A failure to communicate: the absurd mating (mal)practices of the urban pigeon

I am very much a fan of watching urban wildlife in action. That there is so much wildlife in a city of 2.5 million makes me both hopeful and nervous. That beasties of all sorts can continue to make lives for themselves in such over-peopled areas is encouraging. But, of course, bad things also happen to them when the crowding or the machinery or the cops or your family pet get involved.

Today, I prefer to focus on the absurd and surreal pleasure that sometimes arises out of such tenuous co-existence.

Almost nothing is more urban than the humble pigeon. They’re everywhere, and everyone hates them, but they interest me strangely. They are so uncool. Which, you know, I can sympathize with. Apparently, I also interest them strangely, and that’s awkward.

Last week, I was sitting outside, near a very busy intersection, in an adorably tiny parklet. This parklet is, all told, smaller than my very small house, but it’s rich with urban wildlife–I saw a whole frap of tinyrats there several weeks ago, for example. This time, as I sat drinking my caffeinated beverage of extreme deliciousness and reading my book, I periodically looked up at the kit of pigeons pecking frenetically at the cement a few feet from me. They were doing the regular things pigeons do: eating and trying to make out with each other.

Pigeons work very hard when possessed by the biological urge to mate. The males perform a complicated dance routine comprising turning in circles while also (shit, so coordinated! I couldn’t this) alternately bobbing their heads and tails up and down. Their uber-masculine tails proudly spread and drag seductively on the ground; their throats puff up to the point of near explosion and they coo persuasively from deep in their little barrel chests.

Meanwhile, the ladies they’re trying to impress alternate between looking bored, looking curiously at these alien creatures apparently going bat-shit crazy right in front of them, and agreeing. Now, agreeing for lady pigeons simply means settling comfortably on the ground nearby and waiting for the gentlemen pigeon to remember that it’s babies he wants to make, not the top four on the next season of So You Think You Can Dance?

These guys forget the difference surprisingly often. Having missed (one of my) calling(s) as a zoologist, I’ve spent more time than is cool, and perhaps more time than is totally free of the weird, watching pigeons fail to make the beast with two backs. (I can’t at all explain why there are so many of them, given what freakish losers they are.)

So, I was watching these two lusty pigeons attempt to make out with one another when, lo!, the lady pigeon decided that tonight was the night and sat down. He kept dancing, however; the art was just, you know, so moving, so real, that he couldn’t stop. It would have been dishonest, it would have been to show disrespect to the universe that created him–created him to dance. So, he kept dancing, and she kept sitting provocatively but with increasing consternation; eventually, she got tired of what a pretentious dumbshit he was being and wandered away.

He noticed this. He looked around in pain and confusion. He noticed my presence. He jumped up onto the concrete wall I was sitting on and looked curiously at me. I figured he wanted food but I had none; I apologized and returned to my book. But he didn’t leave. Indeed, shortly afterwards, he started doing his wild, sexy dance at me! This has never happened before. He danced and danced and edged closer; I stared in wonder, in confusion, in merriment, in solemn concern for how badly he was going to take it when he realized I was not going to reciprocate.

I wasn’t worried about how he’d feel when he realized I wasn’t a she-pigeon; he already knew this! He hadn’t been looking at my shoe or my purse or my coffee or my knee and thinking, “Ha! Pigeon! Time to get funky.” He’d been looking me in the eye the whole time; clearly, my mistake had been to return his gaze.

He was so game, that when I laughed at him he not only wasn’t mortified, he didn’t miss a beat–he kept dancing. I decided to make things clear and I waved my hand at him; he understood because while he was infinitely more open-minded than intelligent, he wasn’t a complete idiot. He wandered off and found his original lady and tried again. And when he succeeded and she sat down to begin their beautiful pas de deux, he again failed to notice. She went looking for someone else and probably failed in spite of being a perfectly respectable-looking hen of child-bearing age.

I stayed a little longer, watching the wee birds’ strange failures to communicate, but when a second pigeon tried to convince me to engage in a love that I really hope doesn’t have a name more specific than bestiality, I decided it was time to move on.

Two of these nerds actually thought they had a chance.
Two of these nerds actually thought they had a chance.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. heidenkind says:

    You know birds can recognize human faces, right? They’re probably pigeon crushing on you.

    1. Colleen says:

      I did not know that! What you’re telling me then, is that when he said “Haven’t I seen you before?” he wasn’t just using a tired pick-up line.

  2. Stefanie says:

    Oh my goodness Colleen! Hilarious! Maybe they love you because you are the only one who can truly appreciate them and their artistic sensibilities 🙂

    1. Colleen says:

      Quite possibly. I am a visionary, after all. ;P

  3. Colleen says:

    Tasha, that’s cool–thanks for posting the link. SCIENCE!

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