Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Pretty Good Paean to Pigeons

A pair of pigeons have taken to hanging out on my balcony, and who can blame them. I'm a bird-safe, 8 floors up with a wide view and no hawks around here, plus I'm one of those compulsive bird feeders, so there can stuff their cute, stubby little beaks with seeds all day and wash them down from my makeshift bird bath.  Pigeons don't scare anyone, so other birds come and go -- jays mostly -- squawking rudely at the pigeons --  and only a few sparrows. The smaller birds don't get up here much above the neighborhood treetops.  It's too exposed.   

I assume my pair to be a male and female, mated for life, pigeons being monogamous. One, the male, is mostly gray and banded in darker blue-black tail stripes.  The female is slightly smaller and speckled black, white and gray. It could be the other way around. I'm only judging by how the banded one jumps on the speckled one's back once in a while. Of course, they might enjoy a little reverse gender play, this not being their regular mating season. Or they could be gay or lesbians for all I know. 

I say pigeons --- just the usual feral, gray rock pigeons who make pests of themselves in every big city that has tall buildings. Though the terms can be used interchangeably, you'd never call my pair, "doves." Their not sleek and white, nor do they have the delicate Easter-egg hues and the seductive coo of mourning doves.  They are average, not special, just plain old pigeons.

Like the other gray rock pigeons who flock to public squares and parks, my pair of pigeons personify the virtues of the very plain, to the enduring success of just-good-enough. They carry the flag for ordinariness.

Pigeons represent the apotheosis of what's so-so. They never achieve greatness but they are quite good at being pretty good at most everything a bird does.  This isn't the venal mediocrity so rampant in popular culture and entertainment. It's the steady-as-you-go kind that gets ordinary jobs done in sustainable fashion.

Their ubiquity testifies to the perpetual perseverance of what's pretty-good in facing off all kinds of high-test competition. Nobody I ever met picks a pigeon as a totem. But I have met quite a few people who have been targeted by pigeons on fecal bombing runs.

Pigeons don't sing, nor can they talk. The cooing is nothing special, more like an engine idling at a stoplight. They don't soar like gulls or eagles. They can't dart like swallows, or hover like humming birds. They don't fish like egrets or swim like ducks. They certainly don't glide like swans. They waddle like fast food addicts. Crows, ravens and jays can out wit pigeons at ever turn. Tropical birds win all the beauty contests. They don't rise early and get any worms.

Pigeons don't fight. Wimps of the bird world, the wander or fly off in the face of any threat, and confuse the enemy by unpredictably taking flight en masse. They only have a couple of baby squabs at a time and build  flimsy nests in rocky cliffs or on building ledges.

People say they are lazy and call them flying rats. But they aren't like their extinct relatives the dodos and passenger pigeons. The don't make trouble, but they know how to stay out of it. And, they do know how to find their way home, unerringly. But then most ordinary people can do that.

 (Wait a minute. Pigeons can find their way home from places they've never seen from hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of miles away without benefit of maps or compass or GPS system. They don't have to ask for directions, and they get where they are going by being strong -- if not swift -- tireless fliers.  No one knows for sure yet how pigeons manage this extraordinary navigational feat. One theory holds that they have a special neurological ability to sense and follow the earth's magnetic field.  Another says they use "odor contours" in the environment. Okay, so pigeons do have something special about them -- and, that's the exception that proves my point. Arguably, so does everyone else, even those seemingly stuck forever in the fat middle of the bell-shaped curve of life.

Maybe it's just that pigeons just don't like all the fuss that comes with fans.  They just want to be left to themselves.  Watch someone walking towards a pigeon in the park. The pigeon doesn't panic and fly off at a moment's notice. It waddles around, bobbing out of the way in lazy circles, and only takes flight at the last minute if the  person gets just one step too close. They the pigeon just flies a little ways off, and shows up again in a few minutes, pecking away at crumbs on the sidewalk here and there.  Just pigeons. Nothing special.  No kids shouts, Mommy, look, a pigeon -- a robin or a hummingbird, yes, or a duck certainly, but not a pigeon.

But I can take a lesson from my friends as they perch on my balcony railing now, preen their feathers and settle down in they hypnotic trance facing the setting sun -- something I've seen gulls and pigeons do every evening when walking a beach or in a park at sunset.  My pair give out their soft, rumbling, coo-coos... and seem to be telling me not to sweat things so much, not to think I must reach the stars with watching the sun set and the moon rise will be more than enough.

They take us for granted.  Some hate us, my pigeon friends seem to stay, but we carry on, and --- you remember this -- when the bells ring at Piazza San Marco in Venice, a thousand of us take flight at once and give you a glimpse of God on the wing.


Eleanor Spiess-Ferris said...

You write beautifully about a mundane little bird and make them magnificent as all birds are in their own special way. Excellent!

Sugar Monkey said...

My bond with pigeons started with one that nested on the window ledge at my workplace. My affection toward, and interest in, the everyday lives of pigeons has grown. I admit, I am the the guy who sometimes picks the average grey lazy bird as a totem. I have even made them my muse for paintings. I very much enjoy painting pigeons and they are always a topic of discussion in my studio. No matter what you have or have not achieved in life, you can always relate to the ordinary. -Jeremie Garza -SOMA Artist Studios.

harry said...

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