Around London In 13 Pigeons

By M@ Last edited 11 months ago

Last Updated 14 June 2023

Around London In 13 Pigeons
The head and upper body of a pigeon, street-arted onto a brown brick wall with a metal balcony in front
A street art pigeon in Camden Town.

Pigeons are up there with ravens, lions, dragons and eels as zoomorphic symbols of London.

Unlike ravens, lions, dragons and eels, though, they spend their time scrounging crisps and shitting on statues.

But there's much more to the London pigeon than we give credit. Seen in the right light, these resourceful birds can be truly beautiful. Or menacing. Or artistic. Or even life-saving.

Here, then, are a motley selection of cool columbidae, going about their business in London.

See also: Around London in 12 elephants - Around London in 12 dragons - Around London in 13 tigers - Around London in 11 swans - Around London in 11 horses - Around London in 12 rabbits and hares

1. The tube pigeon

A pigeon on a Jubilee line carriage. Where is it going? What is it doing? WHo can say?

Pigeons on tubes. We've all seen them. Who are they? What are they doing? Have they touched in?

Sightings like this are particularly common at termini, where trains pause for several minutes with their doors open. This fellow was spotted at Edgware, waiting for a Bank branch train to depart.

A pigeon on the edge of a tube carriage doorway

He/she stayed on as far as Colindale — perhaps alighting to visit an ancestor at the RAF Museum...

2. The life-saving pigeon

Model of a group of soldiers in a yellow life raft, releasing a pigeon to get help. They're in a museum setting

... because among that exceptional museum's exhibits is this stirring recreation of a pigeon-related event from the second world war. As you can probably intuit from the model, a homing pigeon helped some crashed airmen by flying back to base with their coordinates. The valiant bird was later nicknamed Winkie thanks to an eye affliction (perhaps caused by the aviation fuel that caked her feathers). Winkie received the Dickin Medal for "delivering a message under exceptional difficulties and so contributing to the rescue of an Air Crew while serving with the RAF in February 1942."

3. The world-changing pigeons

A museum cabinet containing three stuffed or skeletal pigeons

Winkie is not the only pigeon to feature in a museum exhibit. These three specimens are on show in the Natural History Museum's Treasures gallery — a space that also includes such rarities as Moon rock and the first ever archaeopteryx fossil. What's so special about these avians? The birds once belonged to Charles Darwin. Over many years, Darwin selectively bred pigeons to test his theories of evolution. The museum holds 150 of the scientist's birds, mostly over at their Tring branch.

4. A naughty pigeon

A hand-written note warning a pigeon not to enter a branch of greggs

We spotted this hand-written note on the door of Greggs in Eastcheap. Seems a bit harsh. If the pigeon really does want to "buy" a sausage then why not accept its tender? Discrimination, pure and simple.

5. Menacing pigeons

Two images of a pollarded plane tree in silhouette. Hundreds of pigeons are perched on their limbs

Walk along Kilburn High Road in the winter and you might just catch a scene straight out of Hitchcock's The Birds. A row of severely pollarded plane trees is the favoured hangout for the local pigeons. It's a brave soul who lingers beneath these trees.

6. A pigeon superorganism

Loads and loads of pigeons all fighting over some crappy morsel of food

Absolute scenes. Dozens of pigeons descend on a free feed in Cavendish Square. The winged rats have accumulated in such density that they appear to coalesce into one superorganism, which we're dubbing Multipigeozilla.

7. A happy pigeon

A pigeon sat on an old rusty pipe on which somebody has written HAPPY

This pigeon seems more than content on his own. But look at that deep crack in the pipe, just beneath its beak. Is this a saboteur pigeon? If you hear about sewage leaks into the Regent's Canal, then this bird might be able to help with enquiries.

8. Street art pigeon

A street art pigeon in flight painted on the side of a building

This artfully rendered bird can be found on the side of an office building in Shoreditch. It's part of a much, much bigger wrap-around mural that brightens up one of the area's drabbest buildings. In hindsight, I should have taken this photo from slightly to the right, so as to have the pigeon landing on that street lamp. Oh well.

9. Behatted pigeon

Street art pigeon wearing a yellow hat painted onto a chimney stack

This row of chimney pots on Whitecross Street would have been eye-catching enough, but a behatted pigeon by street artist Driper really makes you coo with excitement. It's Chim-Chimmeny and Feed the Birds rolled into one.

10. Pigeon post

A double-slit postbox with a sticker of a letter-carrying pigeon on the front

We're not sure if this post-box intervention in Shoreditch is entirely with the approval of Royal Mail. Looks cool, though.

11. Soho's colourful flock

Four colourful pigeon models on a lamp post in Soho Square

These vibrant birds descended on Soho Square in 2015. The multi-coloured troupe are the creation of Patrick Murphy, working with Sim Smith Gallery. In making the maligned avians stand out, he wanted us to think about other groups who are marginalised, particularly the homeless. The birds were intended as a temporary addition to the square, but a handful still linger here and there.

12. A pooping pigeon

A no entry sign with a pigeon pooping on top

Along with headbobbing, cooing, homing and sabotaging pipelines (see '7'), crapping all over stuff is very much in the pigeon's skillset. Undeterred by the CCTV notice, this malefactor is gamely spoiling a No Entry sign in Spitalfields. You may have seen other road sign street art around town — it's usually the work of Abraham Clet.

13. No more pigeons

A sign indicating that the feeding of pigeons is outlawed

The feeding of pigeons is forbidden. Either that, or you're not allowed to unscrew pigeons with a spanner. This sign, as you can probably tell, is displayed in Trafalgar Square where throwing breadcrumbs has been an offence for over 20 years. The interdict from then-Mayor Ken Livingstone is augmented by the occasional presence of hawks. End result: very few pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

All images by Matt Brown. See more premium pigeon content in the links below...