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Trafalgar Day
Trafalgar Square
Photo by David Iliff, via Wikimedia

Trafalgar Square is known the world over, and if you’ve ever been to London, you may have stopped off to feed the pigeons that flock around Nelson’s Column.

Admiral Horatio Nelson has been overseeing the flocks of people and pigeons since 1838, when the Column was erected to commemorate the great naval officer who died at the Battle of Trafalgar, on October 21st, 1805.

The Battle, which was fought west of Cape Trafalgar, Spain, between Cádiz and the Strait of Gibraltar, was between 33 French and Spanish fleets and 27 British fleets. The British were victorious. While the Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 ships, and 7,000 sailors, the British lost no vessels and 700 men. One of whom was their beloved Admiral, whose death came three hours after he was shot while walking the deck of his ship the HMS Victory. He reportedly continued to issues orders until his dying breath.

Nelson’s body was bought back to England and he was given a hero’s funeral. After laying in state for three days, he was transported upriver aboard a barge, before spending the night in Admiralty House. From there, his coffin was escorted by 10,000 soldiers to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The funeral procession consisted of 32 admirals, and over a hundred captains.

Two hundred and fifty years later, Britain continues to remember Admiral Nelson with a parade through Trafalgar Square. The Trafalgar Day Parade is held on the Sunday closest to October 21, and is lead by hundreds of Sea Cadets. A memorial tribute also takes place on the day itself, with a ceremony on board Lord Horatio Nelson’s Battle of Trafalgar warship HMS Victory, now docked in Portsmouth.

In recent years, efforts have been made to discourage the flocks of pigeons in Trafalgar Square, for fear that their acidic droppings were damaging Nelson’s Column. Anti-pigeon wires and spikes have been erected and the feeding of birds in the main square was criminalized in 2003 with the ban being extended to a wider area in 2007.

Another deterrent to the pigeons invading the Admiral’s space have been the use of hawks. The mere presence of these trained birds of prey deters and intimidates the pigeons so much so that the pigeon population has dropped from thousands to hundreds.