The Clerk in the Country

Friday 29th January 2021

Pigeons (and other birds) at leisure

Over the years several homing pigeons have broken their journey here.  The most recent was found wandering around minus a tail.  Although otherwise unharmed, flying was temporarily out of the question.  Using the information on its leg ring, the Lancashire owner was traced and informed of a delay, a bag of suitable bird seed was acquired and the door of the tool shed left open.  When its tail had grown sufficiently, the pigeon took to spending its time on the ridge of an outhouse roof, seeming to prefer this, whatever the weather, to being undercover.  During a particularly heavy downpour I watched the poor bird struggling to stay upright in the rain, leaning to one side and then the other, and trying to shelter itself under a raised wing.  Why it didn’t fly down into the dry tool shed puzzled me until I happened to leave my car on the ground floor of the Barbican carpark during a storm and noticed a stream of water cascading through a hole in the roof.  Beneath this torrent stood a pigeon, leaning first to right then to left and raising each wing in turn.  All it lacked was soap and a sponge.

This isn’t the only time I’ve been confused by the bathing habits of birds.  One summer’s day a number of small dark mounds surrounding a puddle were a mystery until more young blackbirds arrived, splashed about a bit and then stretched their wings over their heads to dry out in the sunshine.

And then there is dust-bathing, involving much shuffling of the feet and shaking of the feathers.  Before the last peacock departed from the Museum Gardens, a worried passer-by put his head into the Lodge to announce, “The peacock has broken a leg”, before rushing off to give assistance.  Peacocks are beautiful birds, with plumage so dazzlingly magnificent that anyone can become confused.  A couple of minutes later the chap was back, looking much happier.  “It’s all right; it’s just laying an egg!”

A couple of days after getting itself nice and clean, the visiting pigeon, complete with new tail, launched itself into the air, flew round in a circle and set off at a steady pace in a westerly direction.