Wednesday 23 October 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Life moves pretty fast - but backyard birds are worth looking at...'

Avian hostel: Ian took care of two baby pigeons after they were found in the eaves of his home
Avian hostel: Ian took care of two baby pigeons after they were found in the eaves of his home
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Well, I suppose it all began the summer before last.

It was around this time of the year and we were getting the gutters cleaned when we were told we had a minor issue.

Not with the gutters - thank Beelzebub, because I have no DIY skills and just become angry and confused when I have to pretend I know what the experts are talking about - but the minor issue was actually an issue about minors. Two baby pigeons to be exact.

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A mother pigeon had set up home in the eaves and was rearing two chicks.

They would have to go.

But how do you kick out a single mother and her two babies? I mean, I'm not a landlord and while I don't believe in heaven or hell, it never hurts to hedge your bets.

In the highly unlikely event that there is any sort of afterlife, I would imagine there is a rather hot place awaiting anyone who could be so callous.

So, once we had carefully brought them down from the roof, we had to decide what to do.

The mother fluttered around nervously, but didn't scarper as we had been told she would. In fact, we had been warned that once a pigeon even sees a human near her chicks, she will just abandon them to their fate.

As it transpired, nothing could be further from the truth.

For the first few days, we mostly kept Jack and Vera inside the house in a box with plenty of the bedding they like and unsuccessfully tried to feed them meal worms.

During the day, we'd put the box outside on a table in the back for a while and we quickly noticed something else - the mother stayed on our roof, keeping her beady pigeon eyes on us for the whole time.

In fact, she even started to wake us up in the morning by landing on the window ledge and making as much noise as possible.

So we all fell into a strange routine. She would wake us up, we would bring the pigeons out, she would feed them and then fly away until later that evening, when she would return with more food.

By this stage, they were beginning to waddle around the back garden and had become such a fixture in the household that Sam the rescue terrier even got into the habit of trying to herd the pair of them back into the safety of the kitchen.

The whole thing was, for a time, simply glorious.

I'd grown up around people with pigeon lofts in Crumlin but never paid much attention - at that age, if an animal wasn't a dog, I didn't have much interest.

But the more attached I got to little Jack and Vera, and the more impressed I became by the mother's apparent understanding that we meant no harm and were only trying to help, the more intrigued I became by the ugly little buggers.

Long story short, Vera was taken by a seagull and, I don't mind admitting, it was a strangely upsetting experience.

I'd grown fond of her because she was by far the braver of the two and had been attacked as she explored the garden while Jack the little wuss stayed hidden behind the barbecue - a barbecue I had hardly used since they arrived, because I reckoned then and reckon now that cooking a chicken in front of the birds would have been too traumatic for them.

Eventually, after a period of us worrying that Jack had become too used to home comforts and would never leave the house, he began to spread his wings.

Jack and his mother promptly flew away to set up a new home - all of a few feet to the eaves where we first found them and where they still live.

Are they the same pigeons? Well, I'm no expert, but I hope - and think - they are.

We tend to walk around with our eyes down - both metaphorically and literally, as it happens - and we seldom pay attention to the constant conflict and drama that is taking place just above our heads. And we really should, because it's bloody engrossing.

But as much as we observe the birds, I've become strangely convinced that the birds observe us. That's likely to freak out some people who are terrified of the winged creatures (sorry, auntie Pat) but since we had our experience with Jack and Vera, our back garden seems to have become a bit of an avian hostel for birds who aren't afraid of people.

The bird bath seems to have become a popular watering hole for the locals, and I've even learned that they like to soak their bread before eating it - I removed half a slice of white bread from the bowl, only for Sidney to promptly put it back into the water when I turned my back.

Can you be admonished by a bird? Well, it can certainly feel like that.

Those of us who live in the city have, by and large, become rather removed from the wildlife around us and that's a damn shame because there are hours of endless pleasure to be had from looking at how the birds interact, or hearing the foxes call at night, or just the simple pleasure of looking at animals having fun in your garden.

As that wise man Ferris Bueller once said, "life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it".

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