Moving to to Port Angeles after living 32 years in Blaine, Washington, was a lonely venture. I forgot what it was like to be without a shopping compass or someone to get advice from. So I made an adventure out of my predicament and within a couple of minutes from home came upon a small strip mall with a complement of stores and the oddest collection of bird nests I’d ever seen.
Under four or five store lengths of the mall’s awning, a flurry of Rock pigeons had set up their roost; haphazard and flimsy constructed nests built precariously close to its edge. On the sidewalk below, from one side to the other, was their slippery and disgusting guano.* The harried shop owners had tried to clean up the mess, but to no avail. Recently, however, there seemed to be fewer pigeons milling around the parking lot and the sidewalk looked a lot cleaner. Then I discovered the extensive netting and bird spikes installed under the awnings.
I imagine the store keepers had been through enough and were seeking relief. Most of the smart pigeons had been gently coerced into leaving, but not all. A small group of rebels found intuitive but painful ways to nest there anyway.
Feathers flanked the ground amidst small broken eggs that fell from flimsy nests built between the spikes or in the tiny areas where the netting had come lose. Some pigeons had even tried nesting in the netting itself only to have their nests fall tragically to the ground. The last of the lovers, guarding their doomed nests, were sequestered against a small ledge and spikes of the awning, unable to move. There was absolutely no way they could lay their eggs safely.
My heart went out to these stubborn birds and their perilous efforts to remain steadfast against change.
Why, little mall birds, why?
Rock doves also know as feral pigeons (from the bird family Columbidae) have been in existence for thousands of years. Their natural habitat was on the edge of cliffs in Europe, Africa and India. Pilgrims first introduce the pigeon to America in the 1600’s and it quickly adapted to its new home with gusto.
The pigeon population today exceeds 400 million worldwide with over 1 million in New York City alone. The reason for their numbers might be because they’ll eat anything that’s small, dry and available. Pigeons have become dependent on their human benefactors for their sustenance: grain, seeds, fruit, bread crumbs, popcorn or any scrap of dry food found in the urban communities in which they prefer to roost.
Pigeons have gone from the cliffs of their ancestors to nesting in the hidden eves and porticos of buildings, affording them a continual food source while also providing a relatively safe haven for their young (chicks take up to 28 days to mature); especially from their arch-enemy, the Peregrine Falcon.
Pigeons return to the same nesting site each year and often build on top of old nests for lack of space or maybe convenience. Pigeons are monogamous for life with both the male and female producing crop milk to feed their young. Female pigeons reach sexually maturity after 7 months and can lay 1-2 eggs at a time often while other chicks or squab are still maturing in the nest. This dilemma may cause the necessity of hasty nests and security of location.
Utilization of the Messenger
The innate ability of pigeons to return to their homes no matter where they might be relocated, has mystified man for centuries. Scientists theorize they use roads, waterways and the sun as their compass or even the earth’s magnetic field to help them navigate.
The Greeks first used the pigeons homing gift to announce the results of the Olympic games to its citizens. The Syrians, Persians and Egyptians used pigeons for communications between the realm and armies. In the early 1800’s, The Rothschild’s used pigeons exclusively to communicate with their businesses in America and abroad, dedicating an entire floor of their financial headquarters to the management and care of these important assets. During WWI and II, messenger pigeons were an invaluable source of communication between the allies; flying long and high, risking their lives to get messages delivered. Decorated heroes, they were.
No one really knows why pigeons do what they do so ingeniously; they just do!
*Fun Guano Facts
Did you know?
- Pigeon guano was so prized as a fertilizer in early European communities, posted guards were paid to protect it from thieves.
- Pigeon guano was the only known source of saltpetre used to make gun powder in the 16th and 17th centuries.
- The average pigeon produces 25 lbs of guano a year. OMG!
6. Google images:Guano,messenger pigeon, peregrine falcon