The anxiety of pigeons

Cat observing pigeons

PigeonsMany of the buildings in the center of Madrid have interior and exterior apartments. An exterior apartment borders the street, while an interior one meets the apartment building on the parallel street. Imagine a solid building with a few shafts bored out of the center. When you open the curtains in the morning, the chances are that, a few feet across from you, you will see your neighbor doing the same. Both of you try to pretend that you do not see the other.

At the back of our apartment on Calle San Ildefonso, the building opposite contained a few very small windows that nobody opened, with small ledges. As a result, the pigeons moved in and made nests out of them. Every year, in spring and in autumn, the pigeons who had taken up residence directly opposite our bedroom window laid two eggs. In autumn, usually the eggs did not hatch, or if they did, the chicks did not survive. When the chicks died, the mother sat with them for a day or two, and then the two pigeons tried to avoid touching the corpses, moving to the far side of the window ledge. In winter, the pigeons spent most of their time huddled together in one corner of the ledge.

One year, in spring, the pigeons laid two eggs and one of them survived. All baby animals are cute: we seem to have a genetic predisposition to find babies of any species cute, I suppose to encourage us to care more about them and nurture them through their dangerous infancy. Baby pigeons are an exception. When they hatch, they are vomit yellow, with scraggly necks and feathers that remind you of the wisps of hair of an old man who has not washed his hair in weeks. It is hard, if not impossible, to look at a baby pigeon and think that it is cute. They make a lot of noise very early in the morning, and they require constant feeding from both parents. I saw the pigeons flying all day to bring food – they took turns staying at home to look after the baby and going out to work. Pigeon parenting is very egalitarian.

After a few days, the pigeon was able to sort of stand and observe things around herself. Unfortunately, in the shaft in which she was born, there was very little to see, except for my wife and I as we walked past the window, and every time we did, the baby pigeon tried to press herself against the back window, to get as far away from us as possible. After a few weeks, however, the baby was bigger, less afraid and more curious, and most importantly, less ugly. She was starting to resemble what we know as a pigeon. By this time, as well, the parents started to leave the baby for longer and longer periods, and eventually they left her for whole days, returning only in the evenings after work.

Eventually, the pigeon started to explore. She walked to the edge of the ledge, looked down, stretched her wings and flapped back. She did this for several days. Then one day I looked out of the window and saw the pigeon standing on our window ledge. Then she flew back to her nest.

The next day, the baby pigeon was gone. I felt sad that she had left. For the entire day, we heard the flapping of pigeon wings, and when we looked out, we saw both the mother and the father flying back and forth through the shaft, looking for their baby. They flew up and down, from side to side, for the entire day. I assumed that the baby had flown away when they were out at work. I wondered if the baby would be all right. How would she find food? Would she be able to find her way back if she needed help? Would she be lost in the city? Was she already lost? Perhaps the parents were thinking the same. I went to bed and worried about the baby pigeon.

When I woke up, the pigeon was not there. I made breakfast, had a shower and got dressed. Then I glanced out the window and the baby pigeon was there, back on our window ledge. Not only the baby, but the father, too, stuck to his child as if by glue, never more than ten centimeters from her. When the child walked from one side of the ledge to the other, the father went there too. When she flew back to the nest, the father flew there too. When she leaped into the air and flew away, so too did the father.

That was the last time we ever saw the baby pigeon. The parents eventually returned and laid more eggs, but none survived. Finally the builders came and renovated the building, destroying the nest in the process. The parents moved on, and we moved away.

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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Published by William Alan McNeice

I have been writing for most of my life. I write novels, plays, screenplays, and short stories, usually with a strong element of humor or satire. Go to for more. I live in Madrid, Spain, and work as a copy editor, editing fiction, academic texts in the humanities, and computer programming texts. I am a fan of the Oxford comma. I have lived in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Germany, Poland, and now Spain, and my wife and I intend to settle down somewhere, someday. In my spare time, I like to set myself ridiculous challenges. For 2017, I am spending the entire year offline (except for work), which means that I have absolutely no idea what is going on in the world today. It is very relaxing.

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