Pandemic quiet gave voice to pigeons

Photo credit: Vicky Deshmukh from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

We all know that city dwellers have changed their routines during the pandemic. According to Matthew Rozsa, so have urban pigeons. With more people staying home and fewer cars on the road, cities are less noisy and to the surprise of a group of Spanish scientists, pigeon behavior changed as well. They came up with their findings after they examined more than 126,000 bird records that had been collected by a citizen science project.

So, how did pigeon behavior change? “The pandemic has made birds more musical,” Rozsa writes. With less noise, the urban male pigeons became more active in the early morning hours. The researchers speculated that the lockdown began at the start of the pigeon breeding season and, thus, the male pigeons began singing at dawn “as they actually do in natural conditions.” The removal of much of the noise led to a change in bird behavior.

The researchers did not find that this early singing led to an increase in the number of pigeons. This was very likely due to “the lockdowns were too sudden and short-lived for colonization processes to occur,” the researchers concluded. But according to urban dwellers, it seemed that there were more birds around, though this was probably the result of people becoming more observant of the birds in their environment. I can say that it also appeared to me that there were more pigeons along the East River in New York City when I took my early morning walks, but this might be due to my paying more attention to the birds especially with so few people on my path.

Dr. Oscar Gordo, the spokesperson for the research team, noted how quickly the pigeons were able to adapt their behavior to a changed environment. He then went on to say that this ability to adapt so readily is important to their survival, especially living in cities where “there are new opportunities and threats all the time for urban fauna.” May I add that this pandemic has also provided threats for urban dwellers and, hopefully, they will have the ability to adapt readily.

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