Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan … And the World

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Why do we see pigeons as lowly urban pests and how did they become such common city dwellers? Courtney Humphries traces the natural history of the pigeon, recounting how these shy birds that once made their homes on the sparse cliffs of sea coasts came to dominate our urban public spaces. While detailing this evolution, Humphries introduces us to synanthropy: The concept that animals can become dependent on humans without ceasing to be wild; they can adapt to the cityscape as if it were a field or a forest.

Superdove simultaneously explores the pigeon’s cultural transformation, from its life in the dovecotes of ancient Egypt to its service in the trenches of World War I, to its feats within the pigeon-racing societies of today. While the dove is traditionally recognized as a symbol of peace, the pigeon has long inspired a different sort of fetishistic devotion from breeders, eaters, and artists—and from those who recognized and exploited the pigeon’s astounding abilities. Because of their fecundity, pigeons were symbols of fertility associated with Aphrodite, while their keen ability to find their way home made them ideal messengers and even pilots.

Their usefulness largely forgotten, today’s pigeons have become as ubiquitous and reviled as rats. ButSuperdove reveals something more surprising: By using pigeons for our own purposes, we humans have changed their evolution. And in doing so, we have helped make pigeons the ideal city dwellers they are today. In the tradition of Rats, the book that made its namesake rodents famous, Superdove is the fascinating story of the pigeon’s journey from the wild to the city—the home they’ll never leave.

Courtney Humphries

About Courtney Humphries

Courtney Humphries is a freelance journalist and author who writes about ideas and developments in science, health, and culture, and is drawn to stories that reveal unexpected insights about the everyday world. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Nautilus, MIT Technology Review, New Scientist, Nature, Science, Wired, Harvard Magazine, Architect, and other publications. She is the author of Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan...And the World, a natural history of pigeons published by Smithsonian Books. She returned to MIT as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow for 2015-2016. Thesis: Side Effects: The New Age of AIDS in America

 
 

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