It’s the bird everyone recognises, which is not surprising. Not only are they found in great numbers throughout the city, but pigeons have also been a part of Indian culture and society for several centuries.
An integral part of a game called kabootar-baazi, the art of pigeon flying, was a pastime of the Mughal emperors. The game involved learning and developing the skills to control flocks of pigeons, flying away and landing back at the command of the controller. Months and years were spent training pigeons for competitions that were organised, where these skills were displayed and the victors respected across the community. During Akbar’s reign, pigeon-flying received royal patronage, and the ‘game’ is still played in parts of Old Delhi.
The rearing of such large flocks throughout history have left our cities infested with these feral birds. Pigeons are no longer wild species of birds. Feeding them, trading them and often releasing them is what disturbs the delicate ecological balance. There are dedicated feeding stations spread across the city,with shops selling pigeon feed coming up right next to them. Everything from corn and rice to leftover food, even cake and cookies, is fed.
This makes the birds highly dependent on human beings for survival, changes their eating habits drastically, and killing their natural instinct to forage for food (they are grain-and and fruit eating). This changes the dynamics of the food chain drastically, eating away into the food cycle of several other native species like the house sparrow that also has a similar diet.
Historical buildings and statues are subjected to bird excreta, which contains uric acid and can cause irreversible damage to buildings: sandstone and limestone are extremely susceptible to it. The corrosive effects may continue even after cleaning, which in turn leads to massive destruction of historical landmarks.
Pigeon excreta contains certain strains of the bacteria E. coli (Escherichia coli), which when introduced in the food or water supply, may lead to illnesses, making pigeons a regular carrier of these diseases. Traditional practices have often hurt us in ways unknown to human kind. To maintain a healthy ecological balance, it’s wise to avoid feeding pigeons.
The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme at WWF India.