January 30th   4 comments

A few people have mentioned to me this week that there are “too many pigeons” in Crail. By pigeons, I think they mean the flock of about 100 feral pigeons that sit on rooves along the High Street. A good proportion of these roost next door to me behind Greens. Pigeons like gulls are subject to a fair bit of bad press and antipathy generally. It’s a shame because they are one of those few species that still do well despite what we do to the environment. They like the same things we do and they are resilient, social urbanites. Perhaps they are just a bit too successful and in our face: we like our wildlife to know its place. But feral pigeons have a lot going for them.

For a start, feral pigeons are an interesting mix of plumages as a result of our selection of them for a farm animal and latterly as a pest. The gold standard plumage is that of the rock dove – the original, “pure” species that we started harvesting a long time ago. The pigeons you see around the cliffs and sea stacks of the wild west coast are more or less pure, original rock doves. Most feral pigeons in towns resemble wild rock doves, but there are random white and ginger birds, or black ones, or speckled individuals, left over from some selective breeding centuries ago. Rock doves like nesting in sea caves (there a few pairs nesting in Caiplie caves for example), so houses, castles and latterly purpose built doocotes are favourite similar sites in the many areas where there aren’t caves. And once you have pigeons nesting next to you, they are a lot easier to harvest for eggs, young or even adults than climbing up a cliff. We then selected and bred more useful and productive types, with plumage changing along the way – there are also all sorts of “fancy” types of pigeon as a result of selective breeding just for the sake of it, in the same way there are lots of types of dogs. And like dogs, once we abandon pigeons and they go feral, inbreeding and natural selection soon evens things out and they head back to the wild, rock dove plumage type. I had a rough count of the proportion of Crail pigeons that look like wild rock doves, and it’s about 80%, with only a few percent standing out as really odd, domesticated pigeon types. So our feral pigeons are actually much closer to the real thing than some now redundant, farm animal.

A very handsome pure type rock dove on Islay or a less favoured feral pigeon, if you find it in an urban area

The agents of our pigeon ethnic cleansing are the local peregrines, with a contribution from the local sparrowhawks and buzzards. If you have ever wondered why pigeons are such fast, agile flyers, then consider a peregrine, that in coastal and now some urban areas might take a pigeon a day, but only after an intense and occasionally prolonged aerial chase. The weak, and the odd plumaged, get noticed and culled, leaving those birds that are most like the original wild type, honed by millennia of selection to outfly peregrines. The odd plumaged Crail pigeons will be being gradually winnowed away as they feed in the fields around Crail and meet a hunting peregrine. Back among the rooftops of Crail they are relatively safe – which is why they are here of course, like the gulls. Perhaps the solution to the pigeon “problem” might be to encourage a peregrine to nest in the centre of Crail (or a goshawk which would do the same for the gulls as well). But if they did terribly well, they might become victims of their own success, like the pigeons. Perhaps I will be writing about “too many” peregrines in thirty years’ time.

The arbiter of pigeon plumage and form – a peregrine

Posted January 30, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

4 responses to “January 30th

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Woodpigeons are the biggest problem for farmers and those trying to grow veg in the Garden and there are plenty of them in Crail too!

  2. PS ‘Encouraging a peregrine to nest in the centre of Crail’: if there is a way of doing that, the Bank House roof might be a good place for that. It’s a flat roof, and access is pretty easy and safe. Are there nest boxes for that kind of thing? (Would that drive the swifts away though?)

    • Thanks for comments about the gulls and pigeons. I can see your roof from my house and we also have a couple of gull pairs and we share the same pigeons. I think on balance I would miss them a lot, even if it was quieter and less messy.
      Re encouraging a peregrine to nest in Crail. It would be brilliant if we could, but the only way would be to put up a very tall building, chimney or tower. One could just about nest on the cliffs at Castle Walk or Roome Bay, although they avoid fulmars and people when nesting so neither is very likely. Shame though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: