Jon de Vos: Go south, young man
April 18, 2008
Last week, in the excitement and joy over a looming deadline, I forgot to mention that Sandhill Cranes are so named because early settlers, boating and fishing along the Platte River, often mistook the resting waterfowl for sandbars. You’d think they’d have figured it out after the 20,000th encounter but those were simpler times before Nintendo got the kids and desperation got the housewives.
Well, all this jabbering about cranes brought on a fowl mood that was heightened by this week’s arrival of the season’s first band-tailed pigeon at our backyard feeder.
Like so many snowy mornings this winter, we were trying not to look out the window. Outside it was snowing, windy and overcast, in other words, a typical day. Inside was warmer. We spent the morning reading the paper, drinking coffee and ignoring reality. Periodically we’d call in the dog and check the snow depth on her back.
We’ve kept track of the date of the pigeon’s arrival for the last decade since we saw the first one and this year’s bird is earlier by a week than we’ve ever seen one before. A year like this one makes you appreciate what it took to live in Grand County before snowplows, snowmobiles, and snow removal contracts.
That morning, I looked up just in time to see the pigeon swinging on the edge of the feeder.
“Look,” I said to my wife, “out there in the snow!”
“I can’t,” she said weakly, “I can’t look at the snow anymore. It’s mid-April, I need to go shopping.”
“Safeway?” I said, inquisitively.
“Scottsdale,” she replied, “San Diego, San Antonio, Sao Paulo, someplace, anyplace, where it’s warm.”
Outside at the feeder, we watched as the bird kept looking upward at the skies and you could almost read the thought balloon over his head, “I cannot believe I left Mazatlan for this.”
The band-tailed pigeon winters in Yuma, Ariz. and south into Mexico. Most of them summer in Idaho and Washington, but a few hardy birdbrains make it to Fraser. A true harbinger of spring, the sight of the summer bird cheered us immensely. Can an end to this cold snap that started last September be far behind?
The first pigeon we ever saw here dropped by in the spring of 1997. He stuck around all summer, just hanging out and staring in the windows at us.
It was a little creepy, a constant feeling that “someone is watching me.” We’d look up and sure enough, he’d be on the sill peering in at us.
The creepy quotient was raised, if you will remember, because 1997 was a bad year for the Hong Kong bird flu. I was re-reading Stephen King’s “The Stand” when I first looked up and saw him standing there and looking in at us. It seemed appropriate to name him “Captain Trips.”
Since we’d never seen a wild pigeon before, we figured some storm had blown him off course and being a soft touch, pretty soon he was eating well on a diet of sunflower seed. The following spring, there were three of them, then nine, then 81 and then it got out of control until today I’m going through a half ton of black oil sunflower seeds a year.
I started with one feeder during the summer but now my wife and I have so many feathered visitors that I’m considering conveyor belts, stadium-style feeders and plunking a down-payment on a combine.
Or maybe a restaurant featuring squab, I can’t decide.
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