A Tale of Two Birds: Urban Fliers Seek Shelter in Unlikely Places
NEW YORK – I’m no ornithologist, but I knew that when those pigeon eggs hatched on my windowsill last month that the babies wouldn’t last, much like those few unseasonably warm early March afternoons.
I didn’t notice when the mother laid the eggs, let alone when the parent pigeons built the nest on the ledge of my third-story Upper West Side apartment building. But the outstretched platform was thick and smooth, then also supported by a slab of dirt the birds must have spent many hours moving from nearby Riverside Park.
Nevertheless, the pigeons’ dutiful care to their young – I counted three perfectly round, light gray eggs the mother spent all her time resting upon – was no match to the snow storm that drowned the city mid-month.
When the foot of snow eventually receded and unveiled the window ledge, the pigeons and their nest vanished, as well. In their wake, however, two lifeless tiny bodies. I couldn’t stop thinking about what to do, if anything. I wondered why their parents hadn’t done more for them, and whether nature would eventually wipe away this saddest of endings from the windowsill.
Sure enough, spring’s soothing breeze soon swept through the city, and across the ledge. A new pair of pigeons, I could only presume, also saw the merits of the nesting spot – foundation of dirt included, free of charge! – and began the laborious nesting process.
The female pigeon, identified by her puffed feathers, squatted with purpose and patience day after day over her eggs; her partner, glowing with his iridescent feathers of purple, pink and blue, came and went, humming and cooing when he arrived with little bits of twig.
I couldn’t help but pull back the window shade several times a day, even though the female grew visibly wide-eyed at my presence, to check out the new couple on the block. When my sister came to visit from Vermont, I gleefully introduced her to my new neighbors, spontaneously dubbing them Betty and Bob.
The names stuck and the attachment grew, as I marveled at the wonder of new life to emerge from what I had deemed a tragedy.
Days deepened into softer nights and rose again into warmer mornings. It was only yesterday, a prime day for flip-flops and baby-bird survival, when I peeked out the window and saw that Betty had, at last, left her post. In her place, however, was a fluffy, gray and yellow rising mass of squabs – four or five, at the most – sleeping peacefully together, tucked in to brother and sister.
A few hours later, when I checked in, their mother had returned, only to give me a quadrupled menacing look.
New York City is known as a concrete jungle, but wild animals have been largely acclimated to the city’s habitat for decades. It’s estimated that there are several million pigeons calling New York City home at any given time, with several hundred thousand visiting from New Jersey, Connecticut, Westchester County, and Long Island.
While not all New Yorkers embrace the birds that tend to flock in mass on city sidewalks and in parks, appreciation groups remain popular in the city. The birds are not inherently dirty, despite common misconceptions, and are not apt to pass on diseases.
The New York Bird Club, one such advocacy and support group, is hosting a celebration of National Pigeon Day on June 19 in Central Park. The day is officially honored worldwide on June 13, in honor of Cher Ami, a homing pigeon that delivered a message, despite fatal injuries, during World War I.
For more information on National Pigeon day, visit http://www.nationalpigeonday.blogspot.com/
For information on what to do if you find injured baby birds, visit http://www.nwrawildlife.org/documents/jacobs_birds.pdf
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