In the middle of April, I saw my first fledglings of the year: Columba livia, also known as rock doves, and best known simply as … pigeons.
Three brave young birds landed awkwardly on the window ledge and air conditioner of my sixth floor NYC apartment, having made their first flight from the nest hidden some yards away on a ledge between two buildings.
Apparently many New Yorkers insist they’ve never seen a baby pigeon, and believe a mystery, possibly including a conspiracy of some sort, surrounds that strange factoid. “Where are all the baby pigeons?” they ask in a tone implying that no one is pulling the wool over their eyes. The answer is simple: they’re all around you.
Pigeon babies spend their first weeks on simple nests, sometimes no more than an unstructured collection of random twigs) that are usually hidden from sight high up on building ledges. It’s not until they start flying and feeding independently that they’re spotted by human New Yorkers. By that time, they sport adult feathers and have reached their adult size. In fact, they may be fatter than many adults, since they have little muscle tone, having spent their first weeks sitting on the nest, being crammed with food by doting parents. So baby pigeons are all around us, though difficult for a casual observer to distinguish from an adult. Look for dark eyes, a curious disposition, and stray bits of down that yield a slightly scruffy appearance to the youngsters.
As for the clumsy, curious and skittish young pigeons outside my window, well, I felt a degree of attachment to the naive and ungainly trio. After all, I had watched the parents mate – repeatedly, I might add – on the air conditioner outside my bedroom.
I had seen the male carry twigs and unidentified objects to the secret nest.
I had heard the low coos of parental pillow talk and the wild peeps of infant hunger. Now the big babes stood outside my window, craning their necks around to look down at the street, up at the sky, and inside the apartment at me.
Truly, they seemed, at first, stunned by their new perspective on the great world. Several times over the next few days, one of the babies would huddle for hours beneath the air conditioning unit (the top of which had been the scene of many a parental coupling). It would peer out, crying for mom and dad with high-pitched peeps that belied its size.
Sometimes a parent flew down and fed the babies. At other times, Mom and Dad perched on the railing of a nearby balcony, where they could keep an eye on the youngsters.
The pigeons spent the better part of a week practicing their flying, indulging their curiosity and learning about the world. They craned their necks to track adult birds flying overhead
When they noticed me, they became curious
The birds sometimes made awkward landings or, like adolescents everywhere, exhibited poor judgment compounded by inexperience. When the cat made a sudden appearance,
one bird flew straight up and straight into the window screen. Seems counter-intuitive, I know, but that’s what happened. It then clung by its claws to the screen for several seconds, its wings madly flapping, completely freaking out the poor old cat. I was afraid it was stuck, but it freed itself and flapped clumsily off.
Over the course of the next week, the birds stopped peeping for their parents, and became assured fliers. They even gained some tolerance for cats on the other side of the glass.
The pigeon siblings are off to join the legions of rock doves that swirl through the New York skies.
Maybe they’ll try to infiltrate Victor Casiano’s rooftop flock, just a block away.
Or join the flock that feeds every day in Morningside Park.
Wherever they go, I wish them luck.For more about the love life of pigeons, read Sex and the City Bird, NYC Wildlife: The Pigeons Outside My Window and Sex and the Pigeon. For more about Victor Casiano, the last rooftop pigeon fancier in Morningside Heights, read Victor Casiano’s Rooftop Pigeons and Up on Victor’s Roof.