I was driving on a country road near my home village earlier today when a cloud of woodpigeons lifted off a field. There would be upwards of 1000 birds, yet this was in an area where I have never seen a great number of woodpigeons before. It looked like this was part of the migration of woodpigeons that takes place within the UK, normally in early November. I say within the UK as there appears to be little evidence of mass migration of woodpigeons to continental Europe. I’ve just finished reviewing the book by John A Love, The Natural History of Lighthouses (see earlier blog) and there was no mention of woodpigeons being one of the migrating birds that are attracted en masse by the lamps of lighthouses round the coast of Great Britain or Ireland. This tends to support the view that woodpigeons are mainly reasonably sedentary.
I was pleased to see such an assembly of woodpigeons. They are handsome birds yet their colours seem largely unappreciated; it is rare to see a drawing of a woodpigeons where the exact colours are captured and which actually looks like the bird. I doubt their culinary qualities are much recognised either. They are seldom seen for sale, yet I find their dark flesh much more tasty than that of game birds, and certainly much more appetising than chicken.
Woodpigeons are one of the wariest birds in the countryside; hardly surprising as they are regularly targeted by shooters, yet they can become accustomed to humans where they seem to know there is no risk. Woodpigeons in parks are an example, and I have a couple in my garden that I can walk past only a few yards away. They come every morning for a handful of peanuts I put out under one of the bird feeders especially for them and by the time they are finished their crop is bulging.
Woodpigeons are regular prey species on the menu of peregrines, goshawks and female sparrowhawks, but I witnessed a more unusual pigeon predator one day, which I recounted in my book A Lone Furrow:
“One day in Angus, I was fascinated to watch a real-life flying demonstration with two unlikely participants. Golden eagles and white-tailed sea eagles are equated with formidable power; peregrines have super speed in their stoops on to pigeons or ducks; it cannot be denied that hen harriers and red kites are graceful yet efficient in flight, yet the bird I watched was a common buzzard. Buzzard are normally thought of as lazy birds, content to sit on a pole or fence post until an unwary mouse or unsuspecting vole offers a chance of an easy meal, to soar in the sky like a vulture looking for carrion, or to waddle about a field on a wet day looking for worms and frogs. The buzzard I watched was putting sterling effort and endurance into getting its meal.
I had been on an enquiry and was driving along a very quiet country road near Brechin. I was approaching a wood on my right when I saw a buzzard chasing a woodpigeon up the side of the wood at right angles towards the road. The woodpigeon cut the corner through the wood and came out on to the road in front of me, still with the buzzard on its tail. It continued along the road for several hundred yards, then cut back into the wood again, the buzzard neither gaining nor losing ground. The trees in the wood were mature conifers that had been thinned so I still had a good view. I stopped but lost sight of the chase, though I saw the pigeon veer to its left at this point and I was hopeful it would come back into view. I drove slowly, watching into the wood all the time, and was grateful that there were no other vehicles about. The pigeon re-appeared flying towards me and came out over the road. I again had a grandstand seat in my car as I followed the chase. It followed the line of the road though just off to my nearside so that for a while I was driving parallel to and no more than ten metres from the buzzard. The two then cut left and headed away from the road over grass fields. I stopped and grabbed my binoculars and saw the culmination of the chase half way down the second field, about a quarter of a mile away, when the buzzard had at last caught up with the woodpigeon and they both crashed to the ground in a flurry of white feathers. The distance involved in this chase must have been around two miles. I suspect that the buzzard would have been pretty sure of the outcome and I wondered if it was a young or a sick pigeon it was chasing. Whatever, I hope it enjoyed its meal as it was well deserved”.
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