“It’s no secret that I love pigeons. They have been a fascination of mine since I was a young boy, and they continue to bring me great peace even now. People are curious as to why I have such great affection for them.
The answer is simple. It’s because they aren’t difficult to understand. Unlike human beings that have the capacity to manipulate and deceive one another, they are basically animals of habit. If you treat them well, feed them, give them safe housing and lots of love, you can expect a good relationship with them. However, that isn’t the case with human relationships. Through life experiences we learn that treating someone decently and being loyal to them will not necessarily guarantee you the same in return, although it should.
As a child, I was very awkward and never felt as though I fit in (anywhere). On the roof, none of my insecurities mattered. As I watched the birds soar above me, in that moment I was free just like them. I didn’t have to think about my growling stomach, wondering where I was going to get my next meal. I didn’t have to worry about the other kids trying to bully me or make fun of me because I didn’t have money to get nice clothes.
My birds never judged me or made me feel inadequate. I was actually the most important relationship that they had. They were totally dependent on me for food and shelter and I felt honored to be needed, and this made me feel wanted and relevant.
Actually if it weren’t for a pigeon, I may not have been the heavyweight champion of the world. Pigeons were the first loving relationship I ever had. As a matter of fact, when a bully that was antagonizing me killed one of my birds in front of me, I snapped and began fighting him. If it weren’t for this guy hurting my beloved animal, I may not have ever had the desire to fight. By him hurting an innocent being that I loved and cherished, it was the catalyst to the fighter within.
Now that I am retired from boxing and living a fairly normal life … a wife, kids and a home in the suburbs, I still have my birds. My pigeons have gone on an amazing journey with me from a child to a man. They’ve been with me when I didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. They were also there when I had more money than I could even count. But rich or poor never meant anything when it came to my birds.
Unfortunately, pigeons get a bad rap, especially by New Yorkers. However, the next time you pass a pigeon on the street and consider kicking it out of your way, be reminded of my story. They are highly intelligent animals and arguably the most loyal. Make a pigeon your friend and you’ll never be lonely.”
Mike Tyson, the former world boxing champion, was recently featured in a six-part documentary for Animal Planet, “Taking on Tyson,” about his passion for raising and racing pigeons. Originally from Brooklyn, Mr. Tyson currently lives near Las Vegas, but keeps one of his pigeon coops in Bushwick, Brooklyn. For Bird Week, we asked Mr. Tyson for his thoughts on New Yorkers’ winged nemesis, the pigeon. This was his response, which we received via e-mail from his wife, Lakiha Tyson.
I’m very touched to learn about this tender side of Mike Tyson. I never really considered him a role model but I am in awe about the sight of tough guy gently caressing a pigeon. It is a proof that the innocence, and gentleness of animals can truly pierce through our harsh, concrete facade and bring out the best in us.