Our Nearest Neighbors: Pigeons

Diya Jiang
Paul the pigeon man of Washington Square Park feeds his friends.

When you’re reading or hanging out with friends in Washington Square Park, do you ever notice another small community pacing around, shaking their little heads? These snuggly birds are the permanent residents of the park.

“The pigeons are so beautiful!” said Stern freshman Jane Lin as she fed them sunflower seeds in the park. The pigeons moved their heavy bodies and nodded their little heads to pick the food off the ground.

Don’t be fooled by their vacant stares and clumsy walks: pigeons are in fact extremely intelligent animals. Scientists have shown that pigeons are not only able to recognize themselves in mirrors, but also to distinguish the alphabet and to recognize different people by photographs.

Paul, who refers himself as the “Pigeon Man” in Washington Square Park, agreed with these findings.

“Pigeons are very smart,” he said, sitting on a bench as seven pigeons landed on his body. “I know them all and they know me.”

Paul has been feeding the pigeons in the park for 14 years. It is fair to say that no one knows the pigeons better than he does. He estimates there are about four hundred pigeons living in Washington Square Park. In summer, when the days are longer, he usually comes to the park at noon and feeds the pigeons until sunset. Many students and tourists stop by to take pictures of him, and he poses for the camera with several pigeons resting on his shoulders.

“People really don’t know much about them,” Paul said as he passed a handful of melon seeds to a little girl. “They can walk in snow you know, when we’re all freezing ourselves in the winter.”

He’s right. Most of us don’t pay much attention to these little buddies.

Pigeons are, in fact, valued in other parts of the world. In 2013, a Chinese businessman bought Bolt, a one-year-old racing pigeon, from a Belgian breeder for $410,000, according to Time Magazine. That’s more than enough to cover an entire undergraduate education at NYU.

Pigeons are not just an inseparable part of Washington Square Park; they are also one of the many elements of New York City that are far more than what

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 19 print edition. Email Diya Jiang at [email protected]

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