There are, contrary to what many would think, lots of birds in Brooklyn. I’ve seen an osprey grab fish out of a small pond in Prospect Park. A red-necked grebe, possibly befuddled by the polar vortex, spent much of last March on Prospect Lake. Warblers – pine, palm, yellow-rumped and more – arrive in predictable succession each spring, and unusual sightings (prothonotory by the Upper Pool! mourning by the Quaker Cemetery!) are sure to draw a dozen or more binocular-draped paparazzi.
Most of these birds are migrants, just passing through, attracted to the little patch of green that is Prospect Park. When it comes to breeding birds, there’s considerably less variety. And when it comes to birds that don’t mind breeding in the dark, cramped gaps between buildings, or in the tiny patios and decks that pass for backyards on our block, you’re pretty much left with starlings, house sparrows, mockingbirds* and pigeons.
The last is my focus here. Feral pigeons, also known as rock doves, love this city. They especially love the narrow shaft between our building and the next, where window ledges, air conditioners and exhaust ducts jostle for space. Many of those window ledges and air conditioners have pigeon-deterring spikes on them . . . but not all. Those that don’t are, in effect, an invitation to pigeons to come and stay a while. Settle down. Raise a family.
Early this spring, I noticed two pigeons hanging out on the neighbors’ (unspiked) air conditioner. Then I noticed two eggs in the crevice between the air conditioner and the window: no nest, just two eggs surrounded by small feathers and streaks of pigeon filth. The parents (I assume they were the parents) were intermittently present but displayed very little interest in the eggs they’d produced.
I, on the other hand, was fascinated. I made a point of checking on the eggs each time I passed the first landing – yep, still there. As weeks went by, it became pretty clear that we weren’t going to be welcoming any baby pigeons into the world. I felt slightly relieved (good riddance! filthy birds! and what terrible parents, too!), but also slightly sad.
I spent most of May in Detroit for work, and when I got back, the scene had been transformed. On top of the same air conditioner, a pigeon now sat dutifully on a nest of carefully interlaced twigs. It was as though a pigeon social worker had been dispatched to provide our pigeon couple with counseling and parenting classes. I couldn’t see the eggs – that’s how faithful the sitting pigeon was – but I was sure they were there.
So they were, and this time, they hatched. I caught a glimpse of something larval squirming under the parent, and over the course of the next week, made out two chicks. In recent days, they’ve acquired downy yellow feathers and begun to look recognizably birdlike.
Soon, I’m sure, I’ll start to mutter things about “rats with wings.” But for the time being, I’ll be rooting for them.
*Super-annoying and the bane of rooftop gardeners. I just may kill one before the summer is over.