Woodpigeons

Written on 27th July

The humble woodpigeon… I have been compelled to write this by my two friendly garden woodpigeons.  They perch on my fence and coo and dance about and I see them almost every day.  Then this morning, a juvenile woodpigeon literally crashed into my life, or at least my window.  I was sitting on my bed reading and then bang, crash, bang…  As I write this, the little bird is perched on the window ledge looking a bit stunned and confused.  It keeps peeking into my bedroom and doesn’t seem at all fazed by anything.  I’m assuming it’s in shock but I’m also assuming any attempt to help it right now will only worsen things… I’m fairly certain it’s parents are just the other side of the building so I’m hoping they will conduct the rescue mission.

Woodpigeons seem a very mundane animal to consider.  They are our most common pigeon and are found basically everywhere and have a variety of regional names which reflect this; the woody, cushat, cushy-do, quist, ringdow and ring dove.  But perhaps it’s this abundance that we can learn from.  You can probably recognise a pigeon even if you aren’t at all interested in birds.  And even then you’ll almost certain recognise the call of the woodpigeon.

These birds play the background music to our lives.  They sing away in the chorus, not noticed and not appreciated but important all the same.  Like the earthworm, they are overlooked and their role in the world often goes unremarked upon.  Because of this, when they have a message or a lesson for us, they sometimes need to literally crash into our awareness.  They are calling on us to acknowledge the people, the lives and the things which go unseen.  Whether it’s the train driver that gets you to work, the security guard who always opens the door or the person who collects your bins.  It might be gestures from our friends that we take for granted – that cup of tea your partner makes for you first thing in the morning or the friend who drops you a message every now and then just to let you know they’re thinking of you.  And this goes beyond people and animals and asks that we smile at the little beauties we find in our days.  The way the sun beams dance on the walls.  The flower that is growing with such tenacity through the pavement.

Aside: the one on my window ledge has just started moving around so is hopefully coming out of shock.  He still keeps peeking into the room and I’m quietly smiling back, trying to avoid causing more shock!

They are fairly big for British birds and they look bigger than they are as they often fluff up their feathers.  This appearance of being overweight is not helped when they waddle as they walk…  In reality, their feathers weigh more than their skeleton which is amazing!  It takes a lot of effort for the wood pigeon to take flight and they can’t fly through small gaps.  This means that instead of using stealth to escape, they clatter and clamour through the trees, hence another of their names – the clatter dove.  They make a fuss and make sure that you know they are there.  These background birds do try to get our attention and we should do them the honour of listening.

The birds which hop along my fence make me smile and chuckle and I love hearing them coo when I wake up at obscene times of the day and night.  I love that when I was really ill one night, the woodpigeon kept me company.

As with any animal, reproduction is a huge part of life and for the woodpigeon breeding can occur anytime throughout the year but peaks in August.

Courtship displays involve birds flying fairly high before clapping the wings together and gliding down, as well as males strutting and fluffing out their chest feathers. Daddy woodpigeon will bring his mate nesting materials which she then forms into a shallow and flimsy platform like nest.  Whilst this is most likely in a tree, they aren’t fussy and will adapt depending on the environment, nesting inside buildings or on the ground if they need to.

Once the nest is built, the female lays two white shiny eggs.  These are incubated by both parents for about 17 days before they hatch.  They are then fed milk from the other which is formed in her crop and is highly nutritious.  It takes 29-35 days before the babies fledge.  Sadly, especially for my little guy, the majority of young ones die within their first year…

Reactions to woodpigeons are varied.  I love the two I have on my fence, they make me smile.  And I loved the baby who visited me today despite the emotional trauma he put me through!  Some people go out of their way to feed them whilst others see them purely as pests which steal food from bird feeders and cause damage to crops.  It is estimated that they cause at least £3 million worth of damage to agricultural businesses each year in the UK.  Your feelings about them will depend a lot on your own role in life but remember, however you view them, don’t overlook them.  Pay attention to the abundance and don’t take them for granted.

Update: The woodpigeon has finally left my window.  It promptly went and sat in the road for ages and filled me with fear… It did eventually leave and I wish it a happy, long life.

Edited to add: Reading about the passenger pigeon is a helpful illustration of what happens when we take abundance for granted.

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