Feelings About Pigeons!

5:18 PM (7 minutes ago)

So, I’m – uh – noticing a lot of pigeons popping up in my artwork lately. Rabbits, chickens, and now…pigeons. It seems my brain is a clearinghouse of nervous animals.
Yesterday, in the girl’s classroom, during Writers Workshop – a whole, (illegible) three page story to be quick-written by kindergarteners and first-graders! …the teacher explained that it is important not to state facts of experience in a list format. “Focus in, like a camera! Tell about the details!”

Well, details have never been an issue for me, I tend to lose the forest for the trees all too easily. Therefore, here is a list of why I have feelings about pigeons:

  • Pigeons are doves, aren’t they?
  • Pigeons fly unseen between tall buildings. They dominate the spaces in between.
  • Pigeons don’t seem to live ANYWHERE! But, the same ones are always in the same places.
  • Pigeons are intermittently brave beyond belief. And yet sometimes so stupid.
  • Pigeons come in a remarkable array of colors and make a mournful cooing sound.

Here are my two primary experiences with pigeons (although I, like most people, have had many subtly strange moments in the company of this mysterious yet mundane species.)

(There is a more brief account of this encounter published somewhere on this blog, an unfinished illustration accompanies it.)

Standing in my room in the last Portland house I lived in. Facing Northwest, late summer long evening light starting to shine through the ivy covered poplars that fenced the back line of our yard. (The gloss of the ivy leaves made the trees seemed dipped in gold for hours on end!)

The baby, a boy, not yet a month was with me. A diaper being changed by a girl not quite a mother.

And then (suddenly!) there was a sound, a banging and clattering at the window. I turned an it took my brain a very slow second to comprehend what I was seeing:

A red-eyed, pure white bird was flapping against the window. Not flying into the reflected sky and retreating, but almost grabbing at the window with it’s big, white wings.

My legs felt shaky and I closed the window and stared at the bird. Without thinking I moved to open the window and the bird flew away, wheeling back on its own wind.

I jammed open the window with my shoulder and leaned out the screenless opening. I could see that the bird was sitting on my neighbor’s chimney.

I stared dumbly at it for a minute before I scraped myself out of the window and propped it with a block of wood. I picked up the diaperless baby and held onto him.
(I wasn’t sure if what I saw was true until, while riding the #6 bus up Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., a woman who lived just soutwest of us approached me and said: “I just had to tell you – you live in that blue house on 7th? – I saw the most amazing thing a while ago. There was this bird, it was all white like a dove! And it just went up to one of your upstairs rooms, on the back side of the house? And it just flew there for a minute…like it was trying to get in, or look inside or something…”
“And then it flew away,” I told her.
“That’s God, right there. A dove like that! That’s God!” The woman and I shared a small moment on the bus and then we didn’t speak after we both got off at the same stop.
I didn’t tell her that, although the bird was white, I was pretty sure it was a pigeon, not a dove.


I thought it was really beautiful, the way they flew into the open attic vent every night, how they perched in that dark rectangle high up on the southern face of our home.

My room was upstairs then, and – falling asleep – I could hear them scuttling around, making themselves comfortable. A little disturbing, yes. But, oddly comforting as I knew the source of the sound.

When my father and mother came to visit and my father saw the pigeon’s dusk migration into the space above sleeping head, he was alarmed. Mites, fungus, vermin, feces, damagedamagedamage.

God or not, the pigeons and their reportedly massive piles of offage were evicted, their entrance boarded tight.

I think the same flock lives downtown now. No wonder they look so familiar.

Apparently pigeons and doves are, indeed, one and the same. Funny that doves are so revered and pigeons so scorned. They are both of the family Columbidae (I wonder what Columbus had to do with pigeons?) and all species produce what is called “crop milk” or “pigeon’s milk” – described as a thick yellowish lumpy paste that the birds produce in their “crop” – a pouch-like area in their esophagi. They use this “milk” to feed their young as it is very high in fat and protein.

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