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190 × 140 × 15 mm
240 pages
100 illustrations, 70 in colour
01 Oct 2009

Pigeon Barbara Allen

Our frequent urban companion, cooing in the eaves of train stations or scavenging underfoot for breadcrumbs and discarded scraps, the pigeon has many detractors - and even some fans. Written out of love for and fascination with this humble yet important bird, Barbara Allen's Pigeon explores its cultural significance, as well as comparing it to the dove. While the pigeon and the dove are essentially the same bird, from the family Columbidae, the dove is seen as a symbol of peace, love and goodwill, yet the pigeon is commonly perceived as a filthy, ill-mannered ‘rat with wings’.

Readers will find here an enticing exploration of the historical and contemporary bonds between humans and these unique birds. For polluting statues and architecture, the pigeon has earned a bad reputation, but pigeons have also been sources of food, messengers and aids to scientists such as Charles Darwin. Pigeon describes the literary love for and celebration of pigeons and doves in the work of such writers and poets as Shakespeare, Dickens, Beatrix Potter, Proust and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and shows how human exploitation of pigeons and their habitats has led to the extinction of several species, including the dodo and the passenger pigeon, and endangers many more.

‘Joining a pleasingly diverse menagerie that also includes the cockroach and the oyster, this latest addition to Reaktion's Animal series aims to rehabilitate the much-maligned birds that Woody Allen infamously referred to as rats with wings . . . Barbara Allen constructs a detailed portrait of the cultural, spiritual and scientific significance of the pigeon . . . engaging and illuminating.’ — The Observer

‘Allen's elegantly written book might not convert you to pigeon-fancying, but it could induce a little more sympathy with the flying crapper.’ — The Guardian

‘we also find that our much-maligned avian "rats" have an awful lot going for them, with some scientists rating them as intelligent as three-year old humans . . . So next time you moan about the clutter of urban pigeons . . . spare a thought for the good contributions these animals make to our lives.’ — BBC Wildlife magazine

‘Reaktion's Animal series is unfailingly fascinating, but rarely this challengingly and powerfully told.’ — TLS

‘This delightful book is another worthy contribution to the Reaktion Animal series. Pigeons are often dismissed as brainless, dirty nuisances that invade human cultural spaces. However, by the conclusion of this fact-filled and engaging text the reader may well share the author's fascination with the birds.’ — Anthrozoös

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Barbara Allen is a minister in the Uniting Church in Australia. Her previous publications include Pigeon (2009) and Animals in Religion (2016), both published by Reaktion.


1  Pigeon or Dove?
2  Heaven-sent: Religion and Mythology
3  An Uneasy Relationship: Medicine, Meat and Messengers
4  Loved or Loathed: Portrayals in Literature, Art and Culture
5  Exploitation or Conservation: Our 'Feathered Conscience'

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