Photo Friday: Trafalgar Square with pigeons in 1990s London

Trafalgar Square, London; December 1998

After last week’s trip down memory lane to a childhood holiday in Fiji, here is another time travel edition of Photo Friday.

This is Trafalgar Square in London in 1998, with the Canadian High Commission in the background. My mother was living in Cambridge at the time and I spent Christmas with her, before heading off to do volunteer work in Guyana. We made a trip down to London to go to the ballet (The Nutcracker at the English Ballet) and visit galleries and visit family.

I had forgotten about this entirely until I unearthed the photos in a storage box in Sydney. The reason it is so striking is the pigeons. I never saw Trafalgar Square like this when I lived in London from 2004 to 2009  – the former Mayor Ken Livingstone declared war on the city’s pigeons in 2001. Amid other anti-pigeon measures, he banned feeding pigeons at Trafalgar Square.

At the time back in 1998 I found it all quite charming – not the birds themselves so much but the fact that there was a whole economy revolving around feeding them. I think I was remembering the little old bird woman on the steps of St Paul’s from the song “Feed the Birds” in Mary Poppins.

With the hindsight of having lived in London for five years, I now think that was a real tourist perspective. There is no doubt that Trafalgar Square is much nicer and more usable for humans without being so overrun by pigeons, which are, let’s face it, not the cleanest, prettiest of creatures. There are still birds around, just no longer a plague of them.


I don’t feel any need to feed the pigeons like in Mary Poppins

… but nor do I feel inclined to poison them, as in the songs of American humourist Tom Lehrer.


This is my contribution to Photo Friday, a weekly blogging event run by Debbie of Delicious Baby. Please see all the other submissions this week.

What do you think of pigeons? Is London better since Livingstone introduced the anti-pigeon measures? Can you think of any other places that have undergone a dramatic change like this? Please leave a comment!

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  1. I posted my thoughts on pigeons recently. I hate em! I think Trafalgar Square is a better place without the pigeons. Although I never saw it with the pigeons. I have been to other places like St Mark’s Square in Venice that are infested with the horrible things.
    .-= jess (fushmush)´s last blog ..Travel Pensieve: Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca =-.

    Having seen it both ways, I definitely agree. – Caitlin.

  2. I liked the photo, and I agree, it’s much better without them. Not fond of people feeding birds of any sort — ducks at lakes, pigeons, sparrows, and others — and teaching their children that it’s entertaining to do so. not so, for birds or people, I think.
    .-= Kerry Dexter´s last blog ..Road Trip Music in North Carolina =-.

    Hmm. You might have a point, though I have fond memories of feeding ducks in the park and also rainbow lorikeets as a child. Here in America we have a hummingbird feeder in our backyard but this isn’t bad for the birds and perhaps even helps compensate for loss of habitat. I don’t know, I think it’s not black and white. – Caitlin.

  3. I remember Trafalgar being like that when I lived there in 86. Hate pigeons like rats with wings. Disease ridden and annoying.San Jose in Costa Rica also has a pigeon thing happening but not like this.
    .-= Cate´s last blog ..Marketplace Express @ St. Pete’s Florida =-.

    Poor pigeons! They served us faithfully for centuries and even helped us win World War 2 and we still call them “rats with wings”! ;-) – Caitlin.

  4. You’re right it’s quite striking the difference between all those pigeons then and a pigeon free zone now. It’s a bit scary looking at the photo like a scene from The Birds. I much prefer trafalgar square without all those pigeons.
    .-= Heather on her travels´s last blog ..Luxuries of Barcelona revealed =-.

  5. “Flying rats” is the name which springs to mind. Though seagulls are even worse, apparently. More like foxes with wings, and very aggressive… I’ve been out of London for a long time, now, but still miss good old Ken…
    .-= Theodora´s last blog ..Putting the Graphic into Ethnographic =-.

  6. wow, looks like you got to experience typical British weather! I used to like it back when the square was overrun by pigeons perhaps because I prefer pigeons to other tourists ;)
    James´s last [type] ..Top 5 Free Mobile Travel Apps

  7. How quickly people forget all the good pigeons have done for us during the war, delivering the most important mails through smoke and fire of the enemies. If they only knew that gratitude wouldn’t last for long and people would be hating them and calling rats with wings… What is wrong with you people? Only because you don’t like some species doesn’t mean you have rights to kill them! This world does not belong to human race only! Mother Nature must be so much regretting the creation of human being!

    Thanks for your comment – it’s true that pigeons have been good friends to us throughout history. I think there’s probably a happy medium between feeding wild birds so they breed out of control versus killing them. How about letting them exist peacefully but not feeding them?! – Caitlin.

  8. Loretta Pirozzi says:

    I just return from 10 days of theater and sightseeing in London. I was also looking at how London’s alleys must have evolved over time as Seattle is just now noticing that the alley space is an untapped resource.

    Our alleys have garbage issues bcause of pigeons, sweagulls with powerful jaws and rats. I saw little garbage in the alleys of London but what I did see were in intact bags.

    It was at about this time that I naturally wondered why London’s scavengers weren’t causing the same issues. No seagulls, of course, but where were the pigeons? I’m pretty sure I saw none.

    So I ask you, where did all the pigeons go?

    • There are still pigeons around in London but much fewer than there used to be. Stopping feeding them was an important step in population control. I know a lot of buildings have spikes on the eaves to stop them perching. In the City of London (the square mile) they have a trained hawk to hunt pigeons. I kid you not! I’m not sure what other measures might be in place. I don’t think they use poison.