Individually, they look harmless enough. And their soft, gentle cooing is deceptively soothing. But let your guard down and before you know what hit you you’ll be under siege – another victim of PIGEON GANGS . . .
It started innocently enough. Half a dozen strutted around the yard, heads bobbing up and down, politely cleaning up the seeds smaller birds had scattered from feeders. I enjoyed having them around. The soothing sound of their cooing voices outside my office window even had a calming effect on my frazzled nerves as I struggled to meet ridiculous deadlines with my temperamental computer and the printer from hell. By day two, a few more had dropped in from the next block, and on day three a small delegation from a neighboring township joined the party. By the end of the week, my blood ran cold as a glanced out the back window onto a scene straight out of Hitchcock’s classic “The Birds.” Roosting all over my kitchen roof, lined up along the back fence and on any convenient perching spot they could find in the yard, were dozens of patiently waiting pigeons, poised to swoop down at the first sign of birdseed.
The avian scavengers had moved in swiftly on the hotest new al fresco dining spot, and their well-orchestrated aerial attacks on the freshly filled feeders sent even the most foolhardy squirrel raiders into retreat. The secret of their success was clearly strength in numbers. Pound for pound and fur for feather, the squirrels could undoubtedly take on an lone pigeon. But while the quarrelsome rodents wasted as much energy chasing each other off as they took in from the stolen birdseed, the pigeons were truly birds of a feather who flocked together.
Renowned bird authority John Audubon actually recorded one flock of pigeons so enormous it took them 3 days to fly overhead at an estimated rate of 300 million birds per hour! Fortunately, not quite that many had discovered by backyard feeders . . . yet. But I soon realized the size of the gang was only half the problem. These were no fly-by-night, eat-and-run visitors. They’d come to stay!
Most urban dwellers may suspect the plump “rats with wings” are virtually earthbound, rising off the ground only to mob anyone in the vicinity with something that looks eatible. But in fact, they are excellent flyers who simply prefer staying put. They have no desire to winter in the tropics, and they’re not the least bit intrigued by what may be over the next hill as long as they find their present stomping grounds satisfactory. Pigeons are real homebodies, and they take no notice of the usual eviction notices. Squirting them with the hose hardly ruffled their feathers. They just moved over a few feet and seemed to enjoy the free shower.
A relocation program had worked – sort of – for the squirrels who insisted on moving into my attic. But I soon abandoned this plan. Pigeons, after all, are famous for their homing ability. Scientists, with apparently way too much time on their hands, have tested the pigeon’s homing skills. Released hundreds of miles from home, the ingenious navigators invariably found their way home. Some perverse researchers have even tried drugging the birds and transporting them in their sleep, or spinning them in a revolving drum while in transit from their home base. Every effort to disorient them was a dismal failure. Dizzy, woozy, or spaced out, the plucky pigeons always found their way home.
London commuters are well aware of the intelligence and resourcefulness of pigeons. The British birds have apparently found the extensive underground transit system an excellent energy saver for wing-weary travelers. Pigeons have been sighted in the stations, waiting patiently for their train to arrive to wisk them off to their destination – and they don’t even pay the fare!
Though British scientists debate whether the avian commuters are truly “alighting with purpose,” it seems reasonable to me that the world-class navigators could easily have mastered such a simple human transportation system. I mean, they’re not birdbrains.
I did finally persuade the pesky pigeon gang to move on to greener pastures. The solution was blindingly simple, really. I stopped feeding them.