CNN had a story about how a Dubai-based architect is designing small shelters that humans could share with pigeons.
It’s not like a shelter where homeless people might be expected to sleep. It’s more like a shelter from the sun — a place where two or three people can get some shade and hang out. The pigeons are supposed to enter through holes above the human shelter and hang out with each other and grace the upper portion of the shelter with their feces, which could be periodically harvested for fertilizer. I love this idea.
I’m most familiar with pigeons that are in my way when I walk through the CID’s light rail station at street level. There are street lamps everywhere in the station that pigeons might like to perch on, but they feature spikes meant to discourage them. So, the pigeons crowd the sidewalk, get in the way of people walking by and wait to be fed breadcrumbs by humans, like me, who won’t feed them. So I’m always stirring them up and they are always flying out en masse escaping my feet.
Anyway, now I’m wondering if there are city employees charged with collecting pigeon poop from the CID station’s sidewalk, and if not, then why?
A few years ago I wrote a column about how in the 1800s the U.S. government encouraged citizens to take over control of guano-covered islands in the Pacific, as they were rich sources of fertilizer and therefore also sources of explosives. So, it strikes me that this architect in Dubai has found a way to bring the Pacific islands closer. But then I read in that same CNN article that harvesting pigeon poop was a historical practice in Arab countries. and so that explains where the architect got the idea. The innovation in his design wasn’t incorporating pigeons into the structures — there’d been Arab towers for pigeons for ages — it was designing spaces for humans to sit beneath the pigeons and get out of the sun.
Meanwhile, in another completely unrelated story, researchers studied facial expressions of cats, revealing hundreds of them. They concluded that because cats have so many expressions, apparently this is proof that cats aren’t aloof. See, because all the faces they can make proves how social they are.
Years ago there was yet another study, this one on the faces humans could make. One of the researchers’ key findings in that study was that all humans, in all cultures, have the same face that says, “there’s a dead pig rotting in the middle of the road.”
Now I have a cat, and I’ve noticed her making the “rotting dead pig in the road” face often. So, I’m not convinced that her repertoire of facial expressions demonstrates her sociability — just that she has a larger range of ways to express her disapproval than we have.
I’m sure that when scientists get around to it they’ll discover that pigeons have hundreds of different nuanced ways to poop. But when learning of it, I wouldn’t simply conclude that they care more for us. I would continue to think all they want from me is bread, and if I don’t give them any I’m just a big oaf who could step on them.
Speaking of pigeons, sometime around 1991 I was at 15th NE and NE 50th St, listening with earphones to a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem. And, there was a pickup truck at the intersection as the Benedictus passage began. Having never heard it before, I was captivated and in my reverie, watched a pigeon step out in front of a tire of the truck just as the light turned green for the truck. The Benedictus was momentarily interrupted by a crunching sound. I was not as traumatized as I thought I would be and I still love Webber’s Benedictus.
Had the truck tire’s victim been a cat, I’m sure I’d have been so horrified I could never have enjoyed that piece of music again. But I don’t think that has anything to do with how many facial expressions a cat could make compared to what a pigeon could manage. I don’t need cats to be amazingly expressive to win me over.
I can’t leave this topic without mentioning that when I encounter a pigeon in a park, I like to say “Here, kitty, kitty!” Especially if there are children present because it just blows their minds.
Read more of the Nov. 15-21, 2023 issue.