Photographing Pigeons in Hyderabad, South India.

Blue rock pigeon on a branch. Nikon D3400, 1/1600 sec., f/8, 300mm, ISO 18000.
Blue rock pigeon on a branch. Nikon D3400, 1/1600 sec., f/8, 300mm, ISO 18000.

Story and photos by Sastry Karra

Photographing pigeons? Absolutely! They’re fascinating and have a long history with humans.

The blue rock pigeon (Columba livia), is one of the most common birds in urban areas in India. Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana state in South India, is known for large flocks for these beautiful blue-gray birds.

Like pigeons in North American cities, we’re tempted to think of them as a nuisance, as “rats with feathers.”  Yet pigeons (also known as “rock doves”) are remarkable birds, not least for their uncanny ability to find their way home from hundreds of miles away.  Intelligent, they are one of the few species that can recognize themselves in a mirror and learn mathematical rules. They’re even proving adept at recognizing malignant cells in medical images.

Taking flight. Nikon D3400, 1/1600 sec.(the fastest shutter speed I could manage), f/8, 55mm, ISO 1600.
Taking flight. Nikon D3400, 1/1600 sec.(the fastest shutter speed I could manage), f/8, 55mm, ISO 1600.

From excavations of temples and tombs in Egypt and Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) from around 3000 BC, we have historical indications of there being some religious significance associated with the domesticated pigeon.

At the shrine of Mohammed in Medina, Saudi Arabia, the thousands of pigeons that gather there are commonly referred to as the “Prophet’s birds.”

The Hindu religion has revered the pigeon throughout history, with the bird being mentioned as far back as 1500-1200 BC in the Rig Veda, an ancient hymn dedicated to the Aryan deities.

The Sikh religion, founded in the 16th century, considers the rock dove to be a symbol of peace, harmony and goodwill. Sikhs believe that God’s light is in all creatures including pigeons and other birds.

Some religions in the Indian subcontinent believe that, after death, a person comes back as a pigeon.  Feeding the birds, especially around a temple, is seen as an act of caring for one’s ancestors.

If we now have a better appreciation for pigeons, how about considering them as photographic subjects?

This Pigeon was a bit irritated for being disturbed early in the morning. Nikon D3400, 1/1600 sec., f/8, 300mm, ISO 2000.
This Pigeon was a bit irritated for being disturbed early in the morning. Nikon D3400, 1/1600 sec., f/8, 300mm, ISO 2000.

I lived in Hyderabad until my 25th year, and frequently visited the city to spend time with my parents, friends, family members and of course for myself.  I often think back on those sweet memories with nostalgia.

No wonder that I was excited to visit my old hometown again in May of 2019. I wanted to go visit the university where I got my Master’s Degree in 1987. While I was pursing my education back then, I used to see a lot of blue rock pigeons around campus. So, armed with a new appreciation for the birds and with my Nikon D3400 camera & 70-300mm lens, I left early in the morning. I found them interesting birds to observe and wondered what other common animals or things we take for granted.

This is the place where Pigeons were fed in front of the building at university. I remember this from 1983, the first time I visited here. Nikon D3400, 1/1600 sec., f/8, 300mm, ISO 640.
This is the place where Pigeons were fed in front of the building at university. I remember this from 1983, the first time I visited here. Nikon D3400, 1/1600 sec., f/8, 300mm, ISO 640.

Jaganadha “Sastry” Karra was born in India, but left when he was 24 years old. For the past 27 years, he’s worked as an IT professional, and has been living in NJ since 2004.

During his spare time, he goes outdoors and takes nature photos, especially waterfalls. Along with his wife (who loves hiking), they go to many nearby state parks where he can experiment with different compositions. In the summer, when his friends play cricket, he’s been experimenting with sports photography. Find him on instagram at #sastrykarra, where he posts most of his pictures. On Facebook, he’s active in some photography forums, like NANPA. “Maybe I’ll see you there!” he says.