NEW YORK. This city, home to the world’s largest urban population of pigeons, has encountered a new problem in its continuing effort to get cars off the streets and their passengers on their feet. “Most of our pedestrians are pigeons,” says New York’s “Pigeon Czar” Aaron Kalkstein. “I don’t know if their wings or tired or what, but they apparently prefer to walk, not fly.”
As a result, New York’s miles of pavement, hailed in songs such as “The Sidewalks of New York” and books such as Alfred Kazin’s “A Walker in the City,” have become increasingly congested as pigeons, humans and pets share the city’s concrete.
Pigeons had historically flown in New York, as most memorably depicted in the Marlon Brando-Elia Kazan film “On the Waterfront,” but baggage fees as high as $15 imposed by airlines have persuaded many pigeons that travel by foot makes more sense, at least for now.
Marlon Brando, pigeon, Eva Marie Saint
“We could afford to fly, but it was a nice day, so we said ‘What the hell,’” says Ira Pigeon of Queens on a sunny afternoon recently as he strolled through Flushing. “He could use the exercise,” said his wife Sarah, as she poked at a hot dog roll she found in the gutter.
Corncrake: Now playing in Chekhov’s “Agafya.”
Other birds capable of flight who prefer to walk include wild turkeys, which fly only under duress, and corncrakes, which fly only to cross bodies of water, as explained in the Chekhov short story “Agafya.” With many airlines adding fuel surcharges, flying has become increasingly expensive, say experts on pigeons, which are referred to technically by the term columbidae. “Woody Allen famously referred to pigeons as ‘flying rats,’” says noted pigeon expert and movie critic Lyle Searles. “That’s a false analogy, because you wouldn’t call rats ‘walking pigeons.’”
While pigeons have been largely unaffected by the rise in gasoline prices, media analysts say mention of this critical issue is nonetheless obligatory in any fake news story between now and election day.
“You need to address the things that are uppermost in people’s minds,” says Phil Domke, a visting professor at the Columbia School of Journalism on the city’s Upper West side. “Like who’s the victim of a greater injustice, Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes.”