The Suicidal Pigeons of the I-80

Fernando A. Torres

© Copyright 2020 by Fernando A. Torres

Photo of pigeons near the road.

Is it a Russian roulette of the air? a macabre air race? The thing is that in an act that looks like suicide, pigeons of all color and sizes fly off parallel to the busy freeway to violently died by the speeding cars in a spectacular explosion of feathers.

A bloody event takes place almost every day on one of the busiest highways in Northern California. Is it a Russian roulette of the air? a macabre air race? or a simply accidental deaths from the pulling of the highway's vortex. The thing is that in an act that looks like suicide, pigeons of all color and sizes fly off parallel to the hundreds of cars; some fly so low that they are violently hit by the speeding cars. The collision produces a spectacular explosion of feathers flying in all directions.

Between the Albany Hill and the swamps that surround the horse racing tracks Golden Gate Field, on the east coast of the San Francisco Bay, there is a busy air corridor through which a number of birds transit. However, when crossing the crowded road not many notices that the place is also the scene of a daily and bloody drama.

This corridor is crossed by the gigantic highway Interstate 80 (I-80) that southbound becomes the highways 580, 880, 980, and the Bay Bridge, and towards the north, it connects with the 580 becoming the Richmond Bridge and later the Freeway 101. In its widest parts, the arteries fit up to six lanes.

The section in front of the Golden Gate Field is famous for being one of the slowest highways in northern California;  thousands of cars cross it daily as well as thousands of birds come and go. They are ducks, geese, hawks, sparrows, owls, herons, crows, and blackbirds. And the pigeons. The pigeons of the I-80 die daily in an act that at first sight seems to  be  a game.  Some say  those are accidents. But the truth is that the pigeons of Highway 80 are given to a suicidal competition following the direction of the traffic and flying as low as possible. Some start flying from the sides of the freeways, from large cracks in cement where they seem to nest, others come flying from the small Albany Hill, in the city of the same name.

In euphoric turns, our pigeons take flight launching themselves westward on the gigantic roads. And in the strangest and inexplicable act, they don't cross it. When they reach the center, over thousands of cars in motion, they turn in the direction of traffic. With its characteristic flight of coarse flutters, some of them seem to enjoy the vortex produced by the cars passing at great speed. The air currents that are now scrambled winds seem to suck the birds in all directions; some seem to fall into the void and barely recover their flight while others are thrown sideways. Our pigeons seem to enjoy these vertiginous bursts that last second and force them to surf. But these are not sea waves, they are thick waves of air, invisible, unpredictable, and deadly.

The pigeons get into the traffic at about ten meters high, they quickly turn in the direction of the traffic and while they rise and fall as if surfing on these invisible waves, they seem to compete among them: which one longer lasts flying and resisting the crazy vortex. From time to time and as a great and silent finale, the collision of a pigeon against a car throws feathers madly, like a big blowout, in all directions. The daring doves of the I-80 die instantaneously in front of the drivers' indifferent blinking. They — like our pigeons — surf the traffic trying unsuccessfully to reach their destination as soon as possible.

I'm a short-story writer, freelance journalist, musician and poet, currently performing around the San Francisco Bay Area and contributing to various San Francisco Bay Area media outlets about community, art and culture including La Opinión de la Bahia, Fresno's Radio Bilingue, and El Tecolote SF Newspaper. I'm also a non-pay associate editor and U.S. correspondent for the Latin American web magazine and editor of the blog magazine LatinOpen. I'm a volunteer member of the Advisory Board of, member of the advisory board and review panel of The Intrepid News Fund. I was a volunteer Executive Producer of the documentary film The Resurrection of Victor Jara and my story Head Stew was selected as The Best New Writing 2018 by Hopewell Publications and published in their national anthology of 2018.

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