Jennie Erin Smith at the Times Literary Supplement:
On a chilly autumn morning in Ozone Park, Queens, Carmine Gangone, an Italian-American veteran of the Second World War, sends his rooftop flock of pigeons into the sky, screaming “Climb, you bastards!” as he waves a bamboo pole after them. Across town in Brooklyn, a man who calls himself Tony the Terminator releases his own birds in the hope that they will “tangle” with flocks like Gangone’s and return with a pigeon or two more. Elsewhere in New York, hundreds of people casually toss chunks of bagel or pizza crust at feral pigeons; others carry whole bags of bread to feed them with, despite long-standing efforts by city officials to discourage the practice.
In The Global Pigeon, his ethnography of human–pigeon encounters, Colin Jerolmack makes an imaginative and convincing case against interpreting any of these activities as “driven by a singular deep-seated need to connect to nature”, as environmental scholars persuaded by the biophilia hypothesis might. Jerolmack, too, first thought of the rooftop pigeon coops as a way for their owners to “escape the concrete jungle and find solace in intimate relations with the ‘natural world’”. But people like Gangone quickly disabused him of the idea. Instead, Jerolmack found, after spending thousands of hours with pigeon flyers, feeders, and racers – mostly in New York but also in Berlin, London, Venice and South Africa – that people who interacted with pigeons did so mainly to reinforce their connections to other people.