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Plagues Of Pigeons

2nd of December 2007

With the clocks going back my early morning dog walks are once again in day light, for a few weeks any way. I can manage the dark evenings, crumpets and a roaring fire, but I hate getting up in the dark.
Getting up to a fine sunny morning is a real treat and Ted, our young Labrador and I, try and make the most of it. A few mornings ago we had a wonderful view of two roe deer silhouetted on the horizon as they fed on the stubble. As we struck out across the field the sky was full of wood pigeons. As we crested the hill hundreds flew up from the stubble. Ted raced along the bank, making sure none were left undisturbed. I do not think I have ever seen so many! They were doing no harm where they were, but a flock of that size would soon decimate winter greens or next springs peas.
Wood pigeons have been breeding in our garden all year. As I work in the vegetable garden the males perform their display flight above me. They climb steeply, clap their wings noisily, then glide down again. Their nest is a thin platform of fine twigs, often silver birch. They only have two pure white eggs, but they seem to be managing three or four clutches a year so its no wonder the numbers are building up. Today, 1 November, we saw another bit of pigeon egg shell on the footpath, a sure sign they are making the most of the mild weather. The parents feed the youngsters with food regurgitated from their crops known as “pigeons milk”. They stay in the nest for a little over a month before going off to join the hordes. These young birds are quite distinctive as they lack the white neck patch of the adults.
Ted has astounded us all by catching wood pigeons in the past. The first one had eaten so many holly berries that it was almost too heavy to fly and he was able to leap up and pluck it from the air. I immediately thought of pigeon casserole, but he refused to give it up, swallowing it whole, feet and all. He has had about a dozen now and I have tried swapping them for Bonios and chews but he has not been persuaded, so I suppose I shall have to shoot some for myself. Theres no shortage!
Wendy Bathurst

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