Pigeons Are For The Birds

Remember that scene in "Mary Poppins?" The one where Julie Andrews warbles "Feed The Birds", the pigeons, as that little old flower seller is surrounded by the things?

Well, the pigeons that flock through London's Trafalgar Square these days, using the buildings encircling it as a sort of three dimensional cliff top, may be appealing to you tourists... but those of us who live and work here tend to think of the wretched birds as flea infested trouble and never EVER look up... just in case.

They're about as popular in London as Howard Dean is in Arizona. We've all been caught out at one time or another, and the biggest beneficiaries are the nation's dry cleaners. But now even my pigeon hardened heart melts a little at the news that these freewheeling dive bombers rely on us mere mortals for their sense of direction.

Researchers at Oxford University (no less) have just come up with extraordinary findings. They have concluded that pigeons no longer use that mystical sense of direction that we all learned about at school to get from A to B.

They've given up on their inbuilt compasses. They've abandoned judging their location by the moon and the stars. Instead, they follow roads and freeways to find their way home.

In fact, they'll even follow that strange roadside invention that we Brits cling to - the roundabout. And in the right direction. So, now that we have map-reading pigeons, bang goes that old English saying: "as the crow flies", meaning the straightest way from one place to another. And presumably, one day we can expect to look up from Trafalgar Square ... above Nelson's Column ... and see pigeon to pigeon gridlock. It'll be like walking through a snowstorm.

By Simon Bates