“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  –  (George Orwell, ‘Animal Farm’)

As a concerned and conscientious senior citizen and local bird-lover to boot, I like to think that I perhaps do apportion my proper share towards supporting the avian population of my town during these increasingly cold winter days, but recently I have been grappling with a resolution of conscience as to whether I really do believe that all of our feathered friends are as lovely – and as welcome – in my garden as each other. As a caring human being I was brought up to love my fellow man and not to differentiate, favour or show other bias, but recent occurrences at home have led me to think otherwise. The problem, is the almost permanent presence of two very fat pigeons – Pete and Pat(ricia), I sometimes call them – which are fairly recent incomers to the otherwise tranquil surroundings of my bird table upon which I spy quite regularly from my kitchen window.

Shock Toops

There’s a crisis looming

For a couple of years now I have gladly and freely placed out peanuts and other delicacies on a purpose built bird table which has regularly attracted a fairly substantial gathering at times of up to a dozen different species of wild birds. Now as the cost of living is continuing to rise, we bird lovers are not untouched by the consequences of the realisation that wild bird food and peanuts have become increasingly expensive of late so imagine my chagrin and frustration – sometimes great anger – when I place out a good handful of peanuts and then have to watch as they are devoured voraciously and swiftly by P and P. But it is not only the grand theft and greediness of these two grey birds which has caused me a problem, but the fact that fewer and fewer of the smaller (and dare I whisper, prettier?) birds now come round to share in the spoils, they being threatened and frightened out of their lives by the bullying antics. By the way, pictured left is Ollie who is such a fat  cat that this is about as far as he can reach. The smaller birds are aware of this and they just ignore him! in truth, he tends to run away when the pigeons arrive. So, what to do?


Well, I confess that I did toy with the idea of a small catapult, but I feared that this might suggest a personal bias and possibly, a hatred of a particular species which, if I was discovered, might perhaps cause serious disharmony in the neighbourhood; nor perhaps, would George Orwell have neccesarily approved. So with a small dose of guile and a certain amount of do-it-yourself fervour, I attached four strips of split cane with tiny panel pins to the outside of the table (see picture right.) and retired to my observation post with a certain amount of pride and not just a small dose of smugness. It was not long before the deadly duo arrived in tandem and immediately made a close examination of my handiwork, behind which they could see the tempting vision of a newly placed pile of fresh peanuts sitting right in the middle of the table. Within a very short time, after much flapping of wings and tenuous scrambling about, just managing to hang on by their claws and beaks, a scattering of dislodged feathers lay on the ground. For a moment my smugness knew no heights as the two seemed to have conceded to defeat by my wicked arrangement; but oh dear, it was not to be!

I concede, but win the day.

After departing temporarily for what was probably a rest-break or perchance, a moment to feast at some other nearby table, Pete and Patricia duly returned and I’m sure that I noticed a certain look of defiant malevolence in those dark black eyes. In an instant and before I could change into my outdoor shoes, one of them then gripped on to the side of the table and the same movement, swooshed its wing under the barrier sweeping just about every peanut and all in its path to the ground below to where each defiantly alighted to tuck in to the spoils.

I have now conceded to their willingness to defy me and rather than deny all of the other little birds the offer of some winter nourishment, I now use the hang-bag method and place only old bread or waste products on the open table. Perhaps I should have done this in the first place! Though somehow, I think I have unwittingly provided a useful service to the general public and to the Environmental Department of the local council, as I now notice that the pigeons are far more likely to clean up the rejected chips and discarded meat pies which remain strewn over the pavement at the front of my house on most mornings, the detritus of the night before.

Darwin’s theory

Belittling and disparaging as I might appear to be in my struggles with the common pigeon – which, lets face it, is not the most popular of man’s feathered friends – it is a fact that the species holds a very important place in the natural history of homo sapiens. Watching the antics of Columba Livia – the common pigeon – with its strange habits and often eccentric behaviour in  many parts of the world, was to fire a spark within the mind of a young Charles Darwin and to start him questioning the doctrine of Creation as against the idea that species tended to evolve over time. His ever-contentious views and ‘unholy’ theories are readily readable today in most democratic societies, apart that is, from some places in the western world where his postulations are still fiercely concealed from younger minds. Let me quote but one paragraph which might lead you to seek further enlightenment as to the theory, in which he outlines the degree of variance amongst species even of the same group.
On the Breeds of the Domestic pigeon.
Believing that it is always best to study some special group, I have, after deliberation, taken up domestic pigeons. I have kept every breed which I could purchase or obtain, and have been most kindly favoured with skins from several quarters of the world, more especially by the Hon. W. Elliot from India, and by the Hon. C. Murray from Persia. Many treatises in different languages have been published on pigeons, and some of them are very important, as being of considerably antiquity. I have associated with several eminent fanciers, and have been permitted to join two of the London Pigeon Clubs. The diversity of the breeds is something astonishing. Compare the English carrier and the short-faced tumbler, and see the wonderful difference in their beaks, entailing corresponding differences in their skulls. The carrier, more especially the male bird, is also remarkable from the wonderful development of the carunculated skin about the head, and this is accompanied by greatly elongated eyelids, very large external orifices to the nostrils, and a wide gape of mouth. The short-faced tumbler has a beak in outline almost like that of a finch; and the common tumbler has the singular and strictly inherited habit of flying at a great height in a compact flock, and tumbling in the air head over heels. The runt is a bird of great size, with long, massive beak and large feet; some of the sub-breeds of runts have very long necks, others very long wings and tails, others singularly short tails. The barb is allied to the carrier, but, instead of a very long beak, has a very short and very broad one. The pouter has a much elongated body, wings, and legs; and its enormously developed crop, which it glories in inflating, may well excite astonishment and even laughter. The turbit has a very short and conical beak, with a line of reversed feathers down the breast; and it has the habit of continually expanding slightly the upper part of the oesophagus. The Jacobin has the feathers so much reversed along the back of the neck that they form a hood, and it has, proportionally to its size, much elongated wing and tail feathers. The trumpeter and laugher, as their names express, utter a very different coo from the other breeds. The fantail has thirty or even forty tail-feathers, instead of twelve or fourteen, the normal number in all members of the great pigeon family; and these feathers are kept expanded, and are carried so erect that in good birds the head and tail touch; the oil-gland is quite aborted. Several other less distinct breeds might have been specified.
(Copied from ‘The Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin)

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