Panel 2. Urban Territories 

Overhead and Underfoot: The Everyday Proximities of Urban Pigeons

Shawn Bodden, Department of Geography, University of Edinburgh, UK

Pigeons and humans get on together. They live side-by-side in cities the world over, each benefitting from the concentrations of food and accommodation essential to urban centres (Jerolmack 2013). The everyday proximity of pigeons and humans often leads to conflict, but also to expressions of conviviality (Blechman 2013). Humans have responded to their pigeonly neighbours with bird spikes, poisoning and peregrine falcons, but also fan clubs, tourist photos and heaps of breadcrumbs. The entangled and often fraught histories of pigeons in pageants, pies, wars and community-outreach projects have been well-documented (Whiston 2017; Allen 2009), and as Donna Haraway writes, pigeons and humans have produced these histories together (2016: 29): they are the result of human, but also pigeonly skills, habits and agencies. Yet while these accounts tell stories about the many surprising and spectacular entanglements of pigeon and human geographies, they often lose sight of the mundane, unintentional encounters which arise between humans and pigeons going about their everyday business in the city. Drawing on first- and second-hand video data of pigeon and human interactions in train stations and public squares, I will discuss the techniques used by pigeons and humans to negotiate proximities in public space as more-than-human passers-by. By studying these encounters, I seek to go beyond Fahim Amir’s (2013) claim that pigeons perform a ‘practical critique’ of anthropocentric urbanisms to discuss the ways that humans and pigeons make sense of one another—and their shared spaces—in day-to-day life.

Making Buildings Hospitable with Swifts

Ariane d’Hoop, Université Saint-Louis, Belgium

Each year, common swifts (Apus apus) land back from migration in Brussels’ districts. Through voids and cracks in buildings, they reach cavities and holes in direct flight; this makes it harder for humans to notice these birds who mostly live on the wing, high up in the sky. Swifts have their own ways of inhabiting these places. They circumscribe suitable nesting sites by doing "sound rounds”. They weave nests with all kinds of materials and are highly philopatric: they always return to the same breeding area. Yet, in densely urban neighbourhoods, the dynamics of building construction and renovation devastate those discreet homes and hence contribute to the disappearance of their inhabitants. For over two decades there has been a growing concern over the fate of the Brussels’ swifts and their living places. This paper explores urban houses where inhabitants experiment with more caring forms of cohabitation with these fascinating birds. It articulates this ethnographic research with the knowledge of scientists and amateur naturalists who have learnt to craft architectural interfaces to make them more hospitable to swifts. How these multispecies places are re-constituted to address species loss? Stories about eaves, roofs, bricks, or putlog holes tell about a form of care, its modes of attentiveness, of responsiveness, and their ethical issues, all emerging while people make room to swifts’ sensory worlds. With these stories I will discuss some of the intricate characters of “hospitality” in this interspecies care.

Wings in the City: Living with Urban Birds in Greater Paris

Alizé Berthier, Department of Geography, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France

Though cities are commonly regarded as places created by humans for humans, they are also habitats for other-than-human animals, especially birds. While human urban population keeps growing, lots of bird species adapt to urban environments, as highlighted by urban ornithology. Thus, cities can be described as places of co-existence between people and birds, yet the urban territory is not necessarily considered as a shared space with birds by city-dwellers. Through a quantitative inquiry with inhabitants, this paper aims to question the cohabitation between city-dwellers and birds in the densely built city of the Greater Paris, where 7 millions of people live and 100 species of birds nest. Birds are experienced as part of urban everyday life by city-dwellers, but they are not perceived in their entire diversity. Seen as components of urban nature, their presence is appreciated if they are not disturbing the urban order. Thus, territorial contexts of the encounter between city-dwellers and birds influence how birds are experienced. In return, the kind of birds encountered shape city-dwellers’ visions of the diverse urban territories where the encounter happens. Cultural representations of where birds should be and how they should behave define a proper place for urban birds, which depends both on the greening of the urban space and on its appropriation by the inhabitant. When some birds cause damage to the everyday life territories, city-dwellers describe them not just as simple objects of representations, but begin to talk about them in terms of individual beings with their own agentivity.