I just witnessed one of the coolest things ever. It seems the park bench I chose to sit on, in the shaded section of an urban strip park comes with a show.
The park is approximately the width of a street, and I suspect at one time it probably was, or a service lane that often exists behind a more commercial main road. Nicely architected with green grass and lots of trees and benches that line the main walkway spaced just far enough away from each other to allow people to sit and enjoy, even if the next bench over is occupied by a drunken slob hung over from last night, which is often the case it seems in an area like this.
I see there is a tombstone for Barney near one of the park entrances. It inspired me to sit and blog from one of the benches. I found an empty one, which at certain times can be difficult. It’s a nice spring day and I quickly discover my seat is a perfect one, across from a spring singles party for the park pigeons. I notice a potential couple appear directly in front of me, in a prime spot slightly elevated and lit by the spring sunlight almost like a spotlight might light a stage. They walk up to the spot from an area off to the side where everyone is waiting to be next. She is already there as he swaggers into the sun-spotlight and begins his audition for the lady. He puffs right up, like he had throat to spare. His puffy chest catches the light and displays some very high-quality colours. A rainbow brighter than the suns reflection in an oil spill.
He was putting on a real show, unlike anything I’d personally seen before. He had moves. Still, after all this pomp and circumstance, she remained unimpressed. I suppose it just wasn’t what she was looking for. At first, they seemed to be bargaining, as if she said no, but he wanted to show off a few extra tricks. They walked away and back and away and back a few times as he chirped a last-ditch attempt. One final bow of rejection and the first contestant wanders off and flies away. I notice he doesn’t re-join the waiting list to try another mate later. I suppose the idea of being rejected by one puts a shadow on your chances. Even pigeons don’t want sloppy seconds.
As she holds her place in the sun, the next qualifier bounces over the sidewalk from the bullpen for his chance in the sun. This female pigeon and I have obviously different tastes because #2 was far less impressive to me. He hardly puffed up at all, and his dance moves were far less cheerful. Instead of rainbow colours,e he was just black. In less than half the time, she had made up her mind that #2 was the pigeon for her. Perhaps she’d had black before and couldn’t go back.
They bounce off together out of site and a new princess bride bounces across the concrete onto the mound and the rituals continue. I felt so privileged to see the first pairing because none of the bachelor’s next in line were as good. Some of them hardly tried at all, making me believe the first pairing might be something special.
Perhaps they were the community elders, and the rest are the common pigeons that all know each other from the neighbourhood. I have no idea but I have a suspicion that pigeons are locally minded. They find a statue they like and poop on it forever.
I often think about the birds and wish I could know more about bird languages. I ponder whether birds teach each other one language among birds or species of birds. One of the main reasons animals don’t progress much farther in evolution is they don’t always hang out with enough of them to form a common language. I’ve watched them. Like many humans, they seem to sit around and chat a lot. I’m certain they have a conversational language. They’re probably the most chatty animals in the kingdom.
Birds hang out. I assume they’re telling each other stories. Shared experiences about great watering places or the lady on Fifth Avenue that spreads seed out later in the day. Perhaps they tell stories about us. I imagine we can be quite comical to a bird. Our mating rituals are even stranger to witness than theirs.
Sadly, this grand showroom is also a prime spot for humans and a spontaneous game of catch starts up making noise and potential danger. One of the birds calls out, presumably saying the pigeon equivalent to shouting “CAR” when your ball hockey game is disrupted by those pesky vehicles that choose to drive on the roads you’ve designated as playing fields. If I listen closely I hear a single chirp I interpret as; “Ok Ladies and Gents; Take 5.” Bird language is far more efficient than English because the chirps are digital.
This is a great example of multi-use urban Park, even if they never intended it to be multi-species too. I remember the dog memorial I passed as I entered, and realize it is for in fact for all. A park like this is practically made just to allow the neighbourhood to walk their dogs… or lizards, or whatever will stay on the leash.
I never really understood the fun in playing catch. I have no memories of catch. It always seemed a pointless way to have a conversation, loudly across a park. I see even less enjoyment in a silent game of catch. I don’t get it. Even from the standpoint of exercise, you’re standing in one place using one arm. It’s some movement but not even as much exercise as walking to the park. I suppose my view may be biased by the fact I was probably horrible at it. I know I never liked playing Frisbee because it was just another sport I failed at. For me, Frisbee was more a game of throw and walk to pick it up
When the humans have had enough, they leave, but by now the sun has shifted and it no longer beams impressively on the ritual mound as it did before. Some pigeons return but just like humans, it seems it isn’t always easy to get back into an interrupted party vibe. The mood just isn’t the same, but I suppose some pigeons have plans to get it on, so they start again but as the first new female awaits her show, a dog wanders in.
The spotter pigeon calls out; DOG although I just hear a chirp that seems pretty much identical to the one he called out for HUMAN! They fly away. Since this is where people walk their dogs, I suspect the spotting of the first one means dating game is over for the day. Soon this will be the dog’s time to sniff buts and choose mates.
There is nothing worse than being interrupted by a horny dog when you’re trying to impress your pigeon… I imagine.
End note: This timeless blog post was originally written May 17th, 2015. I searched for it among archived unpublished work and brought it up front today by request because it is a nice story I like to tell whenever I get the chance.