PIGEONS are catching the Underground to save flying time across London, according to a flurry of correspondence to a scientific journal.
The letters were triggered when Rachel Robson of Bayswater wrote to describe how she saw a pigeon board a Tube train and travel one stop from Paddington.
"With their renowned navigational abilities, is it possible the pigeon knew where it was going?" she wrote to the New Scientist.
The birds are not blundering into the trains, but deliberately hopping on board to save time and energy commuting across London, according to letters published yesterday.
"I feel quite sure that travel, not food, was their purpose," wrote Lorna Read. "I see no reason why they should not have cottoned on to the fact that travel by Tube saves their wings - especially as there are so many deformed and crippled pigeons in the city.
She described how a passenger tried to deter a pigeon which appeared determined to make its journey. "When it was shooed out just before the doors closed, it make a final frantic swoop, rather in the manner in which some human passengers launch themselves at Tube doors just before they close."
Her experience of seeing pigeons on the Northern and Piccadilly lines was shared by other readers. "I have travelled from Paddington, westwards in my case - not infrequently in the company of a pigeon, sometimes even two," said Jack Howlett of Oxford, who believes the subject is worthy of academic study.
Some birds demonstrate the travel acumen of the regular commuter. "A pair of pigeons hopped on to the Circle Line at Aldgate, stayed by the door, and alighted with purpose at the next stop - Tower Hill. How did they know the platform for Tower Hill was the same side of the carriage as that for Aldgate?" said Sabiha Foster of Benfleet, Essex.
Tube hopping may even be a hereditary trait, according to Jim Brock who regularly saw a light reddish pigeon commuting from Paddington in the mid-1970s.
Unfortunately for the birds, travel does have its drawbacks. A spokesman for London Underground said: "Pigeons are classified as vermin and if they are caught they should be destroyed."
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A pigeon hopped on to the Circle Line at Aldgate. It then wandered around the space between the opposing doors. As the train pulled into Tower Hill, it backed away from the door which was to open and took off just before the door opened, reaching the now-open doorway in full flight.
See also Animals on the tube, part of Going Underground.