Loving your enemies

Over the past 4 years of living in my apartment high above the city, I have had to share my balcony with a number of freeloading pigeons. That may not be so bad, except they poop profusely, and leave me with the mess to clean up. I have grown to be less than loving of my fellow feathered creatures, being woken up by their cooing and their congregating on my balcony.

When looking up pigeons on Wikipedia, I learn that pigeons are not native to North America; that they sailed from Europe on the boats with the settlers. Biologists would say therefore that they are an “invasive species” to our continent, and don’t have any natural predators here to keep their populations in check. And they are, like mice, rats, and cockroaches, animals which follow human habitation everywhere, meaning that they are found everywhere in North America humans live: on the coasts, in the praries, in valleys and the craggy ledges of mountains. And on my 14th-floor concrete balcony. It feels almost like home to them.

They are so plentiful and aggressive, that it does no good to harm or kill them. You can cover your surfaces where they like to go with a kind of spikey bird repellent (I haven’t tried that idea yet), but that’s about it.

For these much-loathed birds living in close quarters with me, it would seem that I must decry their serious drop in number over the decades, and advocate for their continued survival. It would seem.

An article in Science magazine issued 3 days ago with the dry-sounding title “Decline of the North American Avifauna” has decreed that, according to their close look at the situation, bird populations have generally declined by 29% since 1970, amounting to a decrease of over 3 billion birds. The main species whose populations have faced the steepest decline are those that are common in North American cities such as sparrows, blackbirds, and starlings. There are others that are actually increasing, such as ducks and geese. The Canada goose, while being beautiful large birds and graceful in flight, have also been a nuisance in many places, have taken advantage of our most slovenly methods of garbage disposal, with many not even bothering to fly south for all the garbage we give them to feed on.

The common feral pigeon, according to supplementary data which Science Magazine has behind the paywall, is experiencing a relatively slight increase. About 3.6 million Columbidae (of which pigeons are one group of species) have been added to the North American population between 1970 and 2017. Held up against the rest of the numbers in the table, the numbers seem small compared with birds like vireos, a small insect-feeding greenish family of birds, which has had the largest increase of all at just under 90 million.

Generally, birds are an important species, keeping animal and insect populations in check. Since my nemesis the pigeon is not in decline, I do not feel I am ready to be so much of a pro-pigeon advocate.

Time to get out the bird spikes.