Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's Hard to be A Hermit in the 'Burbs

Our suburban property has become, through no intention on our part, the daytime "place to be" for a small band of pigeons -- as far as we have seen the only such spot in town. We do not know where they came from or where they sleep at night. They are said to be urban animals, yet they spend the vast majority of their waking hours right here in our faux-rural front yard.

It started last year with Walter. He (more likely "she" based on size) arrived one day and just kind of stayed. According to The Compassionate Action Institute (pleasebekind.com), "Pigeons are gregarious and tend to be found in small flocks of around twenty to thirty birds." Walter was always alone.

At first this seemed odd and almost a little bit creepy. Theodore Kaczynski, "The Unabomber" was a solitary individual -- as were many serial killers. But then again, so were many saints. We have found no evidence of dismembered victims, or of tiny, little graves hidden on our land. Nor any miracles. So I decided that perhaps Walter was just a hermitic pigeon who happened upon our quiet bird-friendly oasis, and liked what he found.

This solo performance continued throughout the winter and into this spring. Then as I was filling up the bird feeders one morning I felt the glare of twelve reddish-orange eyes carefully tracking my movements. I looked up on our roof and saw the silhouettes of six domestic Rock Doves, each one’s body language shouting, "Feed me! Feed me!" I put out the food, and down they came.

The next day there were ten. On the day after, twelve came. Then sixteen. Their daily arrival precedes my feeding schedule. And they no longer await the completion of my activities before swooping in to fill their crops. Then they spend the next eight hours just hanging around and pecking at the ground.

But I can't figure out what it is they find to eat that keeps them here all day.

As a part of my feeding ritual I scatter a small handful of black oily sunflower seeds onto the ground -- the same amount that I left out for Walter when he was our only pigeon guest. Then there are the uneaten sunflower kernels that get tossed aside during the titmouse/sparrow/squirrel/etc. feeding that goes on throughout the day. And a small amount of thistle seeds that slip through the mesh siding of our finch feeder. But that's it.

Still, throughout the daylight hours, this uninvited horde of urban dove-wannabes pecks at our yard like a flock of chickens perched in a trough overflowing with chickenfeed. Except when they are spooked -- by almost any noise -- and flush like game birds to the safety of our overhanging tree branches or, more commonly, to the familiarity of our roof.

When we have company they also gather atop our house and look threateningly down at them. Our niece-by-marriage said to me the other day "Didn't you used to have little decorative pigeon statues on your rooftop?" When I told her "No, they were real" her body rapidly contracted as if she had a sudden chill, and her face began to take on that Janet Leigh "Psycho" shower look. "Oh!" she said.

Although Mars and I do not really want them, we have come grudgingly to tolerate their presence. Some are actually nice looking: an all-black, a white with inky stripes, and a rust and white pinto. Plus the cascading sound of their collective little pigeon feet running across our family room roof is kind of soothing, in an Alfred Hitchcock kind of way.

The population seems to have leveled out in the mid-teens -- large enough to be noticeable but not so big as to be disruptive. And generic looking Walter -- whose appearance is unfortunately identical to that of most of his species -- is probably somewhere out there in the mix.

Occasionally, when the group panics and flies up, one of them lingers behind for a minute or two and wanders slowly back and forth across what used to be Walter's private stomping grounds.

I like to believe it is him. And that he, like me, has finally reconciled himself to the fact that even a quiet life in the 'burbs is not a totally safe refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Nor should it be.

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