Painted Pigeons, Pushy Parrots

Barcelona's for the birds

Pigeon in Plaça de Catalunya

Barcelona's the sort of city where you're never surprised at anything you see. But even here, tourists are constantly taken aback by the pigeons in the parks. Most Barcelona pigeons are the normal, pigeon-toed, cigarette butt-pecking critters you'd see anywhere, but quite a few come with splashes of gaudy colours—purple, orange, green, even pink, as if they were permanently dressed up for some Modernista pigeon carnival.

Seen up close, they don't seem to be painted; the colours are on individual feathers or sets of feathers. But after considerable bother and research we can confirm that yes, painted they are. Barcelona's fanatical pigeon-keepers are legends in the pigeon world, and they decorate their birds carefully for identification, like branding cattle.

Barcelona parrots in the palms

Look up in the Barcelona skies, or into the fronds of its palm trees, and chances are you'll also spot some bright green parrots, in fact lots of parrots. Invasive 'Quaker parrots' (or 'monk parakeets') are colonizing cities all over the world, but Barcelona has far more than its share. First established in the 1970's, the predictable result of a brief fad for parrot pets, the birds are now everywhere.

Cute as they may be, they're becoming a little nightmare for the Catalans. Besides splotching the Barcelonans' cars and pushing out native species, they've been accused of invading the countryside and eating all the farmers' tomatoes. The biggest problem may be their giant apartment-house nests, which they like to build atop power poles, encasing the wires and occasionally starting electrical fires.

Altogether, Barcelona is a great place for birds. Some of the stars are the peregrine falcons who live atop the Sagrada Familía and elsewhere (and who are slowly acquiring a taste for parrots), and the biggest population of urban herons in Europe, who hang around the Zoo in the Parc de la Ciutadella. If you're a birder, you'll find plenty of species on Montjuïc; there's more information on a wonderful site called Iberia Nature.

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