This last week, I’ve been distracted from paying attention to the wildlife in my garden by wildlife of a very different sort, from the US. An article in the paper prompted me to look at a webcam, which has been set up in the den of a pregnant wild black bear, called Lily, who lives in the currently frozen wilds of Minnesota. Lily was about to give birth and I found myself gripped with fascination and suspense, staying up well past my bed time for more than one night, until she gave birth to her first cub. Imagine having bears on the doorstep! It’s just as well I don’t live in the US or I’d probably never go anywhere except the forest.
Here in the UK, the snow and ice melted long ago (at least a week) and although more cold weather is forecast, the birds have reacted to the increase in warmth and the hedgerows have been filled with songs and cooings. It’s a welcome change from the silence of the freezing weather, when most birds hadn’t the energy to spare for singing.
Anticipating the coming of spring, first off the blocks are the wood pigeons. It’s easy to tell when pigeons are thinking about mating because they’re so obvious about it. I’ve seen them in the courtyard this week, one following the other, with the following bird continually bobbing its head in an attempt to allure its mate. Then, there is the increase in cooing, which is another give away.
Home sweet home?
The most obvious sign that pigeons are getting ready to mate is when they start to collect nesting material and they’ve been doing this for a few days now - walking about under the trees, picking up twigs, testing them for some mysterious quality and then throwing them down again and moving on to the next one.
Pigeons have one of the most uncomfortable looking nests I’ve ever seen, just a layer of criss-crossed sticks high in a tree. No leaves, no moss, or anything that looks as if it might insulate even a little bit. If you look at a pigeon’s nest from beneath, you can see daylight through the gaps. It’s hard to imagine starting life in a draughty, rickety platform in a tree, but pigeons were the UK’s most numerous bird in 2005 and they don’t seem to have decreased in numbers, so it can’t do them any harm. I count the days until the pigeons actually start to take away the twigs, rather than playing with them.