Facing an Old Phobia

Alison JamesArticles

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it,
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love!

My goodness was Cole Porter ever right about the birds in this famous song of Let’s Fall in Love.  Eartha Kitt and Ella Fitzgerald purred their way through the lyrics, but I have never seen bees do it and I have no idea what an “educated flea” looks like. However, I do know that the plucky pigeons outside my window have been demonstrating that they know very well how to “do it”.

With an early my leaning in childhood towards being an ornithophobe, the keenness of the avian species has not eluded my attention.  On my junior schoolgirl trips to London for the purchase of obligatory school uniforms – tie, gymslip, blazer and hat – after arrival at Charing Cross Train Station a circumvention of Trafalgar Square was required.  With its feathered denizens en masse, ready to land on innocent shoulders and heads, this was provocation enough for terror-filled shrieks and a bee-line for the safety of people-populated pavements, hat or no hat.

Now armed with the knowledge that fear is an illusion (false evidence appearing real) I decided to get a little closer to my feathered  visitors here in New York City, albeit with a layer of glass in between us. I have discovered that pigeons are well-suited to city life for high craggy haunts are their natural nesting spots.  Their size belies their ability to balance on poles, wires and window sills – and anywhere else for that matter.  Perhaps it’s the shimmering crystals on my window ledge or the sun-bathing opportunities by my east-facing windows, but I have been able to observe some regular visitors and their goings on.

First it was the mottled grays. Initially, a wooing and cooing couple caught my attention, standing beak to beak, then preening each other with necks intertwined.  The resultant squabs were guarded by the mother through rain and snow while the father would chase off any unwelcome intruder from his turf – a ledge protruding some distance from my windows. A miracle of new life was taking place outside my city window, a gift and a sign while my book was being birthed.  Both male and female pigeons take turns to search for food and both allow their young to drink milk by inserting anxious beaks down their throats. When God separated himself to experience more of himself, he certainly achieved this on a physical plane through this process!

 It is the male mating behavior of pigeons that is the most eye-catching. Like Krishna’s peacock, male feathers are fluffed and paraded and then there is the mating dance.  Over the years I have watched rare footage of the mating habits of other exotic birds around the world as filmed by Sir David Attenborough, Britain’s acclaimed natural history filmmaker. From my New York City perch I have watched the mottled gray male go round and round in circles, his head bobbing away, as if he is dancing to KC and the Sunshine Band singing, “Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight,” all in a flurry of flirtatious feathers and until the female is sufficiently impressed.

 I thought I would try my own little dance, and I endeavored to engage in some etheric communication, but I was uncertain as to the results.  Thus I considered that some live “pigeon speak” would perchance connect me to them.  So through a slightly opened window the closest I came to their cooing sound was more akin to “cuckoo”, hardly a sound to attract any bird, but they watch and listen.

Now there are some newcomers, the black and white infidels, as territorial as the mottled grays.  A mating of the families seems to be the answer to the aggressive chasing and other displays of territorial ownership.  I tapped on the window at the new dominant black and white male recently, thinking to scare him off.  Much to my surprise, he hopped right up next to the window to get a closer look at me!  In that moment I recoiled, but he was not backwards in coming forwards.  I was the one all a-flutter.  “Cheeky pigeon,” I said, my arm waving and clapping coming to naught.  My fearless feathered teacher, in that moment, had me pegged.  If one of New York’s famous falcons were in the ‘hood, perhaps he would not have been so audacious!

As of today, you still will not find me in Trafalgar Square or the Piazza San Marco, Venice, or any other such international avian haunt. I am still working on my phobia, but I’ve come a long way, baby squab.  One day, I will fly away too!