Follow That Bird!

By David Mashburn | Boston Magazine |

Few of us stop to notice the ubiquitous urban pigeon, unless it’s just unloaded on our windshield. But while researching the flying rats for her new book, Superdove, Boston author Courtney Humphries discovered surprising explanations behind the birds’ local hot spots.


While pigeons can digest almost any sidewalk gunk, which makes them good urban survivors, they still desire a natural diet of seeds and grain. That’s what brings them to the Common—not because they love the greenery, but because it’s bordered by fast-food restaurants. To a pigeon, a discarded Burger King bun counts as a healthy meal.


A flock hangs here daily, snarfing food tossed by sympathetic neighbors. (Boston magazine’s roost is nearby, too, but we swear we’re not the culprits.) The birds also come for refuge. They evolved as Mediterranean cliff dwellers, and Humphries says they still prefer the same sorts of ledges and crevices as their rock pigeon cousins in Sardinia. That draws Boston’s population to nest in the façades of this neighborhood’s elaborate pre–World War II buildings, like Symphony Hall and Horticultural Hall.


In this part of town, pigeons make their most noteworthy appearances on menus. Squab, or baby pigeon, is a dish that harks back to the birds’ arrival in North America: The French brought them to the Quebec area in the 1600s because they are flavorful and protein-rich, and reproduce quickly. By 1642, Humphries writes, even the governor of Massachusetts owned a few (and presumably had a nibble).

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