Impressive Pigeons

Pigeons aren’t very impressive. Not on the surface.

They totter around, bumping into things, mostly ignoring humans and all other predators, relying only on their enemies’ lack of interest to protect them from harm. Some city-dwelling pigeons have begun to snack on dropped french fries and other fast food, resulting in so-called ‘flying rats’ the size of house cats. Still, we remain unimpressed.

And this is, perhaps, unfair. Pigeons, like all birds, are the last remaining dinosaurs. That is to say, they evolved from velociraptors and allosauruses and other impressive beasts. They may not really look like them anymore, but that’s because times have changed. Access to resources changed. The competitive landscape changed. And so dinosaurs changed. Into pigeons.

That’s a gross oversimplification of what happened, of course, but the bottom line is that pigeons are the result of a massive pivot in the evolutionary path of an entire species. Although dinos spent a lot of time growing horns and claws and teeth and brains that helped them hunt in packs, they were capable of letting all of that go in order to preserve what was really important: their DNA. When the times changed and being physically innocuous and unflinchingly brazen dietarily became more important than size and ferocity, they evolved to protect those genes.

A significant chunk of dinosaur DNA now resides within the humble pigeon, and that is impressive. The packaging wasn’t important. The means of protecting those genetic traits were not important. What was important was the core goal. The continued survival of that genetic information, even if that meant becoming another species in the meantime.

There’s a lot to be learned from this.

We all have dreams, and we have an idea about how we’ll achieve those dreams. Yet in many cases the method by which we’d always imagined we would attain them are not legitimate options and we must pivot or miss out on achieving our long-held goals.

It’s at that point when many people decide to pursue new dreams. “Screw this,” they say. “If I can’t achieve victory on my terms, then I’ll aim for something more realistic and make myself like it.” And so they do. And they try to like it. Some even succeed.

If only they had looked down at the plump little bird eating a french fry. They would have seen, even when it’s not pretty, sexy, or impressive in the slightest, that it’s possible to achieve any goal. You just have to be willing to adjust your expectations and let go of your ego long enough to notice the many available (evolutionary) paths.

Update: February 19, 2017

Some of the most seemingly unimpressive creatures do prove to be the most interesting, when you take a good look at them. The humble rat is also remarkable, especially when you consider how many ecological niches they’ve not just visited, but dominated.