Mike Tyson Once Explained Why Pigeons Were So Important To Him Growing Up — ‘Having Great Birds Gave You Respect’

Mike Tyson is known for being an animal lover. During his boxing prime, he famously had several pet tigers that he kept at his home, even letting one of them sleep in his room. 

As many Tyson fans also know, The Hangover star and former heavyweight champion has a passion for pigeons, as well. His love for the birds began when he was only a child and has grown significantly over the years.

Today, Tyson still loves his pigeons and maintains a collection of over 1,000 birds. And while many people might find his interest in them strange, they have a deep meaning for the retired legend. 

Mike Tyson started collecting pigeons at an early age 

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson meets up with a pigeon fancier Horace Potts (L)
Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson meets up with a pigeon fancier Horace Potts (L) | Stringer/Getty Images)

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Tyson’s love affair with pigeons began when he was growing up in Brooklyn, New York. Pigeons are plentiful in New York City, so it wasn’t hard for Tyson to connect with them. 

“I’ve always had pigeons my whole life, since I was 8, 9 years old,” Tyson told Tony Robbins. “That’s just what we do in Brooklyn, New York, we fly pigeons. I don’t know why, but that’s just what we do.”

Having nice pigeons earned people respect in Brooklyn, New York 

When asked why kids liked collecting pigeons in Brooklyn, Tyson had an interesting response.

“That was our freedom, that was our ego, that was everything,” Tyson said. “You had the best pigeons in the neighborhood, and people would come from other neighborhoods and say, ‘Who flies up there?’ That means ‘Whose birds [are] up there, flying up there?’ And you would tell them, and you could see the birds flying from way over [in] your neighborhood, and say, ‘That’s the guy that flies over there. And that was popular in our neighborhood.”

Later in the interview, he admitted that having nice pigeons translated to respect in his neighborhood. 

“Having great birds gave you respect, and stuff,” Tyson said. “And I was a little kid, I wanted to have respect like the big guys had. But I didn’t realize you had to be big to get the respect.”

He got into his first fight over a pigeon

Unfortunately, simply having the pigeons didn’t get Tyson the respect he wanted. Another kid stole one of Tyson’s pigeons and ripped its head off, which led to Tyson getting into his first fight. 

“He ripped the bird’s head off, hit me with the bird, threw the blood on me, smacked me around,” Tyson told Graham Bensinger. “So my friend said ‘Mike, fight him. Don’t be afraid, fight him.’ … I just fought, it’s not like I was sensational. I was just flailing away, and I guess I hit him more than he hit me, so I won I guess.”