I have had a lifelong interest in wood pigeons.
In my country days I would admire their extraordinary eyesight and ability to avoid the human kind – keeping at least a fieldsworth apart. But they were mugs for decoys – which I made out of card, paint and, for eyes, those gold-coloured, split pins that held pages of paper together.
I was asked quite often to help protect young cereal crops from the scourge of pigeons – rapaciousness that could do untold damage to succulent growth.
So wood pigeons were my enemy – though the breasts cut off immediately when shot and cooked at home made for fine eating.
This bird is as handsome as they come, with the colour of their feathers flowing or contrasting from greys to white, and with a pinkish breast.
When I came to live in London, I was more than surprised to see these wily birds hobnobbing so close to the inhabitants. And in my small garden a pair would make themselves at home eating the bird food put out for my smaller and more vulnerable avian friends. But worse, they defecated all over the flagstone surface that covers much of the ground – the mess sometimes coming into the house on the soles of shoes.
So these wood pigeons once more became my enemies, yet I was certainly not prepared to turn this London pair into a stew with red wine and carrots.
My next task was to protect the bird feeders and their contents from this greedy couple.
It was no easy task, as although large and seemingly cumbersome, wood pigeons are most agile, not to say very clever as well.
Each of my smart ideas using chicken wire and anti pigeon spikes came to nought. Whatever configuration of spikes and mesh I used was circumvented by these masters of cunning. That was, until I used so much chicken wire that even the small birds were hardly able to reach the food.
Then, one day, when Margreet and I had set out on a walk, we witnessed, only a few metres away and on the road’s surface, a wood pigeon in an all-out fight with a carrion crow that had threatened her nearby eggs or nestlings. We were lost in admiration for her bravery.
Now, for the first time, I respected their courage as well as their intelligence. I had become rather a wood pigeon admirer instead of an enemy.
Our two wood pigeons seemed to recognise this change of attitude immediately, strutting their stuff in front of us in the garden and even entering our shed to walk beneath our legs to seek crumbs of food.
Then, in the shed, and with no encouragement, one of these large birds rose to stand on a bird food tray right next to my knee. There it pecked at the cheese morsels put out for a robin – a robin that each year I have to train, with enormous patience, to come to that feeder.
For a wild creature I suppose this constitutes either brazen courage or extreme trust – or both.
We must now learn to live together – even though the size of a wood pigeon almost squeezes us out of our small garden retreat.
There was a sequel to this: I was reading a newspaper in our garden shed one day when there was a sound from the door sill beneath. Then, because a lump of pink quartz was blocking the landing and feeding spot for birds, a wood pigeon flapped up to land on my knee – just too far away for it to eat the grated cheese offering. So I slowly moved my knee, with pigeon on it, toward the food, where it stepped off to the feeder. Having polished off the cheese it flew off.
Some time later this bird (presumably it was the same) came to sit on our bird bath – where it stayed despite us walking past it. Then it came toward the shed to sit on the arm of a wooden bench very close to us. On the bird bath and bench we could see that it was in distress as it spent most of the time trying to keep awake.
Then a neighbour came with dogs and the bird flew to a nearby arch, where it perched, almost motionless, for several hours.
The food is no longer taken and the bird gone.
It must have wanted to die in our small garden - next to friends.