An Experiment With Pigeons

Walking is a supposedly mundane activity, generally made interesting by a hip music player bellowing music into the ears of the walker (the hip is quite essential). I’m patriotic about my voice, so my throat usually replaces the music player during walks. This not only spares my ears from imprisonment by earphones, it also allows my eyes and ears to work as a team in appreciating the wonders of daily life.

One such activity that I have been carrying out over time concerns pigeons. Years of observation has led me to posit that pigeons are an attractively stupid lot, irrespective of country of origin. Some of their behavioural characteristics are remarkably similar to human beings, which make us (un)attractively stupid, too. But we won’t get there.

The observations began in Threadneedle Street, London. Apart from sporadic threats by its resident ghost, Threadneedle Street is a wonderful place to relax with a triple macchiato in tow. The ghost loved it, humans loved it and so did pigeons. The pigeons loved the place so much that they would turn out in large numbers, gracing the area with their shitty presence.

A soul, human, was noble enough to arrange for food supply for the hungry pigeons, every day. The food was spread around the place and randomness ensured that food density in some places was higher than neighbouring areas.

A group of pigeons would swoop by daily. The leader would scan the place with satisfaction and then proceed to an area rich in food. The followers would oblige. Soon there’d be about 15 – 20 pigeon-folk, stooped down pecking in the same area, catering to their bellies. Needless to add, food supply would diminish quickly. It so happened that there was a smart alec in the pack. Before the food was completely devoured, this chap would scan nearby locations for food. The simple mechanics of supply and demand rewarded his brilliance abundantly. Off he would go to uninhabited areas and enjoy his meal, alone.

Other members of the herd would continue in Place #1 until food was exhausted, would look around incredulously, then scoot away.

After a few days, some members noticed smart alec’s behaviour. Noticing that he continued to forage enthusiastically even as they chose flight, they decided it was probably worthwhile to follow him. After finishing off at Place #1, they would proceed to Place #2. This pattern was firmly established over time. What began as a trickle eventually led to the entire pack following smart alec, until the new place was conquered.

Smart alec was now at a loss. He observed that his contrarian behaviour paid-off handsomely, initially. When the crowd followed, his edge diminished and beyond a point, was extinct. In order to recreate the edge, he decided to make a pre-emptive move.

This is where stupidity overpowered him.

He moved back to Place #1, which had very little food supply! Silliness writ large on his otherwise smart face, he noticed the lack of food and then enacted Act 2 in stupidity. He rejoined the herd in Place #2 rather than looking at the vast arena, which lay unexplored. Having done all the hard work, smart alec ignored the wonderful lessons that experience had taught him. Forsaking a method that worked well and adopting one that guaranteed failure expunged his edge completely.

I learned later that pigeons do not suffer from short-term memory loss and are capable of remembering patterns of events in their recent environment. In which case, their behaviour corroborated my stupidity hypothesis.

Pigeons in other parts of England exhibited similar manners, which led me to hypothesize that probably pigeons, specifically in the Queen’s Land, were of a mental bent inclined towards foolishness. Empirical evidence from India negated this.

Besides, Indian pigeons adopted a cavalier attitude towards other bird species. They were particularly severe on sparrows and birds of smaller size. When larger birds competed for food, pigeons dejectedly made way. The same behaviour is observable, crudely first in school bullies and then polished to perfection in the world of business.

I tried testing if pigeons exhibited smarts in nest-construction. Twigs, which are the basic building blocks, are universally accepted material. When plant stems that resembled twigs were carefully placed in the path frequented by pigeons, the birds were smart enough to ignore them. It appeared that I would have to reconsider my stupidity hypothesis.

To carry the experiment a step further, I painted the green stems with a coat of brown so they resembled the dry, stiff twigs’ natural colour. This duped the pigeon, which carried the ‘twigs’ away. What happened to the nest is best left to speculation.

This leaves two possibilities. (1) My experimental methods need to get smarter, when I was being stupid in application, it would be erroneous to assign foolishness to the poor pigeons, or, (2) Pigeons are indeed rather stupid, colour-blind or both.

Before postmen, email and social networking put them out of business, doves discharged their mail-delivering responsibilities well. This punctures the hypothesis.

The onus is now on the pigeons to transfer the title of stupidity to my head, but only through diligent observation and carefully constructed experiments aimed at testing idiocy.


 Source: Wikipedia


12 thoughts on “An Experiment With Pigeons

  1. I have a friend in New York who has to cross the street each time she sees a pigeon as she loathes them and calls the city’s flying rats… Hmmm I wonder why they irk so many people!

    1. I had no idea pigeons could be so irksome!

      They aren’t so bad really. I have, what may be termed, a pigeon mate. A lame chap who’s been around my place for a long time. I share a queer equation with these ‘mates’ of mine. I don’t house them and they are free to explore the world. If they return, great (most unfailingly, do). We have fun but physical presence is not a prerequisite for survival, both ways.

      In adorning statues of long-dead personalities’ with their poop, the pigeons carry out what many living souls would gladly do!

  2. I adore pigeons! Especially, the one’s who make the ledge of my window their home during the summer/spring months.

    You have carried out quite a variety of experiments to both prove & disprove your stupidity hypothesis but what I feel – maybe rather unscientifically – is that there is always safety in numbers. So, there is definitely a preference to stay in a group, despite one breaking away for a while to feed his appetite…and he returned! Moreover, I think all animals and birds, living in a human world, have had to adopt and evolve their natural ways; and the decisions they make are rational, at least in the circumstances (e.g. where he mistook the painted stem fora twig).

    1. Point well made. Fully agree with you.

      The spotted deer has evolved similarly. To keep predators at bay they have come to stay in large groups. The barking deer, a solitary chap, has paid for this privilege of solitude with death.

      Good to hear you adore pigeons! 🙂

  3. I always had a thing for the “loner” pigeon, the “smarter” one… I had in my town a one-legged bird, he liked humans as they fed them under the café tables… I saw him later, eaten by a cat 😥
    But the thing is: they’re really city’s idiotic flying rats ! I always wondered if they were eatable like their wild cousins, with all the strange things they put in their mouth…

  4. I am reading post after post from your blog. The way you describe stuff, I feel as if I’m blind. Well, I’ll take solace in the fact that I am slightly myopic of both eyes. Does that look like pigeon-talk to you? 😀

    1. Thank you for stopping by, pausing to read not one, but several posts, and sharing your comments. I, for one, know how taxing that can be on a reader!

      We all suffer from extreme myopia. And, one could make a strong case that we humans have much in common with pigeons, not all of which we might find agreeable. 🙂

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