The War of the Pigeon … finally peace

A Paris Pigeon It was a bloody war. It raged for longer than the 100-Year War. Initially it was a war that was fought with sticks and stones, then science made it possible to fight it also with chemicals and castration. The casualties counted in the millions. These were all on the side of the […]

A Paris Pigeon

It was a bloody war. It raged for longer than the 100-Year War.

Initially it was a war that was fought with sticks and stones, then science made it possible to fight it also with chemicals and castration.

The casualties counted in the millions. These were all on the side of the enemy. They dropped dead from roof-tops, chimneys, balconies, Paris’ 9884 public benches, 107 public clocks and 1856 bus shelters. And they lay on the ground until the city’s street sweepers would scoop up their bodies.

But, now, finally there is peace.

The War of the Pigeon, the war that the Paris city authorities have made against our pigeon population has ended.

When I arrived in Paris I was told that the French are a tolerant nation, but that there were three things I would not be allowed to do.

Walk in the street in my pajamas. As if I would have wanted to do so. However, apparently, one can step outside naked but there is a law that forbids one to be in a public place dressed in one’s pajamas.

Walk on the lawns in public gardens and parks. Always, it was strictly forbidden to walk on the green stuff in Paris; had I dared do so (and I did!) not so many steps later a park attendant in a navy-blue uniform and képi would have blown his whistle at me. These days though one can walk on some of the green stuff; there are signs that indicate whether one can, or whether the lawn is ‘resting’ which means it is being given time to grow and your feet will prevent this. Then also, all laws are ‘resting’ from end of October until end of April.

Feed a pigeon. Now, here two laws of our Penal Code make feeding pigeons and helping them to survive punishable offenses.

Art 41 stipulates that the proprietor of a building (house whatever) must close off with a metal grill any space where a pigeon (or a rodent) might get it into his head to nest. Art 220 stipulates that it is against the law to leave food or grains in a public area where wild animals – notably cats and pigeons – would be able to find it.

Nevertheless, there is, it is said, currently a rat in Paris for each inhabitant and a pigeon for every 25 inhabitants.

That makes a hell of a lot of pigeons as latest statistics (2007) give the number of inhabitants of Paris as 2,125,246 and that of Greater Paris as 11,532.400.

It also makes a hell of a lot of rats, but fortunately, seeing that they are not all cute little Ratatouilles who open restaurants on the Left Bank, the ‘deratification’ of Paris is an ongoing event; like, once a year ‘rat-men’ come to put down little packets of something or other in the basement of my building and I understand that the rats die a lonely death in their holes, ruts or grooves, or whatever.

However, the war against Paris’s pigeons has now been called off. Or wait, at least only until the end of June (we probably need a Camp David Agreement for it to be permanent) because a team of researchers here have begun a study of pigeons.

The study, named ‘Couleurs de Pigeons’ (Colors of Pigeons) kicked off on May 1 and will continue through to June 30. And we’ve been asked to, when we see a pigeon (easy!) to photograph it and to send the photo to the researchers along with details where exactly we had seen the pigeon, what it was doing (was it eating for example and what was it eating … was it busy flirting with another pigeon) and were there many of them. And at what time of the day or night did one take the photo.

Now what is it all about?

The color of a pigeon can reveal all sorts of important details say the researchers.

For example, if pigeons are changing color – if they are becoming either darker, lighter, spotty or say, stripy – the researchers want to know about it. Such a change of color would indicate that the pigeon is either (1) developing a protective camouflage,(2) is using a sexual trick to attract other pigeons, or (3) it is immunizing itself against disease. Paris’s pigeons are either brown, black, white, red, and some have dark stripes and they are members of the Biset ‘urban’ variety.

The pigeon has been with us, the scientists say, for 5,000 years. We domesticated them, if that is the word, because we ate them. Now that we are no longer eating them on a daily or regular basis (they or rather ones specially bred for this purpose are a great delicacy here) they live from six to eight years.

This brings me to Ernest Hemingway. In his Paris years, poor and hungry, he used to take one of his little boys for walks in the Luxembourg Garden. The child was in his pushcart and this is why I’m mentioning it: there being nothing to eat in the Hemingway household, Ernest used to catch a pigeon, wring its neck and pop it under the blanket in the pushcart. And that evening the Hemingways ate well.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

7 Responses

5-16-2009 at 12:41:00

What about to give us a recipe for a pigeon dish?

5-16-2009 at 13:31:00

Here you are, one recipe for roast pigeon, you can also make pigeon pie, a very popular dish once upon a time.

Roast Pigeon

Allow one bird per person, young birds are best for roasting.


1 pigeon (plucked and drawn)
1 or 2 rashers of streaky bacon
1 oz / 25g butter
Garnish and gravy for serving

230 deg C, 450 deg F, gas mark 8

Roast Pigeon

Spread the bird with some softened butter and tie the bacon to cover the breast.

Roast in the centre of a hot oven for 15 – 20 minutes, basting well.

Remove the bacon before cooking is complete to allow the breast to brown.

Serve the bacon with the pigeon as garnish.

Serving Suggestion
Serve with a selection of vegetables and garnish

5-16-2009 at 16:47:00

Jo — next I see a pigeon … I mean in the park (Montsouris)that I walk to on warm and sunny days … and not in the supermarket. Actually, I’ve not seen pigeon in a Paris supermarket for a while.

5-17-2009 at 10:01:00

I feel that a pigeon in a garden is a wonderful thing. I must say that when I was last in Paris I did find some park benches covered in pigeon droppings.

5-17-2009 at 10:36:00

Fascinating, Marilyn! and trust Jo to come up with a recipe!

5-17-2009 at 13:21:00

Mais naturellement, Satima ce que je fait.

10-8-2010 at 08:11:40

[…] horrific of all though, is the War of the Pigeon – I think Hemingway started that […]

If you wish not to miss one of my blogs, do subscribe.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


Should you wish to contact me you can do so by email: