I’ll never look at pigeons the same way again.
Living in Toronto for over a decade has taught this small-town boy a few things, including watching out for the ubiquitous grey-feathered beasts fluttering around the downtown core. They bob and coo their way up to people sitting on park benches, eager to dart in and scoop up any morsel of food that tumbles to the ground. I viewed them with scorn and labelled them as pests. But I’ll show them a little more respect the next time we cross paths.
This week’s excellent episode of The Nature of Things, “The Secret Life of Pigeons,” pulls back the curtain on a bird that was once an important part of our daily lives. Written and directed by Scott Harper (The Age of Anxiety), “Pigeons” goes back in time to reveal that they were the first animal on earth to be domesticated and the crucial role they played during wartime of old by flying important messages to troops.
And the suckers are smart. Among the uncanny skills revealed during the episode: pigeons recognize human faces, spread themselves out amid food scraps so each gets some, and their young are among the fastest-growing on the planet. The highlight of the instalment for me was not only an explanation into how pigeons find their way back home from long distances, but the moment an HD camera was strapped to a bird’s back, offering a glimpse into what life is like for a pigeon in flight.
My second favourite segment? A peek into the life of pigeon fanciers, who strive to prolong the life of some of the world’s rarest–and pretty freaky-looking–pigeons.
The Nature of Things, “The Secret Life of Pigeons,” airs Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBC.
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