Written by Haley Cain
Pigeons have lived in London for generations (Velten, 229). Pigeons began as a good and vital asset to the human inhabitants; before telephones and cellphones the birds were used as carrier pigeons. Later, pigeons became a huge attraction to city-dwellers, who began to feed them in parks and other places. Due to this feeding, the pigeon population began to grow and cause damage to the surrounding buildings by defecating, shedding, or simply nesting. As pigeons became an enormous nuisance, some Londoners began to take measures to get rid of them, while others continued to feed and defend the birds.
Today most of the world thinks of pigeons as vile, but back in the 19th and 20th centuries people loved them. The people loved them so much that they began feeding them. Feeding pigeons became the ultimate attraction for the people in the most populated areas. In the London borough of Ealing in 1963, pigeons began to become a nuisance to the buildings surrounding the Haven Green (Ealing 1963). The pigeons also began to damage the surrounding buildings due to the highly attractive place filled with people feeding the pigeons. This is shown in the picture with a woman holding a basket feeding a flock of pigeons. Once this began, pigeons became domesticated in the sense of being able to be around a lot of people. This is the reason why pigeons flock in areas which have a high density of people. An example of this is shown in the book Animal City that “Human feeders make a significant intervention for species that are vulnerable in the cold weather, and rubbish dumps are and especially attractive, spatially concentrated feeding source for a range of birds and small mammals” as a result, “young birds become habituated to this type of environment and show no desire to return to the rural woods and fields of their forebears to seek their living” (Atkins, 5). In Richmond upon Thames in 1971 the MOH explained that no one could prevent people from feeding the pigeons (Richmond upon Thames 1971). Once the pigeons were being fed they began to rely on the people for their food source.
The pigeons started to get comfortable around people and began nesting in and on buildings. In the MOH report for the City of London in 1925, the medical officer stated:
Pigeons collect round the Market and nest in the girders and higher places which are inaccessible without special provision. It is not necessary to describe the effect of overhead pigeons on the stalls beneath…(City of London 1925).
Pigeons nesting in high places result in unwanted “gifts” leaving everything it touches contaminated. In the borough of Islington in 1965, it was reported that the pigeons transmitted disease and caused damaged to homes by fouling the food (Islington 1965). Another case dealing with this kind of damage due to pigeons was found in Chelsea in 1930 where they found traces of “excreta” on the pipes of the building and nests in the drains causing them to get clogged. This made the building insanitary and necessitated cleaning and replacing the plumbing, which was expensive to do. (Chelsea 1930)
Once all of this damage began to happen, people began reaching out to the authorities to get them to do something about the pigeons. There continued to be complaints about the damage the pigeons were making inside and outside the houses. For example, a MOH report from Hampstead in 1932, reported complaints about pigeons. Due to this the London County Council Act, 1927 section 52 allowed the Council to “seize and destroy or sell any such house-dove or pigeon in excess of such number as the Council may consider reasonable…” (Hampstead 1932). In the book Beastly London: a history of animals in the city, there is a story about a man who poured whiskey into the pigeons’ grains to make them drunk so that way he would be able to catch them himself. However, the whiskey ended up burning the pigeons’ throats and they ended up dying (Velten, 230). In Woolwich, the trapping of pigeons commenced in March, 1963, and about 586 pigeons were caught and destroyed, which was done by the Rodent Control staff (Woolwich 1963). In the city of London in 1936 they practiced trying to catch the pigeons but realized that would not be enough to fix the problem (City of London 1936).
Later in the city of Westminster in 1951 they tried to take a different approach on how to fix the pigeon problem. By doing this they put battery-powered electric wiring around select places of the building due to only certain areas of the building being easily access (City of Westminster 1951). The picture shows how today similar tactics are being used to keep pigeons, or in general just birds, from causing damage to buildings. This approach ended up being good for the people of Hampstead in 1957 because the Council couldn’t do anything due to the “irate, bird-loving, members of the community and accused them of cruelty and inhumane treatment to the birds” (Hampstead 1957). This “bird-loving” ideal was shown the book Animal Cities:
“Considering this marginalization process in more detail, feral pigeons are a good example because there are so many living in cities; pigeons are trapped or killed in others; and their perching is often discouraged by spikes or sticky gel” (Atkins, 3).
There is still an enormous amount of pigeons all over the world, showing that over the years we have come to terms with having pigeons around but just have found ways to prevent them from damaging most buildings today.
Primary Sources (MOH Reports on pigeon damage):
Peter Atkins (ed.), Animal Cities (New York: Routledge, 2016).
Rodrepelnewblogeditor. “RODREPEL™ AGAINST PIGEONS!” Rodrepel Blogs. June 29, 2015. Accessed April 07, 2017. Rodrepel Blog Post
Hannah Velten, Beastly London: a history of animals in the city (London: Reaktion Books, 2016).