Thursday, 9 July 2009

Bath may hate the gulls - but I love brainy pigeons

As regular readers of the Bath Chronicle's letters pages will know, there are many things that make the good people of this fine city very angry.

Issues around transport, planning, cycling, litter, rugby or even God divide our letter writers totally and many debates can go on for months.

There is, however, one victim of Chronicle letter-writing-rage that rarely gets any support at all. And that is the city’s famous (or rather infamous) gulls.

The latest edition of the Chronicle (July 9) for example has two different letters on the subject and it is fair to say neither writer exactly recommends the gulls for local citizens of the year. These poor feathered chaps seem about as popular as well, bird flu, with most inhabitants of this city.

My main problem with them is not that I'm woken up at ridiculous hours by these birds (as many people are), but that I suffer from what appears to be the city’s
11th commandment, the one that reads:

'Whenever thou washeth thy car, within 30 minutes one of the flying squad will have depositeth their load on thy bonnet'.

It is uncanny how they know that I’ve been to the car wash. But they do. They really do.

Now, I’m not about to defend these gulls (and please note they are not actually seagulls for we have no sea) but I did get thinking at the weekend that one of their nearest cousins might possibly just be the most intelligent creature on this planet.

Now allow me to explain . . .

Let’s imagine that I ask you to meet me at 9am tomorrow at Bath’s new bus station. All I will tell you is that we are going on a bus journey to an unknown destination. I will ask you to bring no money, no maps, no compasses and no other form of navigation.

I will then fill the coach with hundreds of other people, black out the windows then drive you to the coast, put you on a ferry and then travel deep into Europe. At some point I will then throw open the doors and say: “Now find your way home without looking at any road signs or talking to anyone. And do it quickly because we are timing you.”

It would be a pretty hopeless task, wouldn’t it? But not, oh reader, if you are a homing pigeon.

Probably because there is no football on at the moment, I’m spending far too much time thinking about odd things and having seen a few pigeons fly over my house on Saturday, I got to wondering how on earth these gull-esque types can be routinely dropped in the middle of nowhere and still get home for tea?

I did a bit of research which made me even more confused (it talked about them using the ‘Earth’s magnetic field’ or the ‘spatial distribution of atmospheric odours’, whatever the heck that means), but it seems nobody really knows how a pigeon does it. Especially as we all presume they have a very small brain (i.e. if anybody calls you bird-brain it is not usually a compliment.)

So is it just possible that Jack Duckworth was right all along and pigeons might just be more intelligent in their own way than the average Nobel Prize winner?

Apparently not everyone agrees with my latest bizarre thesis about these underrated flying machines because I saw an authoritative list of the top 10 most intelligent animals/birds and it was dominated by monkeys and the odd dolphin and pig.
Birds were nowhere to be seen and only the African grey parrot seemed to pass the animal IQ test – but, hey, I sure would like to see them fly back to their continent . . .

So the next time you, or I, curse the sticky deposit of a gull or indeed a pigeon, maybe, just maybe, we should think again. They must just be spreading some genes of the most incredible intelligence on Earth.

Or am I just gull-ible?

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