Dear Readers, over the years I have come to have an increased respect for the sheer curmudgeonliness of woodpigeons, who have an ability to be offended that surpasses even that of my local blue tits. It doesn’t take much for them to start standing on their tippy toes and flicking their wings at one another with a resounding crack which always sounds as if it would hurt. Imagine my delight, then, at reading my British Birds magazine and discovering that woodpigeons can also put that defensiveness to excellent use in trying to protect their nest from a perceived threat.
Paul Slater has been studying woodpigeons for many years, but in August 2020 he got a bit of a shock. He climbed up a tree to investigate a nest but instead of leaving, the adult bird flicked his or her wings at Slater and remained determinedly in situ. This surprised Slater as he had made over 2500 visits to woodpigeon nests in the Liverpool area, counting the eggs and ringing any young birds, and this was the first time that an adult had not only stayed put, but had attacked him. Slater remarks that usually the adult woodpigeon, on seeing a huge human climbing the tree, will drop to the ground and pretend to be injured (a behaviour that I didn’t know was in their repertoire).
When Slater visited again in September 2020, the chicks were large enough for ringing and so up he went, only to be met by a barrage of blows (which he comments were ‘surprisingly hard’). By this point in the story I am full of admiration for this feisty bird who was clearly taking no prisoners. Slater reports that on a subsequent visit he observed at least one large chick, but he had no need for any more tree climbing, and so the birds were left to get on with their lives.
It makes me wonder if urban woodpigeons are actually getting tougher – there’s a marked difference between city and country woodpigeons in terms of their shyness, and I remember the tale of a West Country farmer many years ago who, when asked what had impressed him most about a visit to London remarked that it was the tameness of the woodpigeons. Adaptation is a wonderful thing, and I’m sure that woodpigeons will continue to develop in whichever way helps them to survive the best.
A perfect way to start my day 🙂
We noted how relatively relaxed and approachable the various ‘wild’ birds were in the Scillies. I’m assuming that’s because they haven’t yet learnt to fear humans (or at least the kind of humans who visit the Scillies!)
I know that you often see sparrows picking up crumbs around picnic tables, but we were almost attacked by a particularly feisty robin, which sat within inches of us – once on my rucksack, which I will no doubt post a picture of when I get a few minutes…
There’s a robin at Walthamstow Wetlands that positively insists that you throw it some crumbs by sitting on the back of the nearest tree and watching your every move….