Staff writer Sydney exposes the hidden hierarchy of creatures in New York City, and how, ultimately, we are at their mercy since they will probably outlive us all.

As I was walking towards the 96th street Subway station the other day, I felt a small chill run down my spine. I felt as if I was being followed, and I quickly glanced over my shoulder only to see no one walking behind me. I looked all around and people were just walking, listening to music, or in a hurry to be somewhere. I just so happened to glance upward and it was then I saw a massive flock of pigeons circling above me. In one coordinated, fell swoop, they all landed on the roof of a building in the center of Broadway. There must have been hundreds, all aggressively flapping their little wings at each passerby, and bumping into one another with their inordinately fat, feathered bodies. I felt like Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchock’s The Birds for I was overwhelmed and frightened by the sheer volume of pigeons around me.I had always thought of pigeons as “sky rats”, annoying little birds that occasionally harass people for breadcrumbs in the park but are ultimately harmless. However, after witnessing the eerily coordinated flock meeting in the middle of Broadway, I began to suspect they were much more sinister than I initially thought. 

For centuries, humans have assumed they are the top of the food chain, the dominant species who rule all other species with an iron fist. This assumption, on the surface, makes complete sense due to humans’ ability for complex brain function, our incredibly advanced technology, and our opposable thumbs. However, as I was sitting on the train, I thought to myself, maybe that’s just what the animals want us to think. Perhaps humans have been lulled into a false sense of security through our narcissism, while the various creatures we’ve supposedly suppressed in urban areas have been secretly running the show. Right off the bat, pigeons can fly, and therefore will always have the high ground. Their incredible aerial view of the city is quite advantageous when surveying all the lowly human inhabitants of NYC and they can drop themselves (or drop their excrement) anywhere at a moment’s notice. They also clearly are all in cahoots since you seldom see a pigeon all on its own, but rather in a massive hoard, crowding the street or parks.  They have also achieved the impossible in NYC, getting good food for no money. They have had years to perfect their intimidation tactics to innocent bench sitters and they are elite scavengers. I’m over here paying $10 for a bagel and they are out on the street corner eating the same bagel for free. The pigeons are no mere avian pests, but rather the secret overlords of New York City. 

While the pigeons are absolutely in a prominent position of power, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge another sinister species that lurk directly beneath our feet. I’m talking, of course, about the New York City rats. These rats are unlike any other type of rat found in the world. If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles taught me anything, it’s that the rats in this city are probably all karate masters and slightly radioactive. They don’t make their presence known as often as pigeons (at least in my experience), yet they are always there, in the walls of our overpriced apartments, in the mounds of garbage bags on street corners, or chilling under park benches late at night. However, their primary domain is for sure the New York City Subway system. I’m thoroughly convinced that it was the rats who devised the entire subway system and that the MTA workers driving the trains are just being controlled by rats in the same way Remy controlled Linguini in Ratatouille. Also, rats are terrifying. Anyone who isn’t outright scared or at least slightly intimidated by a New York City rat is lying or just hasn’t encountered one (or maybe this is just me being a weakling). Lastly, rats, like pigeons, have mastered the art of freeloading off of our food. They not only dig into our trash and eat all of our leftovers for free but they have successfully figured out how to infiltrate most restaurants in the city and therefore have full access to fresh, gourmet meals whenever they please. If pigeons are the overlords, then the rats are New York City’s underlords.

Now I know what you’re thinking, two species that have this much power must inevitably clash at some point. In fact, according to my reasoning, we should be in the midst of a massive turf war, like West Side Story but with pests, Pest Side Story if you will. However, there is a key species in the NYC creature hierarchy that has successfully prevented that for decades, and that is the cockroach. I consider the cockroach to be one of the most loathsome creatures to exist on this earth and recently had to use a frying pan, Windex, a vacuum, and my roommate’s shoe to kill one which was living rent-free in my apartment. Yet, I must admit they are perhaps one of the most persevering and tenacious insects, as they continuously escape extinction and will most definitely still be around after humanity destroys itself and the planet. It is precisely the roaches’ “can-do” attitude that makes them the perfect mediators for the pigeons and the rats. They can crawl underground and across the streets to converse with the rats and, in the summer at least, can fly up to the pigeons. It is them we have to thank for the steady, though perhaps less than stable, peace between our overlords and underlords. It is they who truly keep New York City from descending into anarchy. So the next time you’re walking down the street and see a pigeon, a rat, or a roach and think they are just nasty little pests, just remember…that’s exactly what they want you to think for you are at their mercy.

Image via Bwog Archives