From Estonia in 2019
I decided to walk to the supermarket when something particularly stressful and unexpected happened. On the side of the pavement I saw a number of pigeons sitting still. One of them, the leader of the gang I suppose, was at the front. I stopped to look at him, craning my neck downwards a bit. In an instant he flew into the air and started hovering in front of my head, all the while staring me out with pigeon evils. Some of his friends got up too and started copying him. I looked at their angry faces, and in short, I was afraid.
I had learned about this behaviour a few weeks previously when researching carrion crows in Birmingham, who are proponents of this. Mobbing- it’s usually when animals in groups who feel under threat take a stand against their predator and try and intimidate them into leaving them alone. But they can also do it for other reasons, such as obtaining food.
Tactics can include flying about the intruder, loud squawking and even defecating on the predator. Squirrels can mob snakes, fish can mob turtles, crows mob eagles, buffalos can mob lions. It’s an effective signalling device as well because if you are one of the frontrunners and you succeed in deterring your predator. The women will see that you are strong and healthy, thus increasing your likelihood of finding a mate.
A few notes about pigeons
I said to my brother, before coming to Estonia, how I was very excited to see how the flora and fauna varies. I asked if there would be pigeons. He said of course there will be pigeons, there are pigeons everywhere. I think the pigeons are the real winners on this Earth. The species is called wood pigeon, but they’ve upped sticks and left those woods long ago, taking on the cities, towns and villages. I bet there are even pigeons on the moon.
They’ve been with us from day one, I believe, with depictions of them present in Mesopotamian art dating back to 3000 BC. It will be the end of the world when the last pigeon breathes its last breath. Show’s over ladies and gentlemen.
These are some seriously organised birds. This is even evident in their relationships- pigeons mate for life, which is cute. They know how to use data and coordinate their movements quickly and effectively. I know that they played a tremendous role in the wars, carrying messages for the allies. War pigeons. Think about that for a second.
One pigeon in World War II called Mocker relayed 52 messages before being killed. Another called Cher Ami got a crucial message across, saving a large group of Americans, returning the message with one eye and one leg. It seems that animals are no less capable of heroics than humans are.
So much respect for that. More about pigeons- they can see ultra-violet, they can race, they can play sport, navigate the globe. Pigeons can fly at average speeds of up to 77.6 mph but have been recorded flying at 92.5 mph. Pigeons can fly between 600 and 700 miles in a single day, with the longest recorded flight in the 19th century taking 55 days between Africa and England and covering 7000 miles. It’s one of only 6 creatures that has passed the mirror test, and is able to recognize itself in the mirror (a weird image). It can even recognise the characters of the alphabet. I wouldn’t be surprised if they can write pastoral rondeaus in iambic tetrameter.
Underestimate pigeons at your peril.