Gill sent me a video clip recently with an article from The Guardian about pigeons. Since her first (as yet unpublished) novel was about a guy raising racing pigeons that talked like people, I know I’m going to be the recipient of every article she finds on the birds. That’s fair since I am a bird freak — as anyone who reads our blog regularly knows. I make no apologies for my fascination with everything avian. If I did, Mrs. Beeton and the canaries would be sure to find out and I’d soon find myself in a Hitchcock-like scene from” The Birds”. I fear I’d be on the losing end of that fight.
It seems that some racing pigeons in London have been conscripted, as it were, into public service. They are flying above the city, collecting data on the pollution. This wouldn’t be the first time these noble birds have been asked to aid their country. During WWII, they were used to carry secret notes about the war to the troops. They were valiant and valuable additions to Britain’s fighting forces. They were honored as such. I realize that street pigeons are often considered to be little more than rats with wings (I believe I myself have referred to them like that, to my shame) but this goes to prove that every creature has a purpose on the planet.
Tiny backpacks with sensors are attached to their backs and they’re sent off to gather data. It strikes me as a titch on the cruel side to send these poor birds into the air pollution without masks…after all, we humans don’t like breathing the crap that passes for air these days, but these birds are kept in tip-top shape with their own vets! Wow…too bad the NHS can’t offer such top-of-the-line service! Or OHIP here in Ontario. (Maybe if I donned a pigeon costume I’d fare better? Hmm, I wonder if Crazy D’s chicken costume is still around. It might do the trick. I suspect most docs aren’t too knowledgeable about avian distinctions. Chicken, pigeon, crow…what’s the difference?)
I believe the birds are sent up a few days at a time, then they get the once-over from the vet and receive a few days of R&R. A job with benefits…perfect. Now, if they can instigate a pension plan, the pigeons are in great shape. Perhaps even a life and disability insurance plan. After all, although these racing pigeons are long-lived (a result of the excellent health care they receive) their dependents need security. And given that there are all sorts of obstacles and dangers lurking in the skies over London (possibly drones, church steeples, tall buildings with windows on all sides and no Danger signs to alert the birds), they could easily fall victim to accidents.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Gill informed me that she was going to form a pigeon support group, getting friends to volunteer (much as the plane sighters did during the war to spot German bombers overhead) to look out for the creatures. After all, if they are helping to save us from our own man-made pollution, it’s the least we could do in return.
All hail the mighty pigeon!