City Pigeons, much more delicate and more easily deterred birds, never great squabblers, wouldn’t stand a chance of success competing with a noisy, beak-stabbing, bellicose Herring Gull at a newly discarded burger and fries.
‘You get around one Town Pigeon for every 50 people in most cities,’ comments Tully. ‘I suspect it’s higher in tourist areas. I did counts in Bath, a popular tourist destination, several years ago and there the ratio was one pigeon for every 44 people though in Weston-Super-Mare it was only one for every 58, perhaps because, as a seaside resort, Weston isn’t exactly popular in winter when I did the counts. Or the pigeons don’t like the sea air,’ he adds.
‘So much depends on how free of food scraps and other rubbish a town is,’ says Tully. ‘Nailsea in North Somerset (population 18,000) has a pretty reasonable pigeon population and it isn’t too spick and span,’ he comments. ‘Thornbury in South Gloucestershire (population 12,000), on the other hand, has cleaner streets and better waste collection. There are almost no pigeons there’.
Tully has estimated the numbers of human city and large town dwellers in Britain to be about 30 million out of the UK’s total population and used his average of about fifty people for each pigeon. That gives a total of around 600,000 City Pigeons in the UK! It might even be more.
To anyone who slips headlong on their slimy droppings or has their drying washing stained with the stuff, City Pigeons are a pest. But they have their attributes too. Tully estimates that the Bristol lot consume between one and two tonnes of waste food every week, anything from discarded apple cores to Kentucky Fried Chicken.
‘They don’t re-deposit most of it where they feed either,’ he says. ‘Most of their droppings are at their roost sites, mainly dilapidated buildings with a plethora of holes in their roofs and smashed windows. It’s only the demolition workers that need worry! Most city people don’t come into contact with it,’ he adds.
But their diet doesn’t consist entirely of human society’s waste. City Pigeons, like their wild counterparts, will also take seeds of garden plants and weeds growing in urban areas. And they make forays into the countryside in order to feed on grain or other plant seeds too. They pick up grit from roads and pavements, sometimes even small pieces of mortar as a source of calcium and to help physically in their crops to break down the food they eat. After all, British fish and chips can take some digesting.
This unprecedented success of City Pigeons virtually worldwide – they even get into the centre of the Sahara at times (see Chapter 8) – has given many people the idea that all species of wild pigeon anywhere in the world are a pretty mundane, even boring lot. It’s as if they are all rather dull and uninspiring whereas, in truth, pigeons are some of the most versatile and adaptable birds known. Some are exceedingly attractively coloured, probably contrary to the assumption many people make that most pigeons in the world are kitted out in various dull shades of grey and brown.
A few years back, I remember waiting at a garage forecourt north of Nairobi in Kenya for our vehicle to have a tyre repaired, when a small flock of plump birdslanded in a nearby fruit tree and started feeding. They turned out to be African Green Pigeons; with their bright green backs and blue-grey fronts, red legs and bright white eyes, they were exquisite. I had seen a similar species in India previously; the Yellow-footed Green Pigeon is similar to its African cousin but is maybe even more attractive because the blue-grey front is replaced with a vibrant yellow. In India they are commonplace in forests and anywhere there are fruit trees.
Now for another surprise: pigeons are most closely related to parrots. And the green pigeons I saw, clambering about after fruit in trees, looked remarkably like a small flock of parrots as they fed. And, in case you think my African and Indian Greens are exceptional and that most pigeons in the world are rather more conservatively attired, these most certainly are not the most colourful pigeons!