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#WildWriter: The Hooligan Pigeon Crew

With more daylight hours and fledging season underway, it’s been lovely to see regular visitors at our bird feeders. The nuthatches (definitely a pair!) visit regularly. We’ve got a little family of blue tits who come by for breakfast, lunch and dinner, often followed by great tits and a feisty little robin who hops about among my plants and pecks up the scraps. A beautiful jay swings by occasionally, gobbles down his fill and heads off again. He and Maya have eyed each other up a few times before decided there’s no threat and getting on with business.

We even have a greater spotted woodpecker! His name is Gaston. (Yes, we have composed him a song to the tune/style of Gaston's number from Beauty and the Beast.)

Most of the birds are polite visitors. They queue up along the top of the balcony, waiting for the birds on the feeder to finish their meal before they flutter up to take their turn. I’ve been surprised by how good they are at sharing the space, how polite and compromising they can be, working out a system so everyone gets fed.

Even the jay waits his turn, only appearing when the smaller birds have had their fill.

We do have a few visitors, however, who never seemed to get the memo. They’re bullish, clumsy and very impolite. The smaller birds mostly just ignore them, but the jay won’t come while they’re around and they cause such a ruckus it’s impossible to concentrate on anything while they’re flapping about outside the living room window.

Pigeons, I’ve decided, are hooligans.

Ours definitely are. Three feisty wood pigeons with enough bulk to make the balcony shudder when they land and attitudes to match. They’re like that little posse of kids at school who always walked about with this weird, loping stride, like it somehow made them look cool. The ones that would shove you out the way if you so much as looked at them funny, and terrorised the smaller kids for their lunch money. They’re often (both the kids and the pigeons) bad-tempered, rude and, I fear, not very clever. The intelligence thing is definitely true in the case of my pigeons.


We’ve christened them Elvis, Patrick and Regina. Despite being, quite frankly, ridiculous visitors, the benefit is that they’re also hilarious.

 

Elvis the Pigeon


Elvis was our first visitor and is the biggest of the three pigeons. He walks along the balcony with this daft swagger, marred only by the fact that he has a limp as a result of a damaged foot. I’ve got no idea what he’s done to it, but he doesn’t seem to be able to use it properly and often tucks it up under his feathers while he eats. He’s had it ever since he started visiting us in March and I can’t see any specific or new wound, so I think it’s an old injury that’ll be with him for life.

Do I feel sorry for him? No, I do not. Elvis is a gangster of a pigeon.

His capacity for sharing is non-existent, and whenever either of the others happen to land on the balcony (how DARE they?) Elvis’ neck goes as long as a giraffe’s and he gives them the eye.

If there’s a pigeon fight on our balcony at any point, I can guarantee Elvis is involved. I can’t imagine he has many friends.

Patrick and Regina


Although Elvis is the biggest of my hooligan crew, Patrick isn’t far behind him. They them puff up like a pair of feathery footballs whenever they get within a few metres of each other, and I was eating my breakfast one morning while they chased each other round in circles on the lawn outside. I’ve no idea what that squabble was about but it was clearly a very serious infraction by one or the other of them.

Regina, I’m pleased to say, rarely gets into fights.

When she first arrived at our feeder, we christened her Roger, but when we saw a few other pigeons (including Elvis and Patrick) chasing her round in circles with their necks puffed up in that typical boy-pigeon courting style, we figured it might be time to reassess.


I’m sure there are a few same-sex pigeon couples about (it does happen!) but with the number of male suitors that particular pigeon was attracting, I felt it was pretty safe to assume she was female, so we renamed her Regina. Regina and Patrick have since hooked up. Maybe that’s what Elvis is so cross about all the time.


Interestingly, if Regina is at the feeder with either Elvis or Patrick, the two pigeons can feed quite nicely side by side. Regina often just hops over whoever is already at the feeder and the pair get on with the business of stuffing their faces quite peaceably.

It’s only the boys that feel the need to beat each other up whenever one claps eyes on the other.

Showdown


Picture the scene: early morning, the lawn is still covered in dew and a couple of tenacious bumble bees are buzzing about down there, getting in early on all the fresh clover. A couple of squirrels are nattering in the trees beyond and I’ve thrown open the French doors to an early spring breeze and the sound of birdsong. The jay waits in the branches. He knows I’m about to fill up the feeder. (They’re quite clever, jays.) The little family of blue tits are hopping about in a tough little bush, waiting for their breakfast.

I do my due diligence. Two handfuls of sunflower hearts into the large bird bowl one handful into the window box feeder and double check the hanging feeder is full. A bit of water on the plants. They’re not flowering yet but the bees will be hungry in June, so I’ve got to keep them watered. Everything is great. The seedlings are popping their little green heads up. Marvellous. I close the French door.

And no sooner have I turned my back than Elvis is there, landing on the balcony railing with a thunk that makes the whole unit shudder.

He doesn’t care, does he? Just stares at me out of his beady eye, like he’s saying, ‘yeah? What you lookin’ at?’ which, in his own pigeon-y way, he probably is. He keeps his orange eye on me while he limps up the balcony, his damaged foot giving him a little grief, but he’s a tough bird, our Elvis. He shows no weakness. He gets himself set up at the bird feeder, gives me one last evil-eye and then sets to feeding. This is his bowl, and every pigeon on his patch knows it!

Except Patrick, who has just arrived, landing in a heap of clumsy feathers and just missing the railing so that he lands with a crash in the planter hanging off the balcony.

He pops his head up above the railing and glares at me, like he’s daring me to laugh.


Which I do, obviously. Because it’s hilarious, but this clearly sends Patrick into a rage. He needs to punish someone, but he can’t get to me (and also, I’m huge) so he sets his sights on Elvis.

This, I feel, is his first mistake.

Patrick is a pretty hefty pigeon, but not as big as Elvis. Nevertheless, he stalks along the railings towards Elvis, bobbing his head, body all long and angry, trying to assert his dominance.

Elvis isn’t having any of it. He turns his back on the food bowl, puffs himself up and stretches out his neck.

Now the pair of them are facing each other, their necks like beanstalks, their beady eyes staring each other down.

Elvis delivers a war cry (in his pigeon croon, which is the least offensive sound ever) and Patrick responds in kind. Then, on some unspoken signal, they leap into battle! Wings everywhere. One pigeon launches himself at the other, the attacked pigeon swoops out of the way and jabs his feet at his attacker. One tries to peck at the other, who tries to peck back.

There’s a lot of thudding and flapping. It’s the least co-ordinated fight I have ever seen and neither pigeon seems to have a plan of attack.

Eventually, Elvis wins out. He’s bigger and far more bullish. Cowed, Patrick flies away, landing in a low branch of a nearby tree where he can glower as Elvis finishes off the seed.

 

Such scenes have become a regular occurrence outside my balcony window and, I must admit, they are highly entertaining. I often imagine the smaller bird watching these ridiculous pigeon showdowns, rolling their eyes. The funniest thing is that Patrick and Elvis will often fight over the food bowl even when it’s empty, which makes no sense.


What daft bird antics happen in your garden? I’d love to hear your stories of acrobatic squirrels or feisty robins! Birds are such characters, and they definitely continue to inspire my stories.

 

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