Running With Pigeons


The pandemic has affected many things, one of them is the wildlife around us all the time, and that most humans appear to be oblivious to. We’ve all heard the stories by now of how wildlife has appeared in new places because humans are no longer there. In my case it was pigeons.

I feed birds regularly. I am friends with a pair of cardinals and a couple blue jays that will call for me or fly to me as soon as I step outside. I bring them peanuts which they will pick through, picking up one, then another, trying to decide on the best one. There is also a mockingbird, a multitude of sparrows and finches, a pair of crows, and mourning doves. One of the doves has a wing that droops, but she appears to be able to fly well and has been hanging out in my garden for at least 2 years. I make sure to bring out some extra sunflower seeds when she is by herself.

When businesses shut down pigeons started appearing. This was totally understandable because the restaurants and cafes were closed. This is a main food supply for the area pigeons.

If you’ve ever been to DC, you know that we love our cafes. We will eat outside most months of the year if possible. We don’t do winter well, so generally late December through the end of February or March most people will be indoors, but if the weather is decent, or if it’s mild, you will find us out then too.

It started with 2 or 3 pigeons, then they kept coming. Eventually I had a whole flock. I loaded up on extra food for the shutdown and everyone sheltered in my little garden. The daylilies were ruined for the spring, but they are tough and will come back. It has been stressful for the birds that I’ve fed for 15 years too. These newcomers are big and eat a lot. Still, we all shared and made the best of it.

Things are opening up again, which means people are eating outside again. The weather has been perfect for this, so there is food where the pigeons were before.

The other day while meditating, the garden spirits whispered to me that it was time for the pigeons to return to there places. The little garden was just too small to accommodate all of these beings and balance needed to be restored. I enjoyed them while they were there, but the time had come. And so it began; what I call The Pigeon Relocation Initiative PRI for short.

I don’t know if any of you have ever dealt with pigeons before, but they are smart and determined. They were not thrilled with leaving. In fact, we are still in the middle of this PRI. I am currently on Phase 2 of it. I will get to that in a minute.

The internet has listed many ways of scaring away pigeons, with this stuff that smells like predator urine, and all kinds of other things, but this would also scare off everything else. That would not work, so I had to use their language, and what they, as pigeons, would do.

Phase one:

Day 1 began with establishing territory. I had to chase them away. Of course they just came back. I have observed them for a while, so I saw how they establish territory. One will run at the other and chase it away. It will return, and this will continue for a long time with one standing its ground, the other one trying to advance, and the one holding ground advancing and running the other off. This goes on forever, as I was to find out. I spent the better part of a day doing this. It really is an elaborate dance.

There is an apartment building across from me and I’m sure the people there thought I was totally insane. I was out there chasing pigeons away every 2 or 3 minutes for hours. My legs got a wonderful workout. When this goes on with 2 pigeons, one will fly up onto something and the other will also fly up and chase it away. As a human I cannot fly, but I do have a garden hose. It has been hot, so I would shoot a stream of water at them and they would get annoyed and fly away, only to return. Again, I was doing this like crazy. I am not looking forward to seeing my water bill next month. Still, I could not help but think of how amused my neighbors must be watching this whole scene.

This worked, to a point. Remember, I said they were smart. They discovered how far the water would reach, and one pigeon in particular seemed to take great joy in this. He would stand just beyond where the stream would reach but close enough to get the mist and decided to take a bath. I could just imagine him saying to me, “Haha silly human. I defy your feeble attempt to remove me as I bathe in my triumph.” This made me laugh, especially since I imagined this particular pigeon saying it with a French accent.

I’m sure by now anyone watching was really ready to call an ambulance for me; a crazy man chasing birds with a garden hose, randomly breaking into laughter. My saving grace is that most people here know I am a composer, so they probably chalked it up to the stereotypical insane artist thing.

This exercise continued for a whole day. The next morning it was the same till lunch time. I realized this was unsustainable. I knew I had to take the feeder down for a time, so the little birds would have to be without for a week or 2. There is plenty of other food around and I can sneak small handfuls of seeds to them when the pigeons are not around.

So, we are now entering Phase 2 of the PRI. The territory has been established, and there is no food. I will chase them away randomly when I am in the garden, essentially reaffirming boundaries, and when they do come there will be nothing for them, which, hopefully will make them move back to their old food sources. Once that happens balance will be restored to my garden.

So, the next time you see a pigeon say hi for me.

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