If you’ve never seen an Alfred Hitchcock film and are looking for an entry point, considering adding The Birds to your Netflix queue. As an added bonus, you’ll not only be watching one of Hitch’s classics, you’ll also gain a true appreciation of ornithophobia—the fear of birds.
While hardly anyone objects to brightly-colored songbirds, hummingbirds, or regal avians such as eagles or owls, no conversation about birds is complete without mentioning perhaps the most common bird in urban settings: the pigeon. Call them “rats with wings,” call them the scavengers, call them a nuisance—if you live in Chicago, you can’t avoid them. From colorful species camped out under the El to scavenger birds making their own picnics in Grant Park, pigeons are year-round pests. And if they infiltrate your residence, they can be a serious problem.
Pigeons weren’t always city-dwellers. Joshua Engel, a research assistant in the Integrative Research Center at Chicago’s Field Museum explains, “Pigeons evolved to nest on cliffs, which helped them adapt to nesting on 'pseudo-cliffs'—places like bridges, underpasses, and buildings. The pigeons that we have in the United States are a domesticated breed of pigeon, so they are well-suited to live around people.”
And, as Vanessa A. Williams, scientific media coordinator, zoologist and animal behavior specialist at Wild Goose Chase Migratory Bird Management of Chicago Ridge, Illinois and and locations throughout the Midwest, explains, “Pigeons have been co-evolving with humans for thousands of years. They are extremely adaptable and can easily live off of our garbage and leavings. In addition to being kept captive for messenger and food purposes, feeding 'wild' pigeons is an activity that has been around for centuries. These birds have been tamed, and possibly even changed as a species, by these actions and they have learned that people provide a bountiful food source.”
“Pigeons can also breed year-round if provided proper nesting areas,” Williams continues, “and our buildings offer many nooks and crannies out of the elements where they can nest safely and comfortably. Lastly, humans have exterminated most of the natural predators in their cities that prey on pigeons, creating a wonderfully safe environment for them.”