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Where have all the Pigeons Gone?

One of my earliest childhood memories is of feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. I was slightly intimidated by the sheer number of birds that quickly descended upon me but I soon started to enjoy the experience. The packet of cheap bird seed lasted all of 20 seconds and I was soon begging Mum for more.

Cheap Bird Seed

In those days there were numerous vendors selling cheap bird seed and the square was always packed with pigeons. Apparently the pigeon population of the immediate area reached 35,000 but it is a very different story now. Only a few dozen pigeons remain and feeding them could see you fined up to £500. That would make that packet of bird seed rather more costly than it used to be!
So where have all the pigeons gone?

Flying Rats?

Urban pigeon populations grow rapidly when food is readily available and it could not have been more available than it was in Trafalgar Square. With thousands of tourists visiting every day and pigeon feeding becoming something of a tradition, the square was inundated with what some locals deemed to be a plague of flying rats.

After the Lord Mayor’s Show

Others felt differently but there was no doubt the pigeon droppings were causing considerable damage to masonry and landing the city authorities with huge cleaning bills. In 2003 Mayor Ken Livingstone outlawed pigeon feeding in Trafalgar Square. The pigeon population is now also controlled by the daily flights of two Harris hawks. These flight come at a price in excess of £40,000 per year but this is considerably cheaper than the enormous cost of keeping the square and its famous statues clear of pigeon droppings.

These days there are only around 30 pigeons brave enough to fly in the face of the Harris hawks and to visit the square. I understand why the pigeons had to go but somehow the square seems to lack the vibrancy that it once had. It certainly doesn’t offer the excitement for kids that it once did.

Venice Follows Suit

Pigeon feeding was also been outlawed in Piazza San Marco, Venice in 2008 with much the same result. Bird seed vendors used to be considerably more aggressive than their London counterparts and would thrust cheap bird seed into your face as you walked past. Their strong arm tactics made feeding the pigeons almost obligatory! However, as in London, pigeon droppings were seriously impacting the architecture around the square and this most beautiful of cities could do without that. The delicate mosaics on the façade of St Mark’s Basilica were under threat as a rise in tourist numbers had meant more pigeon feeding which in turn saw a growth in the pigeon population.

Pigeons had achieved an almost iconic status in both of these great cities and life isn’t the same without them. But there is no doubt that the pigeons had to go. Now the only pigeons I see with any regularity are the ones which visit my garden and they clearly have a death wish. My darling cat is always lying in wait with murderous intent and so these are pigeons that I never feed.


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