At the beck and call of backyard birds

I think the Glasgow pigeon that lives in our garden has dreams of glory. He - or is it she? - evidently wishes he was a carrier pigeon, a significant deliverer of messages. He feels, in his feathers, that he was meant for communication. He perches importantly on the pitch of the bird table roof and stares intently at the kitchen window.

Pigeons have a way of looking quite uppity when they want to. This stare (in the absence of writing or speech) is absolutely articulate. Without a doubt, it means: "Look here, you, inside the house there! It is high time for breakfast, and we are clean out of sunflower seeds. Where are you?"

The bird table, we realized soon after buying it and setting it up near the back door, was not designed with pigeons in mind. Essentially, it is a post with a little traylike platform on top where the food goes. This tray has four corner uprights that support a pitched roof made of a couple of slates and a wooden apex.

The roof keeps the worst of the weather off the seed, but the problem is that there's not enough room between it and the tray, and its supports are too close to one another for larger birds to fly in and eat.

So, even at the outset, the pigeons communicated their indignation. Frustrated, they perched while the sparrows feasted lavishly below their feet. They envied them grumpily. They also found the roof slates impossibly slippery in icy weather. As they flapped about, attempting to gain a foothold, they performed the pigeon version of a triple Lutz. It bore very little resemblance to the consummate and magical dignity of professional ice skating. They looked funny, but I am not sure pigeons are endowed with an overactive sense of humor.

I nailed in place a protruding, horizontal strip of wood, so that the pigeons could balance just outside the food tray - and then hop into it without having to open their wings. How quickly the granting of a privilege was taken for granted! In no time the pigeons saw their seed supply as their natural right, and if it was overlooked by me - even for a day - Mr. Pigeon was delegated to perch peevishly and stare at the kitchen window.

These pigeons are fussy. The wild birdseed we supply out of the goodness of our hearts - and with a little help from Costco - is a mixture of all kinds of wild seedy things, but it is the sunflower seeds that go first, and the pigeons are the chief gourmets. The smaller birds can peck away at the remainders if they choose, but the pigeons expect sunflower-seedreplenishment at frequent intervals.

Lately I have taken to staring back at the pigeon. I don't want him to think I am simply at his beck and call. I am, but I don't want him to think I am. So on this particular morning I decide, as a matter of principle, to keep him waiting a full five minutes. Finally, however, I fill a scoop and unlock the back door.

His routine is that as he hears the door unlatching, he vanishes. I have never been sure where he goes. But I am certain he is still watching, perhaps from the large fir tree. I am also sure he is muttering under his breath: "Coo! About time, too!"

This morning, however, I can see where he has gone. He flew up to the telephone wire in alarm when I suddenly skidded on the icy stone path by the bird table. He and his mate are up there balancing precariously.

What are such wires good for except as pigeon perches? What does this pretty avian pair know of the complex messaging technology of today that has made their breed's erstwhile postal usefulness - their function as "bearers of tidings" - so very ... erstwhile.

But what do they care, really?

I just managed not to spill the seed as I stumbled and, steadying myself by grabbing the bird table, released a mountainous repast into the tray.

Soon after I'd gone indoors again, I looked out, and Mr. and Mrs. were hard at it, stuffing their crops with sunny breakfast goodness. Their percussive eagerness was a message to me: "We are pleased with you," they were saying. "You have done your duty. But what was that slip all about?"

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