Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Pigeon Post

Pigeons are amazing birds.  They're obviously a bit of a pest, but that's because they are so successful, so robust, and so adaptable.  Where crows are smart, pigeons are persistent.  If a pigeon spots a sandwich crumb under your bench, no amount of kicking or hand-clapping is going to keep it away.  If a pigeon decides your window-ledge is a good spot for a nest, then lots of luck persuading it otherwise.

Yes, they are "rats with wings" (in Woody Allen's phrase), but such wings!  For all their apparent waddling bulk on the ground, once airborne pigeons are simply the best, exulting in their own speed and aerobatic prowess.  It takes all the swift surprise of a stooping Peregrine Falcon to take down a pigeon in flight.

They also clearly have multi-faceted social lives on a par with rooks: they communicate with each other in what appears to be a complex mix of voice, gesture, and flight pattern.  And if you've ever watched a male pigeon trying to court a female -- with much bowing, hopping, chasing, stylised spreading of wings and tail, plus time-outs for sulks and reconsideration ("Your beak she say no, but... Ah, and your tail she say no, too...") -- you'll know the true depth of a pigeon's persistence.

During the winter months, pigeons seem to develop a craving for ivy berries, and will go to amazing lengths to get at them.  If you hear a flapping commotion up in the trees, the chances are it will be a couple of pigeons hanging upside down like parrots, or wobbling out to the ends of the thinnest twigs that will just bear their weight, wings spread and waving like amateur wire-walkers.

If only they didn't regard city-centre buildings as convenient cliffs, and bury the sky-facing architecture under tons of their disgusting guano, we might feel more charitable towards them.  I have to say, they're also very tasty -- I had a delicious meal of fricasseed pigeon breasts in France a few years ago, though I doubt those were feral pigeons raised on fag ends and street debris.

btw, am I the only one to hear the Wood Pigeon's summertime cooing as "The whole world's watching, the whole world's watching, the whole world's watching ... now"?  Hmm, thought so.  But just you wait until they start up...

btw2, did you know that the publisher of Creative Camera was called the Coo Press because Colin Osman (founding editor) was also a racing pigeon fancier, and had worked for Racing Pigeon weekly?

btw3, according to his obituary, Colin Osman is alleged to have gone to Alleyne's Grammar School, Stevenage (my own secondary school) in its pre-WW2 version, something which I have my fact-checkers working on.  A decade ago I bought a lot of excellent but well-used photo-books from Grace White, who may or may not have been Colin's widow.  A number of these were signed gifts -- "To Colin from Fay", that sort of thing.

It all fits...


eeyorn said...

I find the vast range of markings and colours on pigeon's plumages endlessly fascinating. Some of them can be quite psychedelic when the light catches them. As for the guano problem, they're only recycling the crap that humans drop on the ground.
The old GIGO principle comes to mind.

Zouk Delors said...

Yes, pigeons in flight are a beautiful thing. It's great the way they use their fanned tailfeathers as a rudder. I don't know if you're watching the BBC's wildlife special on birds, but I saw a brilliant episode from it at the weekend, No 2 in the series, I think(?), which included footage of a prey bird taking a pigeon, as well as showing how the pigeon, like the rat, has learnt to simply follow human settlements for an easy living*. For me, however, the stars of that particular show were the budgies.

*Have u ever read The Rat (Die Rätin)? I had it as a present years ago and never finished reading it. Now, where did I put that book...?

Carsten S said...

Mike, I find the first picture very interesting, thank you!

Zouk, it is „Rättin“, which is the female form of „Ratte“ (rat). „Rätin“ would be the female form of „Rat“ (council (also counsel), but also a title, so the female form makes sense).



Zouk Delors said...

Apologies for mangling your mother-tongue, Carsten and danke schön for the correction. I did wonder why it wasn't translated as "The She-Rat". Come to think of it I'm not even sure that's the right term anyway. Maybe it should be The Bitch-Rat? Or perhaps it's a word with no English equivalent, like "Schadenfreude"?

eeyorn said...

Getting back to the pigeons, thx Zouk, will look for that. My son-in-law got a small clip of a hawk (wish I could remember which)taking a pigeon in his back garden on the outskirts of Ipswich.

Twas amazing!!!

eeyorn said...

Does this, to my eyes, kind of fundamentally fatal omission in translation occur a lot, then?

eeyorn said...

I'm sure that given the the source German most people even with only O-level skill like myself, would manage a stab at specifying the gender - ie 'the female rat'

I'm more than a little surprised that such a glaring mis-translation could have been made. Have I missed something here?

Carsten S said...

First I would like to apologize for having started an off-topic discussion. To keep nearer to the original post: Doing an image search for „Flugratte“ shows that pigeons are also likened to rats in German. And I assume that you know Tom Lehrer's song on pigeons in the park?

What a good translation of „Rättin“ is will have to be decided in the context of the book, and since I do not remember to have read it, I do not have an opinion on it. But I would like to add what I have forgotten to mention in my earlier comment. While „Rättin“ is easily understood to be a female rat, the word is not normally used (indeed it seems stranger to me when I pronounce it than when I read it), because the grammatical genus of „Ratte“ already is female.

D.Morris said...

I was recently disappointed to to see that our landmark "Bitterne Triangle" clock tower was no longer telling the right time nor chiming melodiously. A lamenting email to our local authority yielded the following response from the archaeologists:

The clock tower was invaded by pigeons, who pooed all over the clockwork, which kept running, gradually spreading it all over the works. The pigeons have been evicted, mesh put over openings, power turned off, poo cleaned up, everything disinfected, and the bearings oiled. We hope to get the power back on in the next few days.

Zouk Delors said...

Carsten, don't be silly; it was me who went off-topic: all you did was helpfully correct my poor German. I'm sure the works of Gunther Grass are a topic Mike will be magnanimous about anyway.

The bird programme I mentioned is called Earthflight and you can get the latest episode at:

I think I saw the Asia episode, and I believe each episode covers a continent, although, for reasons apparent from my previous post, pigeon-fanciers are likely to get satisfaction from any of them. I bet there are even a few "skyrats" dropping their nutritious plant feed onto the heads of research scientists in Antarctica!