A passion for pigeons

Midtown Greenway hosting summer pigeon tours 

Zack Mohlis
Zack Mohlis poses with his morning dove stick and garbage collected during the tour. Photos by Christopher Shea

Although they are not native to the Twin Cities, rock pigeons have flourished in this urban environment because tall buildings are similar to their natural roosting place, cliffs.

This was just one of many fun facts Zack Mohlis told a gathering of about a dozen avian enthusiasts who flocked to the Greenway on June 13 for a free tour offered by the Midtown Greenway Coalition.

“There was a time where pigeons were the image of rural America,” Mohlis told the group. “Now they are the image of urban America.”

Mohlis said the reason for the tour, aside from his passion for the bird and the fact that June 13 is National Pigeon Day, was a desire to get people thinking more about the history of the area. For future expeditions, Mohlis plans to focus on bridges, art and other local flora and fauna.

“What I really want people to do is see the Greenway in a different way,” said Mohlis, who works in outdoor education programs for the Three Rivers Park District. “So many people have one way they use the Greenway. To have another experience brings a different appreciation.”

pigeons nesting
In urban areas, pigeons nest on a variety of flat, covered surfaces as they are reminiscent of their natural roosting place, cliffs.

Attendees of the tour — a 1.5-mile walk from the Walker Library to the Interstate 35W overpass — said they came out of a desire to support the Greenway, out of curiosity about a tour based solely on pigeons or out of the simple wish to learn more about the bird.

“What makes them common is inherently interesting,” pigeon fan Ann Cohen said.

The tour began with a history lesson on naturalist Henry David Thoreau. During an 1861 trip he took to Minnesota in search of a cure for his ailing health, Thoreau was in awe of the now-extinct passenger pigeons, which were native to the area. Today’s rock pigeons are the feral descendants of domesticated pigeons brought by European settlers.

Following a brief walk, Mohlis taught the group how to tell if an animal is around when there aren’t any tracks — by looking for droppings. Not long afterward, a pigeon was spotted atop a roof.

Further down the Greenway, the age-old question of how pigeons feed their young was finally answered — the bird produces milk in its digestive tract, or crop. The only other birds that do this are flamingos and the male emperor penguin, Mohlis said, noting that a pigeon’s crop milk looks like cottage cheese.

By the end of the tour, more than 100 pigeons had been spotted.