OPINION: The train came fast and the pigeon was left fluttering wings

Friday August 23 2019

Freddy Macha

Freddy Macha 

Yes, that is what happened.

You might call this tale, silly, but the train was moving fast, a machine rolling on steel and alloy. We do not know what the pigeon was doing on those rails. Urban beasts tend to have the survival adrenalin just like us city humans.

Maybe the pigeon was already unwell. Perhaps, too hungry to care. But pigeons always hop away from moving vehicles. So do foxes and stray cats and birds.

We will never know.

However, our eyes were horrified to see wings ruffling, grey, white, dark-blue feathers spluttering. The feeling was to jump in and liberate the bird.

When you live in Europe you start pitying wild creatures.


Partly because they aren’t that many, and hardly bite, like in the tropics.

This is what travelling does to the mind.

I used to squash spiders. I rarely do it anymore. Here in Europe, it is common to hear females screaming when a spider is about. Honestly? Scientifically?

Spiders are only interested in flies and small insects. That is why they build webs. They are actually good for us. Keeping away fatal insects.

Or are just seeking to mate with their buddies...

Spiders are among the oldest creatures on earth.

According to Professor Fritz Vollrath, who studied spiders for many years, the silk used to make webs can benefit us.

Speaking to London’s Guardian, six years ago, Professor Vollrath who has a spider lab at Oxford University is quoted to have claimed: “Farmers out in the fields across the world have known when they get cut to grab some spider webs and slap on them. The fibres help blood coagulate and alot of webs have microbiocidal properties that kill bacteria...this is all homespun wisdom. The question is how can we make it better?”


I remember living in Mwananyamala area of Dar es Salaam in 1970s and early 1980s, and my landlord used to keep and nurture yellow, green spiders. He used to say they were very clever. And that they produced good poison to get rid of weeds and harmful bacteria. We thought he was mad. Of course he was abit of a maverick. But there you go. Mavericks have created and discovered wonderful things...

But to return to birds.

From birds we humans learnt to make aeroplanes.

And that pigeon we were watching was going. Vanishing fast. The five of us, stood watching helplessly.

It is forbidden to jump on rail tracks, by law. So leaping to retrieve the suffering feathered soul was out of question. Someone said it would perhaps be a good idea to pick up a brick and finish it off.

“Relieve it of its misery. It is in pain...”

Yes we watched the pigeon. From where we stood the face, beak, eyes were not visible. Only thrashing feathers. Do creatures show emotions? There was hardly any noise. Just flapping and tussling of wings. Usually, you would see other fellow pigeons probably looking from nearby. I once witnessed an equally wretched urban fox, knocked off by a speeding car; nearby two fellow animals, stared. Tails wagging. They knew they could not wade in on a road parked with sporadic cars and help. Urban animals do not operate that way.

This pigeon was alone.

Within minutes another train strode hurtling hastily and ...seconds later, we watched a static bird. Now. Pigeon. Officially, dead.

The issue in cities like London is whether one can take the carcass and go cook it.

A neighbour of mine once told me his cat caught a mouse. As we have pointed out many times on this column, there are thousands of rats and mice in London.

“Stanley, “(name of the tomcat), “was about to eat the mouse when I took it off him. Threw it to the bins. These mice are not good for cats. They have venom.”

Interesting piece of information. The city is so polluted and dirt that creatures are not good for consumption even for animals? How bad can it get, folks?

But what do pigeons eat?

You see them everywhere on our city streets. Feeding on bread crumbs, biscuit bits, discarded fruits, on side roads, under cars, over roofs and below bridges. Pigeons are everywhere.

Wikipedia reminds us 400 million pigeons roam Mother Earth and numbers continue to rise.

A few years ago I watched a cat assassinating a pigeon. Guess what? The feline animal made sure Bird was still and gone. Then just walked off. Majestically. Cat style.

That cat owner was right about his domesticated Stanley. He feeds him good pet food bought from healthy shops. But this street cat? Kills a pigeon and leaves it? There must be something really strangely unpalatable and unsuitable about 21 century city birds.