Putting My Foot Down
On Pigeons
by Robert Winter
pigeon head pigeon head pigeon head
How to Win Arguments with Birds

I wasn’t dealing with ordinary birds, no sir.  The pigeons of Washington, D.C. are a breed apart.

On the sidewalk, other pigeons merely delay getting out of your way—nyah, nyah, bet you can’t get me, and so forth.  Washington pigeons know how to muscle you aside. Their routine goes as follows:

Say your path takes you through one of the city’s corner parks.  You may become aware of an increase in the pigeon population, but the birds give no immediate cause for alarm.  Some peck listlessly at imperceptible objects in the grass;  others idly harass the steps of an elderly gentleman who is attempting to use an aluminum walker.

Just as you, the unsuspecting stooge, reach the approximate center of the park, the action begins.

A mostly-empty plastic package of ketchup, or the shriveled, gritty, membraney butt end of a long-discarded wiener, or some other object of equal value is suddenly “discovered” by two pigeons simultaneously.  There’s a little preliminary Outta my way, Bub! and Oh yeah? and that sort of thing, and suddenly they’re scuffling.

Then it’s not just them:  every other pigeon in the joint wants a piece of this action.  Ever seen ballplayers stream out of their dugouts for a fistfight?   That’s tea and crumpets, compared to a Washington pigeon rumble.

They come flapping and swooping in from everywhere, wave upon wave, whole squadrons and airwings of them, all rolling and jostling, Outta my way, Bub! and Oh yeah? as they climb and jink and maneuver for position.

But no matter how many directions they come from, two factors remain constant.

First, they fly at neck level.  Second, their flightpaths all converge at the exact spot in the park where you happen to be.  The approach is slightly from behind:

One minute you’re walking along in a fine, sunny park;  the next, there’s—Whah?—a sinister thrumming of the air at the base of your scalp, and—Son of a!—pure reflex action.  Your next fully-conscious realization is that you’ve dropped into a crouch, having only barely avoided an avian armada.

By the time you realize your crouch is actually more of a cringe, and start swatting indignantly overhead, only a few stragglers are left to pass by, and there’s nothing you can do but straighten yourself and mutter imprecations.

Your dignity is not at all assuaged by the realization that a sudden transformation has now come over the birds.  The Holy Grail of the Weenie Remnant now fails to interest them in the slightest.  In their deportment toward one another, they have become models of pluralistic tolerance and gentle amicability.

As you continue to straighten your clothing, you can be forgiven for staring at them suspiciously.