IT WOULD BE NICE to say that the recent stir caused by Joe, the wayward Australian pigeon, inspired today’s cover piece on pigeons in our own backyard.

Alas, this would not be true.

We humans have dumped on the poor pigeon for too long; it’s high time to admire this fascinating, fast, quirky bird

Joe, if you somehow missed the tale, given the glut of pandemic and insurrection news of lesser import, faced a death sentence in Melbourne earlier this year when he was discovered in a backyard wearing a leg band that indicated the outbound flight that landed him in Oz had departed from Oregon, USA.

The news hook — a pretty good one — was that this homing pigeon had somehow managed to fly 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean — something of which pigeons are not generally known to be capable — only to face a death sentence because, under local rules at his chosen choice of landmass landing, he qualified as an “exotic species.”

Fortunately, once news broke of Joe’s plight, someone pointed out that the leg band he was wearing was broadly available via mail order (insert your own carrier pigeon joke here), and that the chance Joe was anything other than a normal Aussie pigeon was extremely remote.

Joe was spared. But we forged ahead.

Long before Joe was a thing, Seattle Times photojournalist Alan Berner had been following pigeons around on his own on the mean streets of Seattle. Berner, as any fan of Pacific NW magazine knows, has both a keen eye and a grand imagination. He specializes in turning the ordinary into the exceptional, the mundane into the artistic, and has previously produced photo essays on crows and gulls.


Around the office, we joked that he needed to find one more annoying avian to complete the Bad Bird Trifecta. Getting the last laugh, Berner did exactly that.

Each bird is its own challenge, Berner says — and each is ubiquitous, but not often seen in more than passing glances.

The result is today’s feature on the vastly underestimated; often-loathed; and, in keeping with the spirit of modern American life, very badly treated bird species: the common rock pigeon.

Berner spent many hours observing the behavior — and, especially, the interactions with humans — of this unique bird, which, we soon learned, owes much of its success as a species to that very skill of interacting with people.

Even the best of the pigeons needs a good press agent to continue that process, and Berner has filled that role here. The story is his inspiration; the words are just scaffolding to hold his artistry together.

Enjoy — and don’t feel bad about dropping a few kernels of popcorn for your friends at the park. They’ve adapted to the grease and salt better than the rest of us.