Why Birds Attacked the Pope’s Peace Doves

Gregorio Borgia/AP/Corbis

Why Birds Attacked the Pope’s Peace Doves

Avian Expert and Audubon Field Editor Kenn Kaufman discusses Sunday's assault.


By Todd Petty
Published: 01/28/2014

Pope Francis' doves did not receive a peaceful welcome in St. Peter's Square this past Sunday. Immediately after the two birds took flight a yellow-legged gull and a hooded crow descended upon them.

While no one but the attackers knows for certain why they set their sights on the two white doves, there's no shortage of theories.

Avian expert and Audubon field editor Kenn Kaufman says a number of factors might have contributed to Sunday's attack.

Both the yellow-legged gull and hooded crow are commonly found in Rome, Kaufman says. They're both intelligent and adaptable species, and share a penchant for opportunism--they're largely scavengers, but they'll take on the role of predator when they happen upon an easy target.

A National Geographic article asserted that the assailants assaulted the doves because they were pure white, unlike most birds found in Rome.

"The color could certainly help draw attention," says Kaufman. But the pure white feathers likely wasn't the sole reason for the attacks.

In video coverage of the event, the released doves flutter about, seemingly confused. Bred in captivity, it's possible that the winged symbols of peace had never been out on their own before and were therefore flustered.

"That helpless behavior, it really sort of makes them a marked individual," says Kaufman, explaining that it can attract bullying by other birds. "Combining that with the fact that they're strikingly white," likely explains why they were targets.

But for what? It's difficult to say what the aim of the gull and crow was, whether they were after dinner, or just roughhousing. "Crows and gulls do a lot of things they don't necessarily have to do, just for the fun of picking on the weakling on the playground," Kaufman says.

As for the claims that the attack on peace doves was an ominous sign that unrest in Ukraine will continue, "I would caution against reading too much symbolism in it," he said.

Amen to that.

"Birds in the wild constantly interact like this among different species and if you spend time out just watching birds and what they're doing, one kind of bird harassing another, it's not a rare thing," he said.

"It's just rare this happens in front of a huge crowd of people."

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Todd Petty

Todd Petty is a reporter at Audubon Magazine.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


with this info we all loring

with this info we all loring much more for the good well

i love this web its very nice

i love this web its very nice

Birds aren't symbols. They're

Birds aren't symbols. They're living animals raised in captivity. Releasing them in a city of scavengers
is cruel and means certain death.

There is growing agreement

There is growing agreement that this "tradition" needs to stop if it can possibly harm any animals. Which this obviously does.

Releasing doves raised in

Releasing doves raised in captivity is a cute as releasing kittens. Doesn't work. I was part of rescuing doves that were released at a peace festival. They were just sitting around waiting to be fed.

Who would thought this would

Who would thought this would happen. It makes me think of the scene in the movie "The Birds", where the two lovebirds caused so much hatred among the others.

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