingly goes about his incomprehensible daily work of picking up invisible crumbs from London's pavements, a humdrum task enlivened only by the occasional discovery of a puddle of dried puke, whereupon he is wont to become uncharacteristically excited.

You can imagine him at the end of the working day, with his copy of the avian edition of the Daily Mail tucked neatly under his wing, stepping into his favorite watering hole for a swift half of wallop and a spot of decorously risqué banter with the Polish barmaid, before catching his train home to the wife and squabs in the suburbs.

Compare and contrast the Thames seagull, a vulgar lager lout of a bird, who spends his days lounging about on the river walls, never separated from his can of Stella, making rude remarks about human passers by until he gets bored and pops back to the river to look for ducks and moorhens to harass.

Or the suburban corvid, evilly intelligent beasts who wouldn't think twice about swooping down and pecking out your eyes before offering you a "good deal" on a white stick. And yet despite their formidability, they seem to be nervous of us. Many's the occasion I have stood on the railway platform contemplating a crow or magpie which has fled my approach and sits looking at me from a safely high perch, only to look down to find a pigeon at my feet, looking up as if to say, "What the bleedin' 'ells up with him then, soft bugger?"

But your humble pigeon has, in recent years I notice, been getting above himself. Even in the days when I still joined the gloomy throng shuffling off the platforms at London Bridge of a morning, the local pigeons had taken to flying low over the crowd, passing scant inches above people's heads.

Groups of birds gathered around discarded food increasingly expect people to walk round them. Some have even begun, perhaps unwisely, to get confrontational about it. I recall one such encounter when I was eating one of those extremely flaky hard bread rolls in the street, unavoidably generating a tempting little pile of crumbs at my feet. A local pigeon, refusing to wait his turn, began to get quite aggressive. If he'd had the weight I'm sure he would have been up for barging me out of the way. I stood my ground, until as I was about to pop the last chunk of cheese roll into my mouth, he gave up and started to stomp off in disgust. So instead of eating it, I bounced the final morsel off the back of his retreating head. Quite a good shot, as it happens. Shameless little bugger, once he'd got over his shock, turned round and ate it, of course.

But the final straw came when a pigeon slapped me in the face. Not as health-threatening an experience as it might have been, for this was not only a suburban pigeon but a barely fledged squab who hadn't had time to accumulate the filth and disease that many of his elders aspire to. Probably accounts for the clumsy flying skills that caused him to collide with me, as well.

Enough I say. The feral rock dove is forgetting who built the artificial urban cliffs he perches on, who scatters the plentiful benison of food on the pavements, to which he has become so accustomed that he regards it as an entitlement. He needs to be taught a bit of respect.

I therefore invite readers to join me in participating in London kick-a-pigeon week. This is not a set period in the calendar, but any period of seven days, not necessarily contiguous and chosen entirely to suit your personal convenience, when you will take the opportunity to launch an unprovoked kick at selected ambulant pigeons who happen to cross your path.

Encourage your small children to chase the little sods. Don't worry, pigeons are not as bird-brained as they look. They recognize the difference between a human adult and a human child and they know that small children may give chase. There's no chance your child will catch an alert pigeon.

Keep the little buggers nervous and guessing. Teach them their place and reclaim the streets for humanity!

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