Friday, June 19, 2009

Pigeon Pros and Cons

Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, never at a loss for words, has been credited with referring to urban pigeons as "rats with wings," although he may not have originated the expression. Certainly they are a major player in city life, reviled by many and loved by little old ladies and others who feed them, whether they need to be fed or not. My experience with our avian friends has been mixed. In general I find them dirty and a nuisance, but there have been exceptions.

I was fortunate enough as a child to have a father who encouraged me to live side by side with our fellow creatures, even snakes (at least the harmless ones). In our upstate New York backyard, we were able to encounter all sorts of animals and birds, including gorgeous pheasants. One day a pigeon waddled up our driveway, and I decided to feed him/her/it a few breadcrumbs. I was only a kid; wouldn't dream of doing it now. The bird returned the next day, and for several days after that, at about the same time in the afternoon. One day I wasn't home, and my mother said that the pigeon had come again but that she hadn't fed it. It never returned. No grace period for me: "Ingratitude, more strong than traitor's arms...."

On the unpleasant side of pigeondom, I recall walking into my dormitory at Barnard College wearing a prized new Pringle cashmere cardigan. I heard a "plop!" on one shoulder, and there was pigeon poop. Ugh—even though there's an old wives' tale that it's good luck. I also see the birds ranged in rows on certain city lampposts, looking for all the world like the eponymous predators in Hitchcock's immortal The Birds. And then there's the smallish one that flew into an unscreened window of my apartment. Since, unlike Tippi Hedren in the film, I'm not afraid of birds, I was able to open the window wider and, after a short scuffle, shoo the unwelcome visitor out.

I have visited Venice a few times and have naturally enjoyed it to the hilt, not being fazed by the feathered inhabitants of Piazza San Marco. My traveling companion on my first visit there was afraid of birds and was obliged to keep to the perimeter of the plaza instead of walking straight across it. I don't see why anyone with a fear of birds (irrational, of course, despite Hitchcock) would even visit Venice in the first place. I guess the lure of this wonderful, fabled city is worth the risk.

So, the jury is still out on pigeons. Columba had just better not poop on me again.

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