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NYC pigeons can leave whenever they want, but they choose to stay.

Photography by Martha Argelia. NYC Pigeons Winter 2024, 96th Street Broadway.
Photography by Martha Argelia. NYC Pigeons Winter 2024, 96th Street Broadway.

There is absolutely no other city like New York City. I just returned to NYC from living in Los Angeles for 4 years and, while there, I missed New York every minute. However, I rarely complained because I knew what I was getting into--bad bagels, soggy pizza, slow moves, car dependency, and a bunch of "fake, fake, fake!"

I also knew I would experience a carefree lifestyle, chilled vibes, lots of nature, and tons of vegetables, hundreds of cultures, delicious street food, colorful markets, hard-to-find streetwear, great music, amazing incense, and other tidbits that are escaping my mind. The point is, I didn't complain.

Now, back to the pigeons. These ungracious heathens choose concrete over green pastures and sandy beaches. I say choose because they are free to leave. They are capable of flying for long distances. I believe pigeons can fly around 700 miles non-stop.

The NYC pigeon never leaves. They are part of an incredible urban odyssey. They have adapted to city life over generations, evolving to exploit the vast opportunities this bustling metropolis has to offer. They've become true urbanites, capitalizing on the countless food scraps and sheltered nooks the city provides. Over time, their very identity has become intertwined with the city itself. NYC = pizza, the arts, and pigeons. Tell me otherwise.

Do you understand that these animals are walking around missing 2-3 digits, walking directly on the nub of their legs--having recently lost their entire foot? Yet still, they choose to stay.

They go days and weeks without a nibble. Close-calls with street sweepers and road-raging Ubers all on the same day. These birds most certainly have some avian form of PTSD and they still choose to stay.

They take dumps on people's heads and withstand a barrage of expletives from said humans, degrading their very being--and yet, they stay.

They are referred to as the ugly fact, most people don't even know that the small delicate-looking ones are the elegant doves, and the larger boofy ones are the actual pigeons.

What happens in below-zero-degree weather? Pigeons go into something called a state of torpor, and live their life in slow motion where they use the least amount of energy possible so they won't freeze. Remember, they can fly almost 700 miles all at once. They can essentially get to Florida or at least the warmer south, but they choose to hit the slo-mo button, just so they can stay in this glorious city.

NYC pigeons pooping on someone's head in an art piece by Martha Argelia from 2018.
Artwork by Martha Argelia. "Good Luck." 2018.

I mean do you blame them? We're a food metropolis and fashion haven allowing for some spectacular people-watching. NYC has an incredible abundance of cultures. With an ever-flowing stream of human activity, pigeons have access to a buffet of discarded pizza crusts, pretzel crumbs, and hot dog remnants. They've learned the rhythms of the city, and they know that they can rely on the generosity of New Yorkers when it comes to snacks. In a city that never stops eating, pigeons have found their culinary paradise.

But you're like what?! My community is infested! They're like rats! I want a beautiful rat-free social neighborhood! Let me tell you...the NYC pigeons totally understand. Pigeons are social birds, and they've developed strong communities within the city. They build nests, raise their chicks, and form bonds with their fellow pigeons, creating tight-knit communities that provide both social support and a sense of belonging. Just like human residents, pigeons in NYC have neighbors they rely on, forming a unique, avian sense of community.

Also, remember, they didn't choose to be here. They were forced into this part of the with many origin stories, settlers from Europe brought pigeons with them in the 1600s to raise as food, similar to chickens, or as carriers for sending messages. And would you believe, the raising as chickens part didn't go so well? So, they let them all free to soar the skies of the Americas.

The pigeons of NYC are more than just birds; they've become a symbol of resilience and adaptability. They've chosen to stay in a place that can be challenging and unforgiving, but they thrive nonetheless. Just like New Yorkers, they've made a conscious choice to call NYC home, even when they have the freedom to leave.

I attempted to leave, but NYC quickly called me back. I'm now happily perched right back home.




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