Pandemic Pigeons - A Love Story

A pair of feral pigeons befriended the photographer’s family, who were isolated in their apartment in Vlaardingen, the Netherlands, during the Covid-19 pandemic, in April 2020. Ollie and Dollie, as the family named them, would visit the photographer’s house on a daily basis and kept everybody sane during a very challenging time.

Feral pigeons (Columba livia domestica) are descended from the rock dove, which naturally inhabits sea cliffs and mountains. They find the ledges of buildings to be substitutes for sea cliffs, have adapted to urban life and surroundings, and now live in urban areas on every continent except Antarctica, with a global population in the hundreds of millions. Rock doves were the first birds to be domesticated, between five and six thousand years ago, in Mesopotamia. They were bred for food, and later trained to carry messages. Birds escaping or released from a domestic environment became the first feral (or city) pigeons. Although they are believed to be vectors of diseases, the evidence is to the contrary. It is rare for city pigeons to transmit a disease to humans, and while they do transmit contagions such as Salmonella and avian mites, infecting mammals is rare.

This story is not only about a couple of pigeons but it is a reminder that we are not alone on this planet and that we need to share our spaces with the species that surround us. We’re part of an ecosystem and we depend on this for our own survival, even when living in a concrete jungle.⁣

Dutch photographer Jasper Doest creates visual stories that explore the relationship between humankind and nature. Having majored in ecology, Doest knows human life depends on everything our planet has to offer, yet he recognizes the unsustainable nature of the current human patterns of consumption. Through his photographic work he gives a voice to the natural world and tries to bridge the gap between the natural world and ourselves.

As a true believer in the power of photography to initiate change, Doest is an International League of Conservation Photographers senior fellow and a World Wildlife Fund ambassador. His accolades include four World Press Photo Awards (one of this with the story Pandemic Pigeons) and in 2020 he was named European Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Doest frequently lectures on photography, conservation and global sustainability and has presented at venues such as the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn and The Royal Geographical Society in London.


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