In fact, strictly speaking, these birds have no “natural” habitat. They are king pigeons, domestic birds, wholly unfamiliar with the wild, bred for a stunningly wide variety of purposes – to be kept as pets or show animals, or eaten, and often to be released at weddings, funerals and other human celebrations and commemorations. And the latter probably explains how the birds in the picture wound up in a place where they have almost no chance of surviving. For, you see, the part of the Wissahickon in which they were found frequently hosts weddings, so these birds were almost certainly purchased to create a display, as some couple swore to love each other “till death do them part.”
It’s hard not to be a little cynical at those last words. For the couple who got married on that day stand a very good chance of breaking their wedding vows – according to some estimates American divorce rates are as high as 50 percent. And that, ironically enough, is one thing that separates humans from king pigeons. For, you may be surprised to hear, king pigeons, unlike humans, are wholly monogamous and mate for life.
And, of course, divorce is only the most extreme way in which human marriages fail. Even couples who stay together often cheat, deceive, or simply tire of one another, and even the most committed human couples can have periods in which one is irritated with, or even outright hates, the other. But not king pigeons. When separated, these birds suffer and their life span decreases; no fighting, no petty deceptions, no secret joy when parted, none of the bumps or roadblocks that attend even the best human relationships, always wanting nothing more than to be together and jointly care for their young. King pigeons instinctively have a love and commitment for one another that humans yearn for but, I think it’s fair to say, almost never really achieve outside of sentimental fiction.
So it’s more than a little ironic that we consecrate our weddings by thoughtlessly subjecting such animals to fear, confusion, and an unnatural death. And, if there’s a God – or even just Karma – it’s hard to believe that any marriage so consecrated is likely to go well. But, of course, if there’s a God – or even just Karma – we all have a pretty horrible day of reckoning coming for the barbaric and unnatural way we thoughtlessly treat other animals, many of whom manage to show qualities which, in our ignorance, we consider uniquely human, to a far greater extent than we do.