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How Did the Pigeon Get to NYC?

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"Pigeon on New York Public Library." , Digital ID ps_ar_65, New York Public Library"Pigeon on New York Public Library." Digital ID ps_ar_65, New York Public LibraryOne can scarcely think of any park in NYC — or any city, really — without envisioning the ubiquitous pigeon there as well. Despite signs requesting you not feed the birds in adjacent Bryant Park, the library has more than its share of feathered patrons.

But how did this non-native species become the bird most associated with New York City? Pigeons are certainly not indigenous, but they have made themselves quite at home in the Big Apple. In Wild New York: A Guide to the Wildlife, Wild Places, & Natural Phenomena of New York City, authors Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson explain "Also called rock doves, pigeons were first brought to this country from Europe, probably during the 1600s, and that their original status here was that of a barnyard animal, raised purely for the table."

Captive pigeons somehow struck out on their own, nesting easily in the crevices of buildings that are not that different than the cliff sides on which their ancestors dwelled. Over time, pigeons and their young squab dwindle from menus and dinner tables. Ironically, most city pigeons depend exclusively on humans to feed them, whether purposefully or accidentally through litter.

Thousands of years ago in North Africa, people built dovecotes to house and raise pigeons for food and to use their droppings as fertilizers. New Yorkers have kept a similar relationship with pigeons by building coops on building rooftops and raising pigeons for racing and companionship. Bert on Sesame Street famously loves pigeons, enough to sing about it. Scientist Nikola Tesla was extremely fond of pigeons and would frequent NYC parks searching for injured birds, which he would then bring back to his residence at the Hotel New Yorker to nurse them back to health. His obsession with pigeons is documented in the novel The Invention of Everything Else and he had a favorite pigeon, which he mourned when she died.

The New York Times has covered pigeons in abundance and there are many non-fiction titles out there to help you learn more about these birds such as Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew D. Blechman. There are pigeon appreciation groups and documentaries by local filmmakers, such as JL Aronson's Up on the Roof. Pigeons are definitely part of New York's wildlife and landscape.

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pigeons

There is a recent movie, "The Pigeoneers", that includes archival footage of the homing pigeons used in WW 2 and interviews with the man responsible for raising and training them for decades. He continued to raise and race pigeons after he retired. He died at the age of 92 a year after the filming. He talked about his friendship with Tesla, based on their mutuall love of pigeons.

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