L0027757 A treatise on domestic pigeons...John Moore, 1765.
John Moore, A treatise on domestic pigeons…, 1765. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

In 19th- and 20th-century London, the infestation and nuisance of pigeons was of growing concern to the Medical Officers of Health. The interactions between wild pigeons and humans in the city became increasingly problematic, which eventually led to several government interventions.  Pigeons’ droppings, and other associated fowl damage caused destruction of property. And the  noise generated by the birds was a major nuisance. Reforms were created to help minimize the gathering of these animals, including acts that allowed health officials to take specific actions in hiring special pigeon catchers to trap them.  However, despite the many complaints about pigeon noise and damage, many Londoners defended the birds, arguing that they were a vital part of the city and a major tourist attraction. Pigeon lovers also took part in domesticating pigeons, a popular hobby. The opposition to pigeon destruction created an even more difficult dilemma when it came to reinforcing a sense of separation between humans and animals. Reading about pigeons in the Medical Officer of Health reports gives a very different perspective on the birds and their relationship to Londoners than one gets from other sources, such as this 1929 film of pigeons around St. Paul’s cathedral, or the song “Feed the Birds” from the 1964 movie musical “Mary Poppins.”

Pigeon Noise

Pigeon Droppings

Pigeon Damage

Pigeons and Government Intervention

Pigeon Catchers

Domestic Pigeons

Opposition to Pigeon Destruction

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