Over the last few days I have noticed a growing and untidy pile of sticks on the roof of the chicken run. These are arranged in such a way as to suggest they have not come to rest here naturally. In fact, they are evidence that the Woodpigeons have initiated another nesting attempt in the Holly tree under which the chicken run is placed. Looking up into the tree’s branches, the scruffy excuse for a nest can be plainly seen, complete with a broad, square ended tail poking out behind.
I always feel a little disappointed by the Woodpigeon’s clear deficiencies in the building department. Not only does the nest seem woefully inadequate, full of gaps through which both sky and egg may be seen, but there is a sense of laziness that comes from the pile of wasted sticks below the nest. I cannot comprehend why the pigeon fails to make use of these. If a stick does not hold its position during building, but falls to the ground below, why does the pigeon not pick it up and try again? Surely, it must be less demanding to pick up the stick instead of going elsewhere to find a replacement.
While other birds build their nests and rear a family with industrious commitment, the pigeon’s approach seems lackadaisical, half-hearted and, to be brutally honest, amateurish. They lay just two eggs and it is not unusual to find one or both smashed on the ground beneath the nest, especially on days when there is a bit of a breeze. The females do, however, sit fairly tightly once they have begun incubation, patiently passing the 16 or so days before the eggs come to hatch.
Young pigeons (which are known as squabs) are decidedly ugly, especially when newly hatched, but they grow rapidly and soon acquire a covering of body feathers. The squabs are reared on a diet of ‘milk’ (more properly known as ‘crop milk’), which the parent regurgitates from special cells in its crop. A hungry chick will force its head into its parent’s open bill to receive a mixture of water, fats and proteins not dissimilar to mammalian milk. For the first few days this is all that the young chicks receive but as they get older other foods are introduced into their diet. The production of crop milk by birds appears restricted to all pigeons and doves, and at least some penguins and flamingos.
Woodpigeons will have been nesting since very early in the year but late summer is very much the peak in their nesting activity, as pairs attempt first or second broods in the thick deciduous cover that is now much in evidence.