Urban Fledglings

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.

Young pigeons have dark eyes; their parents have red eyes.

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.

Young pigeon on the nearby building ledge that leads to its hidden nest.

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.

It's scary out here.

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.

Who's watching the kids?

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

"Mom? Dad? Is that you up there?"

When they noticed me, they became curious

"Oh. Hello."

 The birds sometimes made awkward landings or, like adolescents everywhere, exhibited poor judgment compounded by inexperience.  When the cat made a sudden appearance,

Inter-species fascination

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.

Inter-species obliviousness.

 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.

Members of Victor's flock

Or join the flock that feeds every day in Morningside Park.

Pigeons like snowflakes

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.
Explore posts in the same categories: 2011, April, Birds, In the City, June, Seasons, Spring, Summer, Wildlife/Natural History

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10 Comments on “Urban Fledglings”

  1. […] spring, I watch a brood or two of squabs learn to fly from a nest hidden between my building and the building next door. (To see an amusing video of the […]

  2. Georgia Says:

    All you need is a webcam!

  3. Wild_Bill Says:

    I really liked this post. When I was a kid I used to raise homing pigeons and one of the many benefits was watching the adults rear the fledglings. Pigeons are wonderful parents and are really attached the their young. One of the adults used to stay with the baby pigeons all of the time, especially when they were older, to keep them from toppling out of the nesting box.

    In the rural areas we have had morning doves for years, but more recently pigeons have been showing up, living under bridge abutments and in barns.

    A very adaptable bird!

  4. mthew Says:

    You’ll have to repeat this great post for all springs to come!

    Why do New Yorkers ask this question, anyway, when it’s most likely they’ve never seen ANY baby bird? Baby house sparrows and baby starlings fill many a nook and cranny above the streets, after all, this time of year, when the ones who don’t make it litter the sidewalks.

    Oh, and about baby squirrels. It’s best you don’t see them. If they see you they might start to bond with you and crawl up your leg.

  5. Excellent post. By chance yesterday we were discussing our own city’s wood pigeons and collared doves and saying isn’t it funny you never see baby ones. Were they really born full sized? we wondered…
    So thank you for solving the mystery and (always) entertaining us with your tales of wildlife in NYC.

    • Thanks so much for visiting, Squirrelbasket. Delighted to hear you were just asking the baby pigeon question. There’s currently a new crop of babies haning out on the ledge (pigeons run a baby bird assembly line in good weather, it seems), so I may have to do a sequel. Haven’t been able to capture the feeding by a parent yet.

  6. nycedges Says:

    I’m one of those NY’ers that always wondered why I never saw a baby pigeon & now I know they’ve been there all the time…..but what about baby squirrels????
    you’re knowledge & insight about urban wildlife is always appreciated!

  7. Charlotte Says:

    Great pix and post! You expose the trails and tribulations of young pigeons so well, and the hard, desperate times of domesticated cats (poor things) as well. Can’t believe all that activity, from sex to birth to learning how to fly, is going on outside your window!

    • Thanks, Charlotte. It is amazing what’s right outside the window. I keep hoping to see a hawk on one of the water towers again, but it’s been a while. A red-tail once landed on the ledge outside my father’s apartment across from Central Park and just sat there for ten minutes. You never know…

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