Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I am becoming concerned about Walter -- the pigeon who has been showing up, unaccompanied, in our yard for most of this year. I'm also a little nervous about my own wellbeing. And that's entirely due to the hordes of Walter's peers who make their appearances when I service the bird feeders each morning.

As I was retrieving sunflower seeds from their galvanized storage pail the other day I looked up at the roofs of the house and garage and started counting pigeons. I stopped at twenty-one but more were still arriving -- attracted either by the gathering of their species-mates, or the sound of oily, black, kernels pouring into a red plastic bird seed scoop. There were probably ten or so rock doves when I began my census.

With a little more serious analysis and study I could probably determine if this gang of ten are the "serious regulars" who show up every morning -- same time, same place, no matter what -- while the next eleven are neighborhood hoverers who fly their regular morning route looking for signs of action. The remainder, whatever that number turns out to be, would be itinerants who just happened upon the scene.

It was a little foggy on census day so the effect of more than a score of short-legged, large-bodied, small-headed, cooing silhouettes pacing back and forth was pretty unnerving. It became even more so when I approached the feeders and a subset of the mob descended onto the ground immediately behind me.

When I scattered a small amount of food onto a dead spot in the lawn they leapt upon it like sharks drawn to blood. Once there they squirmed and pushed themselves against each other to form one large, writhing, multi-pigeon feeding machine. The frenzy lasted for quite awhile after I left and, to me anyway, took much longer than the size of the entree required.

I interrupted the banquet when I returned to refresh the birdbath that hangs nearby. As I got within about two feet of the group they flew up in a panic, making little high-pitched sounds and bumping into each other in midair, then correcting themselves without falling back to earth.

They maintained that two-foot social distance by landing on nearby branches or circling back behind me onto the feeding spot. And they rapidly readjusted themselves when I turned back from the watering hole to leave the scene. I could feel the air being moved by their wings and sense the feathers floating past my face.

I am not a huge fan of pigeons. They are fine in their place, which to me is some downtown urban area far enough away to prevent accidental discoveries of my suburban bird feeders. Nor, at the other extreme, am I pigeon-phobic -- as long as I keep providing them food.

These daily feeding parties continue intermittently throughout the morning even without me adding any more sustenance to the pot. "Special events", such as discarded stale baked goods, also always draw a crowd at pretty much any time of the daylight hours. But in general the pigeons are gone by around ten a.m..

Then in mid afternoon there is Walter -- pacing back and forth nervously in the general area of the food arena, but not acting as if he is presumptuous enough to find his own seating. The other day about four p.m. it had just stopped pouring rain -- and I mean really, really pouring -- many inches in a small number of hours.

And Walter was there -- alone in the yard, wet feathers plastered to his body, eyes darting existentially -- the poster-bird for forlornness. I tossed him some sunflower seeds. He discreetly darted in to digest them.

Truthfully Walter could be among those morning masticators and I just don't notice him. He really doesn't stand out in a crowd. And this mob doesn't countenance much individuality. But I doubt it. It's just not his style.

Some of us are joiners and some are not. Some of us would rather serve a quiet meal than feed the masses.

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