Birds of a feather
by Tina Higgins
I like birds. All of them. Even the ugly ones, the loud ones, the poop-all-over-the-damn-place ones. And so, to my husband’s dismay, I have allowed (welcomed with open arms and snacks) big pigeons to live and hatch small pigeons on our porch. I thought it was hilarious how they maneuvered their plump bodies into the robins’ nests that were left behind just outside our front door. Hilarious. It didn’t really occur to me that they were laying eggs, though. Actually, I didn’t think they were two mamas in the nests, one on each side of the porch, I thought it was a couple just keeping warm and getting out of the wind.
Pigeon fact #1: they mate for life.
After the last snowstorm, the one that damaged the Lake Walk and thoroughly pissed off everyone in the state, I stepped outside with our dog and noticed a little movement in one of the nests. I looked closer and up popped this little bird. I don’t know how big he was exactly but he wasn’t the wiggly little featherless sort. He actually had an expression on his face and a little bit of a swagger to him. He looked down at me and said something like, “Hiya! What kind of bird are you?”
It was cold. The wind was still whipping around and the sun was setting in a few hours, so I kept a close eye on him up in that nest waiting to see if his mama would swing in and feed him soon or as least give him a good snuggle. Four hours passed and there was no sign of her. Keep in mind there was another nest on the other side of the porch with a pigeon comically stuffed into it. She was huddled in tight, with her face tucked back into the feathers between her wings. Once it got dark, I decided to call Wildwoods Wildlife Rehab and seek advice. How could a person go to sleep knowing a precocious little peanut of a pigeon was freezing to death on their porch? To my great delight someone answered the phone. After a short chat, we agreed it was best to have a closer look at the little fella. I would climb up there and see if it had any food in that little sack in its throat. If he was cold to the touch and his sack was empty, we would devise a plan to save his life.
Pigeon lesson #2: they have little a sack in their throat called a crop that their mothers fill up with yummy regurgitated food.
I love imagining things. For most of my life, I have lived almost exclusively in my imagination where things always go my way and people are always kind. Sometimes my imagined people are also very generous with their money and I usually have a basket full of Pulitzer prizes. I don’t know what Pulitzer prizes look like but I imagine, if properly wrapped, they would be safe in a basket. So my brain was off and running. I would have a baby pigeon and I would feed him and tell him funny stories and he would love me like no other and then when he grew he would be my outside pet pigeon, because, you know, poop. And I would be able to walk out to the porch and whistle our secret best friend whistle, the one I taught him while he was at the mercy of my feedings. (Hold on. I pride myself on logically sound imagining and pigeons don’t whistle, so let’s change it to a specific cooing sound. Coo Coo Ka Choooo. Yeah. That’s fun.) And when I cooed, he would swoop under the roof of our porch and land on my hand and sometimes he would, quite by accident, poop on me but that’s what soap is for, and we would coo and snuggle and I would feed him bread crumbs and nuts and whatever else the internet tells me pigeons might enjoy.
But in reality, I was too short to see into the nest and we don’t have a step ladder so I set my trusty husband to the task. I armed him with my iphone flashlight although I worried that my little forever friend would be blinded by it, and told husband to be very gentle when he checked his little throat satchel. Did I mention my husband would rather not have a, quote, “Pigeon Hotel” on our porch? Did I mention that after I told him I had put out some bread for them, after he expressed a rather significant amount of dismay at me for feeding and thereby inviting more pigeons, I started to feed them in secret? But he’s a sport and a kind soul and he knew how sad I would be if my BFF birdie died in the night, so he did as I wished.
Husband climbed up holding the iphone, which was blinding but also very effective in illuminating the flight pattern of adolescent pigeons. I’d never seen such a graceful bird. Baby popped up and out of his nest and flew away like he was an eagle incarnate! Up and away, gliding in a graceful arch across our yard and around the neighbor’s house, out of sight in a flash.
My heart broke. The little dude abandoned me and I had so many great plans for us.
Pigeon fact #3: they breed all year even in this climate. WTF.
That was last week. The other nest is still occupied by the best mama I’ve ever met. That lady is not giving me or big-man-with-bright-light a chance to get near her offspring. No freaking way. Her sweetheart comes by regularly and gives her food and small sticks to arrange and rearrange. Decorating keeps her mind occupied. She has a fair amount of anxiety over impending motherhood, I can see it in her little red eyes. Her wings are usually all akimbo and her belly hangs over the side of the dainty robin’s nest, but when she commits to something it’s game on. She’s my kind of woman.
Maybe she wants to be my friend.