They were Just Talking

Digital illustration from a photo: They were Just TalkingI listen to the mourning doves that coo and call in the shadows nearby and think that they do indeed sound ineffably sorrowful. The low, guttural sounds they make seem to my ear quite melancholy and, no matter how musical, to convey a kind of tragic news that makes me wonder just what it is that they say to one another. In my mind, they are exchanging the saddest of sad information, a litany of lachrymose lugubriousness.

In addition, I fear that I don’t give them enormous credit for wit and intellect, so if you’ll pardon the expression, I suspect that what conversation they do have is probably akin to what we American human-types sometimes call pidgin English—any actual content of worth being marred by the lack of intelligible vocabulary and syntax. But, to paraphrase what someone wiser than I has also said, if pigeons are the arbiters of intelligence in the same way that we humans are when we assume ourselves to be the wisest and brightest beings in creation, then all other creatures will by default be found wanting. No wonder the pigeons deign to unload their critiques on the heads of our celebrated effigies in the park.

The truth, I imagine, is that mourning-dove conversation is no less and no more wise and scintillating than our own, at least in the context of pigeon society. Heaven knows that anyone who translated my quotidian chitchat into ‘pigeon English’ would probably be violating the Columbiformian (I just made that up from their Latin name, thank-you-very-much) Geneva Conventions by boring them to death with my inanity and my extreme dull-wittedness when it comes to where to find the best yucky trash to eat, how to maintain the pecking order in the flock, or why one must always look for the shiniest surface on an automobile for proper deposition of one’s automotive excretions. So no matter how tragic the tone of the mourning-doves’ vocalizing sounds to a mere humanoid like me, it could be that they were just discussing their plans for world domination and the swell soirée with which they intend to celebrate it.Digital illustration from a photo: They were Just Talking 2

Malignant or Maligned?

Are pigeons the oppressors or the oppressed? Having been a-traveling a bit recently, I was reminded of the omnipresence of pigeons, those birds noted as the comforting signatories of nature’s profound adaptability and variability, and less kindly but perhaps a bit more succinctly, as flying rats. Yes, I have seen a pigeon perch with apparent deliberation on the roof edge over a family’s picnic table, point its posterior in their general direction, and release a firehose-worthy arc of nastiness that sent the poor humans scattering for shelter. While I’ll readily agree that pigeons are known disease-carriers, that they tend to crowd out less aggressive and smaller birds from their habitats, and that they are notorious painters of streaky badness upon all and sundry within their aim, I still harbor a fondness for them in small doses–and preferably from a safely higher position.photo

Part of the sympathy stems from knowing that their widespread propagation was partly human-driven, as growing and/or roaming anthropoid populations gradually displaced native ones over time (also human, among many other creatures), and as people also on occasion deliberately imported various kinds of pigeons to new locales for other reasons. Certainly part of the feeling stems, as well, from knowing that we people-types are largely responsible for the decline and sometimes extinction of whole species–the rule rather than the exception, when it comes to pigeon families. The Passenger Pigeon is only the most obvious example of what has happened and is happening still among pigeon-kind, and no coy and cuddly images of how we embrace the Dove of Peace can counter that fact.photo

But let’s face it, this is neither a scientific treatise nor a polemic indicting all mortals for such depredations. We are a merciless lot, generally, and I am not in the least exempt from all ignorance or guilt. No, honestly, what struck me as I was pigeon-watching along my way on this latest outing was a much shallower, yet still pleasing and even, intermittently, refined aesthetic appreciation of the breed. I simply like watching their fluttery interplay. Their tumbling and stumbling acrobatics in a pool of water. I like watching how they quickly establish a pecking order whenever a group assembles, how they strut around preening and showing off for each other with a certain amount of pomposity and frivolousness, and turn instantly to blurry streaks catapulted into the air if they sense any danger, which includes the slightest movement of air around them or a change in the light. In short, I like anthropomorphizing them and being amused at how like them we are, squabbling and flirting and showing off and taking wicked potshots at each other and everything around us. I like watching them fly in such smooth synchrony when they circle their way through an updraft, and burst into chaotic motion when anything disrupts the flow. And of course, magpie that I am, I like looking at the myriad colors and patterns and iridescent gleaming streaks that paint the birds into something less commonplace than such a common creature ought to be.graphite drawing