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Birds, Wildlife and Gardening

This New Field Guide Aims to Change Your Mind About Pigeons

Pigeons have a bad reputation. Maybe these birds’ familiarity makes them an easy target: They are common denizens of every continent, save Antarctica. Some people think pigeons are dirty or diseased, as they spend chunks of their days pecking at trash. Others might ignore them entirely, or perhaps go so far as to call them “rats with wings.” But Rosemary Mosco, a science writer, cartoonist, and naturalist, believes these creatures deserve more respect. “We've gotten them super wrong,” she says. 

In Mosco’s latest book, A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching, out on October 26, she shares her positive views of the species that fell from grace. Once highly valued for their meat, fertilizing excrement, and wayfinding abilities, pigeons are now largely rejected by human society. But Mosco, a lifelong city-dweller, has always found them fascinating. “If you do watch them, you’re just entranced,” she says. Her travel-sized book details pigeons’ coloration, field marks, and anatomy. But it’s more than a field guide. It’s also an informative account of pigeon history, biology, and behavior, complete with Mosco’s delightful illustrations and a hefty dose of puns.

Because pigeons' fates are so entwined with our own, pigeon history closely mirrors ours. Pigeons were distributed across the globe due to centuries of European exploration and colonization. In North America colonists hunted the native Passenger Pigeon for meat and destroyed its native forest habitat, driving it to extinction. Wherever humans domesticated pigeons, some escaped and went feral: Today's city pigeons are descendents of those birds. 

Though a novelty-seeking lister may not be thrilled by a pigeon sighting, Mosco says she’s met more birders who like pigeons than those who hate them. Birders, with sharply honed avian observation skills, can appreciate pigeons’ entertaining behavior, she says. Plus, if pigeons aren’t enough of a draw on their own, there could be predators, such as hawks or falcons, nearby.

But the book isn’t written only for birders. Mosco hopes to reach avian newbies as well. First and foremost she wants all her readers to be kind to pigeons. But she also hopes that some will follow their pigeon fancy and become hooked on birding. “It’s my secret plot,” she says. After reading her book, you may agree with her that pigeons are as worthy a spark bird as any other.

A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching, by Rosemary Mosco, 240 pages, $14.95. Order it on Bookshop.org.

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