Pigeons, Picasso and Ping Pong


Dear Wood Warbler,

I was wrong about those squirrels. The other day I saw one on the New River Walk, meditating on a branch. He reminded me of the men I see in Islington library, bent over their crosswords, lost in some kind of trance. I went right up to the squirrel, close enough to see each tiny hair on his long toes, close enough to look right into his brown liquid eyes. When I tried to stroke his head, he pootled off, slowly.

Whatever has been making your squirrels so dozy, it seems to have spread here.

This week I’ve been continuing my extremely scientific search for the Pigeoniest Pigeon in London. Once you start looking for pigeons, you see them everywhere. Huddled masses on the edges of buildings, sitting in trees, optimistically pecking at plastic cups, occasionally taking the Circle Line.

Yep, they were everywhere, just not in the one place I was specifically looking for them: Trafalgar Square. I guess my brain had got stuck in 1987, when I last fed them there. Or maybe I thought that if I went there, I’d be magically transported into the pigeon scene from Mary Poppins.


Despite my attempt to be the pigeon lady, the actual birds there were outnumbered by depressed out of work actors pretending to be statues. Only then did I remember (ie. google) how Ken Livingstone declared war on the flying ‘vermin’ back in 2010. He managed to get rid of most of them, thanks to a feeding ban and a couple of Harris Hawks. In their defence, here are a few facts about these vermin:

  1. They have UV vision and fly using a magnetic compass – which may well be located in their right eye. Their right eye! They might look all scruffy, with their missing toes and their knackered, Peter O’Toole-ish charm. But these birds have got their shit together. They are basically doing a Columbo. They’re so high tec that the Chinese have a standing army of military homing pigeons in Chengdu. If all systems fail, they’re putting their faith in pigeons.
  2. Studies have shown the pigeons can tell the difference between paintings by Monet and Picasso. The study didn’t mention this, but I’m pretty sure that the pigeons would have preferred the Picassos. He was a big pigeon fan – he drew them, kept them, liked having them on his head, and called his daughter Paloma. (You can translate Paloma as pigeon or dove. Clearly ‘Pigeon Picasso’ has a much better ring to it).
  3. They have excellent hearing, which we know because they have really long cochleas (a thingummy inside their ears) and because the other day in Trafalgar Square, when a beatboxer started his act, the remaining pigeons all flew away.
  4. They’re not bad at ping pong.

Love from

London Pigeon

Sighting of the week: It’s a tie between a crowd of goldfinches on the New River Walk, and a pied wagtail looking a bit lost on the Holloway Road.

PS Blackbird shit vs. your car. Apparently the pigeon shit on Nelson’s column cost £120,000 to clean. So, you know, it could be worse.

3 thoughts on “Pigeons, Picasso and Ping Pong

  1. I love your blog!
    Is a standing army of pigeons a roosting army?
    And I was charmed to hear of the Trafalgar Square pigeons voting with their wings when the beatboxer started up.
    In Barcelona in the late C19, it was thought that pigeons would add life and interest to the otherwise frankly rather dull Plaça Catalunya. There was a small colony in Parc Ciutadella and they were very attached to a particular keeper; so the keeper was deputed to lead them through the streets, Pied Piper fashion, to their spacious new home. Once there, he had do duck behind a fountain or somesuch and change into civvies so they wouldn’t follow him back to the park. So, smart but not *that* smart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a lovely story! I love that he became a pigeon herder. Although I feel a bit disappointed that they were fooled by his disguise. Feel this may call for further study: pigeon feeding & fancy dress experiments…

      Liked by 1 person

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