The February 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Top 20 Meanest Cities in U.S.

Hate Crimes in Fort Lauderdale

Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People

Housing Authority's Kafka-Style Interrogation

Bay Area Transit: Separate and Unequal

Lawsuit on Behalf of East Bay Bus Riders

MLK Would Tell Congress to Value Workers

Art, Music for Homeless Kids

Mercy: A Story

The Birdman of Berkeley

Resisting Unjust Corporate Power

President Bush Speaks His Mind

Street Spirit Poetry


January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

The Birdman of Berkeley

by Randall Reed

Pigeons fly over a sleeping homeless person and some land nearby. Many homeless people identify with pigeons and enjoy their companionship. Lydia Gans photo

The Birdman of Berkeley and Ms. Pidgy may be one of the most unusual couples in Berkeley. In July of 2002, then-homeless Dan Hopkins rescued a young pigeon he saw hit by a car at the intersection of Dwight and Telegraph. Miss Pidgy, as Hopkins named her, had a broken wing, so he carried her in a box during his stay in People's Park.

"A lot of people there couldn't understand why I rescued a pigeon," Hopkins said. "They kept saying stuff like, 'Pigeons are nothing but flying rats.' "

Yet Miss Pidgy seems to have brought Dan luck. A short time later he found an apartment in West Berkeley, where he -- and Miss Pidgy -- still reside.

Pigeons are monogamous; mating for life. Ms. Pidgy is jealous of other females -- regardless of species -- and will peck and cluck indignantly if she senses a potential rival for Hopkins' affection.

Hopkins and Miss Pidgy are a familiar couple in Berkeley. Secured with a leash, she travels around, usually on the handlebars of Hopkins' bike, and has learned his regular routes and her own neighborhood.

Scientists have puzzled for decades over just how birds, especially homing pigeons, learn and remember routes. Birds have been proven to recognize visual patterns. Scientists discovered that pigeons, as well as migrating geese, follow highways and other landmarks on the ground below.

According to Joe Eaton's story in the Daily Planet, it is believed they use a mixture of sensory tools including low-frequency sound and smell. Trace amounts of magnetite in their beaks, or the band just above, interact with the earth's gravitational pull.

Pigeons' predictability in returning to nest and mate first made the ancients realize they could be selectively bred to produce flying messengers. Flights of 1,689 miles have been recorded in racing competitions.

The late, great empires of ancient Carthage, Egypt, Greece, Rome, India and China created sophisticated communication networks utilizing homing pigeons. Only the nobility were permitted to own them.

The first recorded use of a homing pigeon was in 775 BC when a bird was dispatched from the Olympic games to announce victory to the city of Athens.

Caesar used homing pigeons during his campaigns in Gaul. So did Genghis Khan in 12th century Mongolia.

The Chinese created the first postal service using homing pigeons. Lord Rothschild was the first civilian in Britain to learn of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815 -- via homing pigeon.

In 1850, Julius Reuter founded the news service still bearing his name as a series of pigeon posts to carry stock prices and news between Brussels and Aachen.

Pigeons carried dispatches in both World Wars. A number were decorated for outstanding service. A French pigeon, Belle Ami, was awarded the Croix de Guerre after she continued to carry dispatches after being wounded with gunshot.

Animal Planet's special, "The War of the Birds," based on newly available files from a little-known division of British intelligence, M-14 (created literally "for the birds") describes the extraordinary use of homing pigeons in British and German espionage during the Second World War.

The British created a special Victoria Cross for animal soldiers. Pigeons so honored include "Winky," who saved the survivors of a British battleship from certain death in the icy waters of the Atlantic; the "Duke of Normandy," most heroic of the many pigeons who carried messages from the Normandy landing on D-Day; and "William of Orange," who saved countless Allied soldiers from death during the disastrous Battle of Arnheim.

"Flying rats?" Only in latter-day America, where the noble history of pigeons and doves has been forgotten. Thousands of racing pigeon enthusiasts in the United States and Canada -- and in Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain -- would take unction.

Pigeons are part of the dove family, synonymous, in fact, with the well-known peace symbol bird. Ms. Pidgy, like her human companion, is a complete vegan. She enjoys fried tofu as a special addition to her diet of fruit and seeds.

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