There was a flutter of correspondence in the EDP a while ago concerning the increasing numbers of woodpigeons running riot across the land. As you would expect most of the commentary was rather negative with various solutions being presented, most of them of a terminal bent, including many opinions to the effect that they should all be shot. Whilst I’m a little dubious of the legality of this approach, I will not dispute that they can be troublesome, especially if you are a fruit or veg grower, or maybe park your car under a roost!
The population of woodpigeons has burgeoned greatly in recent years, and they have become increasingly urbanised. Basically they are a successful species that seems able to eat vast quantities of just about anything – a kind of goat of the bird world. Yet despite their seemingly unending appetites, general clumsiness and dull wittedness (why do they always fly towards a speeding car?), they do have another side, so I would like to offer an alternative view of these much maligned creatures.
Some years ago I was puzzled by a noise that seemed to be coming intermittently from behind our ageing gas fire. After prising a small gap in the back plate I was surprised to see my torch beam reflected back from the frightened eye of a distinctly bedraggled and forlorn woodpigeon. How on earth the fool had managed to fall down the chimney goodness knows, but there he was huddled and soot-laden in the most inaccessible spot imaginable. A dilemma had presented itself; do I leave the poor thing to expire and rot away, or do I try and rescue it? Only one choice really and a call was made to British Gas who to my mild surprise treated it as an emergency “never know what damage it’s done to the flue on the way down” the man said with much gravity. Within the hour, on a desperately cold February night, our heating system had been turned off, the gas fire dismantled and I was able to grab the bird and release it into the night. Shame we couldn’t restart the boiler and had to freeze for a couple of days, but at least the pigeon survived.
No further thought was wasted on pondering the fortunes of the bird until we noticed the fattest of his ilk loitering in the garden had a deformed wing. Putting two and two together we concluded this individual must be the one that had fallen down our chimney and caused much unnecessary shivering. Over the following 5 years we watched his antics (it was definitely male!) and grudgingly developed affection for what turned out to be a philandering, fearless thug. Despite his deformity, he would strut along the garden path heedless of the odd cat that strayed into the vicinity, he would beat up any rival that dared stray into his realm, he would muscle his way into a share of any food discovered by other birds, and as for the women in his life……!
He was a real tough character who seemed almost indestructible. He would vanish sometimes for a couple of days but always reappeared to assert authority and straighten up his patch. But now he’s gone and we miss him. I suppose the freezing cold of winter may have finished him off, or maybe it was just old age. Without his iron rule there is a breakdown of order and we seem awash with lawless woodpigeons – we seriously need a coup (sorry, couldn’t resist that one).
As for them being a bit dumb, a neighbour told me that he watched a woodpigeon struggle to reach the contents of his feeders. After a while the bird struck one feeder with its wing and knocked it to the ground where it could happily feed on the spilled seed. This became a regular antic – so perhaps they are not as daft as they seem? Oh yes they are, we all know they are, but our dictator provided much colour and interest during his reign and our opinion on woodpigeons changed thanks to him and his exploits.
In any event it looks like these fat, waddling and charmingly colourful characters are here to stay. They are colourful you know – take a really close look at the intricacy of their velvety plumage if you don’t believe me. I think we should all just try and live with them but if you see one in your garden with a drooping wing let me know – it would be good to think he is still alive and well and terrorising some other neighbourhood.
Our Fearless Crooked-winged Woodpigeon
Another Garden Bird Dozing During a Snow Shower
A Juvenile at Cley