Country diary: a young wood pigeon learns a life lesson


When the chorus stopped, one voice kept going. On and on, through the dog days of summer and into autumn, it sang with monotonous intent. It was still singing that morning. The breeding season was over, but nobody had told the wood pigeons to stop.

Proof of their enduring fecundity was perched on the back of a garden chair. A messy fledgling wore its adolescence in sprigs of pin feathers sprouting out of its head, shoulders, breast and flanks as if it had come out of the nest via a tumble dryer. This young wood pigeon bore a striking in-your-face family resemblance, not so much to its parents as to a distant cousin that shared its big, hook-tipped beak, a horny upper mandible swollen over its nostrils. Perched three metres away, staring at us without any apparent fear or desire for flight, here was a 21st-century dodo.

Innocence and naivety are not the best attributes towards a long life, but this youngster was learning life lessons by the minute. It evidently decided it wanted to turn around on its perch for a different view. Raising a hopeful right foot, it twirled its extended claw, stretching to effect a 180-degree turn of its toes, pawing its stubby digits at the top of the chair. But something wasn’t quite working. The bird lowered its head, baffled by the obdurate immobility of a standing leg that was failing to pirouette. The right foot dropped, the left foot rose; it made no difference.

While the hapless wood pigeon was trying the can-can’t, we had walked up to almost within arm’s length. Still, those beautiful, muddy blue-grey eyes looked back at us in pigeon-blank ignorance. For its own sake, and as a kindness, it was time to teach this bird to be more wary. My wife, Sarah, hissed sharply and reached out as if to touch it. The pigeon gave a startled leap and flapped in a careening flightpath towards the top of the shed. Its toes touched down on the rim, its body pitched forward, and it scrambled up to the apex, running like a hunched chicken.

The pigeon squatted, reflecting perhaps on its narrow escape, one step away from being dead as a dodo.


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