Pigeons get a bad rap, but they are one of my favorite species of bird. The only thing that irks me is the way they go around picking up bits of peoples’ leftover lunches. I’m not condemning their dietary choices (who am I to judge?), it’s just that I always felt like they’d get a lot more respect if they stopped that ridiculous head bobbing while scavenging for food.
What's Up With That?
Each week, we'll explain the science behind a strange phenomenon that you may be wondering about, or may be hearing about for the first time right here.
Because their primary mode of transportation is flight, I figured pigeons needed to bob their heads to keep from tipping over while waddling after hot dog nubs. In reality, it has nothing to do with their sense of balance, but everything to do with the way they see the world.
What the head bobbing lets pigeons do is momentarily fixate their eyes on objects. This gives the photoreceptors in their eyes enough time—about 20 milliseconds—to build a steady scene of the sidewalk world. And this has nothing to do with their bird-size brains.