Here lies Pippa the Pigeon, beloved mother to 28 chicks, scavenger of crisps, befouler of statues, buried here at the age of 63 (in bird years).
If this sounds unfamiliar, it is because there are no pigeon cemeteries in British cities, nor are there any pigeon crematoria, which rather begs the question: where do pigeons go when they die? According to one estimate, there are up to one million pigeons in London alone. With a life expectancy in the city of as little as four years, this suggests that several million dead pigeons should have piled up around us, but where are they all?
An expert in animal physiology has felt moved to provide an answer to the mystery. Steve Portugal, an ecophysiologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, said: “Foxes, rats, gulls, crows and ravens all do a wonderful job of cleaning up any carrion they come across, including deceased pigeons.
“Alongside these native janitors, domestic cats are equally happy to take care of a dead or injured pigeon . . . this network of surreptitious street cleaners will usually whisk away any pigeon corpses long before they’re seen by human eyes.” Dr Portugal added that when pigeons are ill or injured, they often hide. He wrote on The Conversation, a news website: “[They] instinctively retreat to dark, remote places — ventilation systems, attics, building ledges — hoping to remain out of reach and unnoticed by predators. The predators don’t see them but neither do we: often when pigeons expire they are in hiding.”
He added: “Dying of old age is not a luxury afforded to most pigeons. As soon as they shows signs of slowness or sickness, many are snapped up by peregrine falcons, sparrowhawks, or other predators.
“Whether snatched midair by birds of prey, entangled by man-made obstacles or alone in a remote corner of a skyscraper’s roof garden, there are many ways that pigeons pass on from this world. But they all take place within an internal urban ecosystem, that, for the most part, is hidden from our sight.”
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