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100 Things: #31 - The romantic lives of pigeons - BOTTLE OF SMOKE
November 2014
Sun, Aug. 26th, 2012 09:39 am
100 Things: #31 - The romantic lives of pigeons

35 romantic pigeons

Number 31 - The romantic lives of pigeons

So, feral pigeons. A descendent of domestic pigeons that never came home, who are in turn a descendents of the wild rock dove. And let us be quite honest here - they're gross. I can usually value any wild creature, and consider myself a particular activist for the manky urban varieties, but nothing can save the feral pigeon. Greasy-feathered and hobbled, any animal that cultivates tumours on its feet because it won't stop shitting on them has earned its grossness. It is unsalvageable, and I'm not going to try and convince you otherwise here.

Yet few other birds have given me such entertainment. This is largely down to their availability: golden eagles and bitterns and capercaillies might be equally amusing, but they are simply not as available. Pigeons are. They're everywhere, omnipresent to the point you don't even notice them. Except that I do, I do notice them because I like them, these ugly little birds, and they make me laugh.

I am particularly intrigued by their romantic lives. Perhaps because of their association with humans I find it more difficult not to anthropomorphise feral pigeons than any other animal. There is something so very personable about them, very human, and never more so than when they are breeding. Like people pigeons court all year and usually, it seems to be, on top of the building immediately facing the part of the lab I work in. Voyeurlike, I have stood witness to the unfolding of many stories. You'll have seen pigeons courting: the male expands his throat and dances in tight little circles around his chosen one, all the while churring deeply, a throatier, bubblier version of the usual cooing. The female at first fakes disinterest, flying short distances, keeping the male on a string. He persists and eventually they get down to necking, which very quickly progresses to sex: a disappointing three-second act that involves the male clambering onto the female's back and shooting semen vaguely in the direction of her cloaca. Then he flies away. The female disinterestedly siphons off the worst of the damage and then follows suit.

This describes a successful romantic encounter. Less successful encounters I have witnessed have involved the male having sex with the female's face, an act which doesn't do anyone any good when you happen to be part of a species that does not have external genitalia.

Most encounters I have seen terminate when the female, apparently not all that sold on three seconds of male pigeon spunking down her back or into her eyes, fucks off, and he is left with a rapidly deflating throat sack and blue balls - or whatever the pigeon equivalent.

It is not only the female that is disinterested. Spring this year I enjoyed the spectacle of a male pigeon appreciating a rare bit of sunshine for several hours, what seemed to me an inordinate amount of time for a wild, even feral, animal. When a female did turn up he very reluctantly got to his feet, semi-inflated his throat and did a halfhearted little turn. She was not impressed, immediately flew off, and with what seemed relief he settled back down and enjoyed the sun for another couple of hours.

I have also come to notice another male pigeon. This individual - and I choose to think of it as an individual, rather than several exhibiting the same behaviour because it's funnier that way - will sit some distance away from groups of female pigeons and watch them. Intently. He will halfway expand his throat but he will never approach them, never dance for them, and they certainly never approach him. One cannot help but supply the dialogue. We have all, after all, been subject to such creepy scrutiny across bars or clubs, and my sympathy goes out across species to the female pigeons. I like to think of him as being the pigeon equivalent of the bar weirdo who sits alone staring intently at women much younger than himself, gently nursing a tiny erection.



Si appellem me mendacem, mentiarne?
Sun, Aug. 26th, 2012 09:41 am (UTC)

Oh god this entire thing was fundamentally fucking priceless, thank you. I've spent countless hours watching pigeon courting in parks and bus stations. My favourite is when two males accidentally court each other and just seem monumentally confused by it.

Sun, Aug. 26th, 2012 11:25 am (UTC)

I wonder how many other Secret Pigeon Watchers there are out there? They're suck entertaining, ugly little birds I don't believe for a second we are the only ones.

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Si appellem me mendacem, mentiarne?
Mon, Aug. 27th, 2012 08:29 am (UTC)

I'm sure there must be quite a few of us: apart from anything else lots of people are stuck at bus stations with nowt else to do...

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