Of Pigeon’s Throats….

Collared doves at slow shutter speed.

Dear Readers, earlier this week I was sent this poem by sllgatsby, a regular reader with a fine taste in verse, and I thought I would share it with you. There is something so gentle and reassuring about the cooing of pigeons of all kinds – I remember the way that the call of the woodpigeon would echo down my parents’ chimney when they were having their afternoon naps in Dorset, almost like a lullaby. This poem has an enigmatic, melancholy beauty, a handful of images that feel very cinematic to me. Hans Ostrom is a very interesting poet, who has taught African-American literature and has written books on poet Langston Hughes, and has also taught at Uppsala University in Sweden and in Germany. All in all, he has a most ecletic and intriguing mix of interests and influences.

Of Pigeons’ Throats

by Hans Ostrom

Trickling cold water springs bubble up
in throats of pigeons.

In pigeon throats, weary
orderlies push medicine carts

down dim hospital corridors, and
one weak, wobbly wheel eeks.

Old folks sit around
tables, mutter alibis, lullabies,

and goodbyes in parlors I’ve
imagined there in pigeons’ throats,

which speak in pigeon-code of untraveled
highways upholstered in ground-mist…

gray, green, and purple purses full of coins from
lost currency… pearl light of railroad windows, dawn.

And so that you can enjoy the sounds of our native doves and pigeons, here’s a selection for your delectation.

This first one is the aforementioned woodpigeon. In my Crossley Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, it’s suggested that the call sounds like ‘my TOE BLEEDS Betty’, and it’s certainly a five-syllable call, with lots of emphasis on the second and third syllables. I have one local bird who repeats this pattern three times and then sticks an extra ‘word’ on at the end. The call is particularly fine when heard down a chimney.

This is a bunch of feral pigeons. The actual call is, I’m sure, a male doing his little ‘whirligig’ dance to impress a female. I particularly like the wing claps as they all take off.

This is a turtle dove. The call is supposed to sound like ‘turrr-turrr’, and the bird is named for its call, rather than any resemblance to a marine reptile. The call reminds me of an old-fashioned ‘ringing’ tone on a telephone, but I bet most of you are Far Too Young to remember such things.

This is a stock dove, which has the most unassuming call of all the pigeons, to go along with its generally placid and gentle nature. The call is basically a series of ‘ooo’ sounds, but, as the Crossley guide puts it, it’s ‘a soft sound from the treetops very easily missed in bird chorus’.

And this is a collared dove. The first sound is the ‘landing call’, which sounds to me a bit like a kazoo. The normal call is a quite fast three-note cooing: Crossley says that it’s in the rhythm of ‘U-NIII-ted’ and I think that’s just about right. See what you think.

And just to add a bit of Transatlantic interest, here’s the melancholy song of the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura), recorded in Arizona by Richard E. Webster.

And finally, for our Australian friends, here’s the call of the Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophoteswhich has pared back its song to the most minimalistic (recording by Marc Anderson)

However, the sound of the bird in flight is extraordinary – have a listen to these wing beats (recording also by Marc Anderson)

Crested pigeon mating display (Photo  By Lip Kee Yap, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5985226)

The pigeon family is extremely diverse, but even our feral pigeons, so often overlooked, are intelligent, adaptable and attractive birds. It saddens me that they when they aren’t overlooked they’re often seen as ‘feathered rats’ (and don’t get me started on the virtues of rats or we’ll be here all night). Suffice it to say that pigeons are much maligned, and deserve a little more of our care and attention and a little less of our contempt.

A pair of pigeons in Bunhill Fields, City of London

11 thoughts on “Of Pigeon’s Throats….

  1. Anne

    I am surrounded by the calls of doves and pigeons daily: mostly Laughing Doves and Red-eyed Doves with a few Speckled Pigeons in between. Their calls are part of my soundscape and so I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to the selection of calls you have provided today!

  2. sllgatsby

    I am so glad you enjoyed the poem. I too find the author and his poetry interesting and eclectic.

    I grew up in southern California and the smell of eucalyptus, lantana, and geranium are permanently entwined with the call of the Mourning Dove, one of my favorite bird calls.

  3. Claire

    I just loved this poem, and all the recordings. My flat is just under the roof, so I can hear a lot of birds calls through the ventilation when the birds perch on the chimney pots. Feral pigeon or wood pigeons, crows or magpies, pigeons are by far the nicest too hear.

  4. Garden Life

    Our pet name for woodies is ‘rock pigeons’ from the rhythm of their call – ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ – when we both found ourselves unaccountedly haunted by the song until the penny dropped. We have been privileged to view a pair of these sucessfully raise two youngsters this year as their nest is in an enormous Bay tree that grows across our stairs window, an unexpected delight.


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