Why People Hate Pigeons and Feral Cats

This is really about cats so please don’t run away. You’ll discover a parallel between pigeons and cats.

Not everyone hates pigeons, but a lot of people do. They are referred to a “rats with wings”. Other names are “gutter birds”, “sky rats” and “flying ashtrays” – all heavily derogatory names, indicating a strong dislike of these birds. The pigeon is a domesticated rock dove first brought to the UK in the 1600s. Pigeon fanciers don’t like them because they give their purebred birds a bad name.

The public don’t like them because there are lots of them. They are excellent survivors. People who hate them say they spread disease and damage buildings. However, there is little or no evidence to support the disease spreading allegation. Also pigeons have been very useful to people. I am referring to the war years and carrier pigeons.

When I feed a couple of robins in the garden, the London pigeons come flying in. They push the robins out of the way. I try and scare them off. One neighbour has complained about the pigeons (normally a group of about 6) but no one complains about feeding robins. This is highly discriminatory.

Can you see a similarity between the public’s perception of the feral pigeon and the feral cat? There is a close similarity in image. The feral cat is also a good survivor in a very difficult and hostile human environment. They, too, are seen to spread disease and both pigeon and feral cat can breed fast. Both have short lifespans of 3-4 years. This is much shorter than their domestic lifespan of about 15 years. Both are considered non-native.

We have to agree that the feral cat and feral pigeon live parallel lives at a fundamental level. Importantly, both are reviled by a considerable segment of society. Why?

tiger and feral cat merged

Tiger and feral cat merged

The reasons why some people hate feral cats and feral pigeons

The public’s dislike of pigeons is due to our hard wired instinct to survive. Humans have a fear of pigeons that is hard wired into their brains from caveman times when birds were much larger. Millions of years ago birds were a danger to people. Our brains are now programmed to play safe. We see pigeons as a threat to our survival. This is no longer rational and a lot of people are able to see through this fear. Indeed pigeon fanciers like and breed pigeons.

I would argue that the exact same hard wired survival instinct from millions of years ago is why a large number of people dislike, even hate the feral cat. They are frightened of them and consider them a threat to human survival. An irrational, but subconsciously active, mental process. Millions of years ago before domestication, wild cats would have posed a threat to the survival of people who were exposed to predation by large cats. This fear has been passed down in human DNA over millennia.

So, there you have it. People who shoot feral cats are actually scared of them! Poor things. Big, macho Woodsman, the archetypical cat hater with rifle and four-wheel drive pickup is scared of cats. Incidentally, in my opinion, this is also the underlying reason why people declaw cats.

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Why People Hate Pigeons and Feral Cats — 19 Comments

  1. Brilliant article Michael!
    You are so right, feral cat and pigeon haters are scared stiff of them and I think it’s because those cats and birds are so much more intelligent than human beings, they have to be to survive.
    Imagine if someone like Woody was put out to fend for himself, no food as no gun to shoot with, nowhere to live, no shelter, chased away from civilisation, how long would he survive?
    Feral cats have no choice but to hunt to survive and they are so very clever, I’d like to see a person like Woody starving and have to seek out and catch his dinner from an all fours position.
    Pigeons have no choice either than to scavenge if they want to survive, naturally they go where they can find food and in this world of fast food and people walking along throwing their wrappers down with leavings of food in, how can anyone wonder why birds flock in town centres? Yes then they get the blame for leaving droppings on the ground and on buildings when as always it’s the filthy careless habits of humans that cause pigeons to gather there.
    Just as it’s the ignorant or cruel people who throw out un-neutered cats and cause problems.
    The cats and birds are NOT to blame! Yet they are the ones who are hated and who suffer.
    We have pigeons come in our garden and we feed them, they have as much right to food as smaller birds have, it’s easy to go and buy some pigeon corn, just like we buy fat balls and nuts and seed for other varities of birds, given the correct choice of food they can co-exist and they do, far better than some people who have prejudices against anyone who doesn’t share their dislikes.
    ‘Live and let live.
    Do more!
    Live and help live.
    Do only to those below you
    As you would be done by those above you’
    Anon

    • Thanks Ruth. I am sticking my neck out so it is nice to get support. The important point for me is that there is no need to be fearful of feral cats or any cats. It is a 2 million year throwback. I guess Woody lives a bit like a caveman ; ) He hasn’t developed beyond living in a cave with a loin cloth.

      Also in the USA too many people are overly frightened of bobcats and cougars. As they all have guns, rather than giving a cougar a wide berth and plenty of space, they shoot the cat instead. It is pathetic.

  2. Too too funny. You don’t even know the timeline of the human species let alone those species that lived millions of years ago. Ignorant much? A 5 year-old could invent a better story than the one you just penned.

    But you are right about one thing, it is a matter of survival. If people don’t destroy every last stray cat they see they can then kiss goodbye the sustainable natural habitats upon which they depend for their very own lives. Cats are breeding out of control at exponential rates and rapidly destroying the complete food-chain in every ecosystem in which they are found — including ensuring the ultimate demise of all those native plant species which depend on those animals that your cats senselessly destroyed.

    Intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, and strength-of-heart are the only things that matter in ridding the planet of destructive cats. Fear has absolutely nothing to do with it. The only real fear I detect is your own — the fear that someone is going to shoot your cats for you because you and your friends are criminally irresponsible and criminally negligent pet owners. THAT is the source of your projected fear.

    Go ahead, edit more posts because you are too afraid to face up to what others might think of you. Fear IS you. It’s the core of your psyche. You prove it constantly.

    • Oh, Frank (Woody?), you are so far from the way I feel and think. I am making a unique post, carefully thought out and, I believe, well reasoned and your response falls so far short of what I would hope. My argument is based on good science. I have no fear of anything, certainly not death. Perhaps I fear only one thing, a painful long drawn out death. But that is it. It has nothing to do with cats. I love all animals. I don’t fear cat haters. I despise them for their ignorance. Cat haters don’t just hate cats they have other mental health issues. Anger plays a bit role in the life of people like you.

      You don’t even know the timeline of the human species

      You tell me what I don’t know?

      • Michael its usually a case of nuture or nature with nuts like Woody either he’s been bought (or rather dragged) up by hateful parents who have unleashed all their hate and pent up agression on him or its nature whereby he was born evil and evil he will stay.

  3. I support you too Micheal,we needn’t be afraid of animals or birds or to kill them,we only need to learn to understand them.
    Sadly some people will never understand them because they are too full of their own importance at being the “superior” species.

  4. You were TOO nice to that ignorant fool! He should be locked up to protect the poor women he might fool into breeding with him!

  5. Okay Michael,

    Interesting article. But, as your near birthday “twin” (haha) I have a few comments.

    You talk about why people might dislike, even hate feral cats. But, are these the same people those who, at the same time, love and respect domestic home living cats? My guess is not, for the large part. Most true cat lovers do respect and acknowledge the fate of feral cats, and some of the most dedicated trap and spay feral cats.

    One type of person who might even have a cat, but hate ferals, are those who don’t actually love domestic cats, but see them as accessories.

    I don’t think imho that people who hate feral cats are necessarily scared of them. My guess is that these people are “haters”- and take out their hate on easy targets, for the purpose of feeling superior. I think that their warped mind set goes much deeper than being afraid of feral cats.

    Or/ and maybe you have hit upon a deeper truth. I now live in The South so I know much more about the history and attitudes of the region that would have other wise. Haters, the ones who come from the lineage of the racist South, would just as easily shot or abused a Black person w/o any guilt had they lived in earlier days. So, perhaps the fear factor you mention has some validity… fear that their superiority is threatened, and is translated into self-justified hate and violence.

    And, sorry, but I have a different take on why people might hate pigeons. You are singling out one type of bird and explaining people’s reactions to them thus: “Millions of years ago birds were a danger to people.” Maybe. But, imho, people don’t hate or loathe birds in general. I mean, you were feeding the robins. Birds are charming, engaging, beautiful and awe- inspiring, depending on their size and type.

    And, to be really contrarian, carrier pigeons, yes, smart birds, carefully bred and maintained, and important in history. But huge populations of generic pigeons… I don’t find them charming. And, nothing to support this idea, but I wonder how many other bird species they have driven out.

    One interesting perspective on the ban on feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

    • I agree largely, VG. What I am saying is that the majority of people have overcome their fear of cats and pigeons, over the centuries, and also through rational thought. It is the people who live by their instincts who haven’t done this. They are usually uneducated. There are lots of people who don’t use their brains it seems to me. They just live off their instincts, almost.

      The world is still developing (obviously) and one day no one will fear cats. Then there will be no declawing and you won’t need a law to ban it. And people will stop shooting feral cats and domestic cats.

      The fear of pigeons and cats is not something that a person senses. It is primordial 😉

      It is quite interesting in that I have heard people say they are frightened of pigeons. The same fear exists in relation to snakes and spiders.

      So, perhaps the fear factor you mention has some validity… fear that their superiority is threatened, and is translated into self-justified hate and violence.

      I think this is correct. White people fear their loss of superiority which is a form of survival. Fear is translated to hatred/anger/violence. It is the sort of response that we see from so called “animals”. Of course we are animals; the human animal.

  6. Exactly Michael, people afraid of cats or pigeons act on instinct, we humans were once animals without speech or reason, only acting on instinct, but we’ve gradually evolved until most humans are tolerant of other species of life and like yourself help as many as they can. Those who aren’t have a long way to go yet.
    I have a way to go myself.
    I say I love all animals but maybe love is the wrong word for some like rats and spiders, maybe I respect them is a more appropriate word.
    If I see a rat or a spider I feel a deep fear inside me, it’s silly I know but I couldn’t pick up a rat like I can a pigeon or a hedgehog and I couldn’t cup a spider in my hands to rescue it like I can a butterfly, a moth, a ladybird, etc. Worms make me shudder too yet I wouldn’t hurt any of those creatures if I could help it as I came to realise long ago that all life is precious to the creature living it.
    Weren’t pigeons a great help in the war by carrying messages?
    I think we need to learn more about the creatures we are afraid of, to try to understand them and realise they exist for a purpose, not to hate them, nor to kill them just because we can!
    Valley Girl you say you wonder how many bird species pigeons have driven out, well I wonder how many species of all kinds we humans have driven out?

    • I just wanted to make an observation on the subject of pigeon / dove populations. I hope it is not too much off-topic.

      Those living outside of the USA may not be aware that Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto), after first arriving in the USA around 30 years ago, have since exploded in numbers and overspread nearly the entire country at a speed that has astounded many observers. Some experts fear that they will threaten native species, such as the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura). Others believe that the Collared Doves are merely filling an environmental niche left vacant since the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) through overhunting nearly 100 years ago, and will otherwise have no negative impact on the environment. It remains to be seen which will be the case.

      For that matter, some have speculated that the astounding numbers of Passenger Pigeons that the British and European settlers observed here 200 years ago (flocks so huge that they darkened the sky), were not the norm for that species, either. One theory states that it was the disruption of the traditional lifestyle of the Native Americans caused by the arrival of the white man that resulted in an abnormal population explosion of Passenger Pigeons.

      • I think it is on-topic. The pigeon is a very adept survivor. It seems that your comment supports my theory.

        High pigeon numbers do not threaten human survival but they might threaten environmental quality and perhaps native species.

        There would appear to be a reason for humans to fear them. People don’t like other animals breeding as fast as them. No, that would never be acceptable.

        • Michael,

          To parse your original post- you said (summing up, that many people dislike pigeons, b/c they see them as a threat to our survival).

          And, above, that a reason people fear them is because they breed faster than humans. And, what exactly do you mean by “fear”? Are you talking on the individual level? I mean, are there individuals who, upon encountering a pigeon, have physiological fear anxiety reactions that are acute? Racing breath, mobilization of the sympathetic nervous system fight or flight reaction? Pigeon phobia.

          Update to above paragraph, after doing some googling, yes apparently there are people who react this way to pigeons. That came as a total surprise to me, I admit.

          snippet ~~Phobias are very common – it is believed that at least one person in 10 is affected at some time in their life. And phobias about animals and birds are among the commonest of all. Pigeons, cats and dogs can be a particular problem, because there are so many of them around. A severe phobia about them can be as disabling as any anxiety disorder. Even fear of rats, frogs and snakes, which most people seldom encounter, can be the cause of much misery in certain circumstances.~~

          Some people become almost prisoners in their own homes for fear of common creatures like cats and dogs, pigeons and other birds.

          Some people are convinced that they will have a panic attack and lose control if they even see film of the creature they fear on TV.~~

          However, I did find the comment from this link peculiar (and following comments amusing)
          http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g60763-i5-k5801017-Bird_phobia-New_York_City_New_York.html

          ~~When I was in New York last year I was actually attacked and killed by a pigeon in the lower east side. It was a nasty incident that I wouldn’t wish to occur again. If you dress as a scarecrow, as I plan to do next time I visit, you may escape with your life. Good luck.~~

          My own loathing for pigeons comes from threat to native species, as Howard mentions above. Same as my loathing for Eastern grey squirrels (rats with fluffy tails) who are total pests, and have driven out the American red squirrel in some places. (And, btw, Eastern grey squirrels introduced to UK are driving out european red squirrel)

          Almost every non-mammalian animal breeds faster (shorter generation time) than do humans, btw.

          Any, thanks for an interesting topic, Michael.

          • Thanks for the comment VG. V.interesting. As mentioned I have read and heard about people being actually frightened of pigeons and certainly there are many millions who are scared of cats. I wonder if people are also scared of them because they survive and breed well. That seems to pose a threat to human dominance on the planet. I don’t think it is rational but a dominant species does not want a challenge from any other species. It might be a fear of the species of birds that are pigeons rather individual pigeons.

            Is it true that of all the mammals, humans are the best breeders?

            • Can’t answer conclusively, but re: Is it true that of all the mammals, humans are the best breeders?

              Well, I was talking about generation time. And I suppose I should have included # of offspring. Cats certainly surpass humans in this regard, but don’t know much about mammals, except for cats and humans. 😉

  7. It makes me sad that some people lump a species together, such as ‘I hate all cats’ not thinking that each individual cat didn’t choose to be born as a cat, the same with pigeons, grey squirrels, etc etc.
    They had no choice!
    Imagine saying ‘I hate all people and want them dead’ just because some people are cruel, we didn’t choose to be born as people and I for one am ashamed of being born one because of the way some people target a certain species.
    You’ll not find any other species than human hating other living beings just because they have the capacity to feel hatred and don’t want them in ‘their’ world. If animals and birds and fish could feel hatred I’m sure they’d despise the ever breeding human race (one baby born every minute of every hour of every day) for what they are doing to our supposed to be shared world. Again people no matter how cruel they are have the right to life and many think that they are superior to other species and that it’s OK to hate, use, abuse, experiment on, or eat them.
    Live and LET live!

  8. It’s said every creature has a purpose although I can’t think what purpose snakes for example have,maybe they are predators to some other creature in Mother Nature’s plan?
    All creatures have natural predators to keep their numbers under control but humans have messed that up by interfering.
    Tell me what purpose humans have?
    What are our predators?Other humans,accidents and diseases I suppose.But these predators take good people as well as bad.
    I don’t understand why at all.

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