The pigeons were having a bad morning. It was a smallish flock but they swirled above the trees, above the courtyard and out of sight to return back looping and dodging and dancing in a running, fleeing ballet. They were terrified. A raptor, a big one, possibly a osprey, I don’t know: I didn’t see it, but it almost got Dick — as if being in the presence of a monstrous eating machine were not terrifying enough.
Dick was an older, genial pigeon and he was good. He was often the first to spot a predator. He was fast, agile and attentive to the flock, so much so that the others gave Dick slightly more regard than they gave to his neighbors and so he would often end up its lead choreographer. Like many male pigeons, he was a bit full of himself when it came to the ladies, but Dick always had been a comely lad. If you had to lay an egg, you could do much worse. But an osprey almost ate him.
It wasn’t just fear that lit the pigeon afterburners — and believe me, they were moving at a lively clip. It was also pride. Dance is an integral part of being a pigeon. It isn’t just a means of individual expression but a way of making communal decisions. And of enforcing them. For dance is also a means of defense. Predation is often a dance move, usually coerced by the predator, who relies on a repertoire of coup de mains for quick kills; for as hangry as it may be, it doesn’t want a fight or even an uncontrolled collision. These can have consequences for the predator too. Yet even when the flock is not successfully maneuvered by the raptor, the flock will sometimes sacrifice one of its less well regarded members, maybe a no longer entertaining bully but more likely some one unaesthetically sick or disabled or incompetent or even just a stranger. Rock doves are pacific and artistic birds encumbered by deep and ugly intolerance adapted to a world where every one is a critic and “thumbs down” is more than a critique’s rhetorical flourish.
But an osprey almost ate Dick. The nerve of this cannibal ave, this discredit to the Pandionidae, this flying spawn of satan, this barbarian theropod! Nasty m___________! They flew fast and low with tight acrobatics, not just in fear but in a defiant exhilaration: “You think you’re that good, osprey? Show us some fancy dancing coup de main. Show us if you’re really hungry. Show us what you’ve got.”
Not every critique deserves to eat.
Photo by Roman.
Some parts of this story are true.