Pigeon and Peregrines

Pigeons have the misfortune of being prominent on more than one foodchain. They are plentiful, predictable, and relatively meaty, a fact that made them one of the earliest animals that humans bred for food, going back at least to the Roman Empire.

But a more interesting relationship that the pigeon has is with the Peregrine Falcon, a predator-prey relationship that has played out in some interesting ways. Pigeon communications reached their pinnacle during both world wars, with one heroic bird delivering crucial correspondence despite an injury, and becoming the only bird to be awarded a military honour. Less famous was the peregrine falcon’s role during the war: they were the perfect weapon for intercepting pigeon-posted correspondence. The predator/prey relationship was played out once again, but this time with a keen human interest in the outcome. 

The relationship between these two birds has taken another interesting turn in recent years. Peregrine falcons were especially hard-hit by DDT pesticides in the middle of the 20th century, and in some parts of Europe and North America, the wild population completely vanished. But through an extensive captive breeding and reintroduction program, the falcon is making a comeback, and finding a new home in many urban environments. Skyscraper ledges approximate the cliffs where the falcons like to nest, and urban environments provide an endless supply of the falcon’s favorite meal, the pigeon. 

Unfortunately, this means that not even domesticated pigeons are safe, and when several falcons were shot in LA in the late 1980s, pigeon fanciers were among the chief suspects. Like I said: even pigeon-fancying has a dark side.