Wily wood pigeon walks on the wild side

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The first frosts of the season have begun to give the trees their autumnal garb, triggering off a chain of events in the countryside from which there is no turning back. Soon, woodland fungi will begin to flourish and many creatures will start to prepare for the coming winter. Already I have heard my local dipper in full song, tunefully staking his claim to his breeding territory. Being very early nesters, they can’t afford to wait until spring.

Last week I featured a story about a wayward red squirrel found wandering on moorland high in the Ettrick Valley and it seems this phenomenon is not unique.

G.Y. contacted me by email to say: “Your article in today’s Southern Reporter reminded me of something similar I saw earlier in the year. On the track from Tollishill to Gifford, about halfway between Crib Law and Lammer Law, I saw a red squirrel. At the time, I thought it was a bit strange as there are no woods in the area. Like the Potburn squirrel it was not unduly bothered about me or my dog.”

So it seems that if disturbed far from the cover of trees, they seem to tolerate human presence more than when in woodland, where they have the option to escape into the canopy.

Now that most of the harvest is in, many stubble fields attract the attention of the wood pigeon, which is quick to capitalise on cereal spillages and leftovers, but is probably less of a problem at this time of year than when crops are young and tender.

Its stout, hooked beak allows the “cushie doo” to eat a variety of foods. In woodland it will eat nuts and acorns as well as weed, seeds and buds, and flowers off trees.

During hard winters, when it snows, they will turn to farmland and gardens, and attack tall brassicas, such as cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts, to supplement their diet.

To overcome the problem of short days and less food in winter, pigeons tend to feed very quickly during late afternoon and store food in their crops until it gets dark, when they return to their communal treetop roosts, to digest it.

This ability to eat a wide range of food has enabled the pigeon population to rocket to more than four million breeding pairs, posing quite a headache for arable farmers.

Scarecrows and bangers are effective for only a short period and chemical repellents do not work effectively because they also affect harmless species. Shooting has no long-term effect, but it probably gives vent to the farmer’s feelings.

To the walker and naturalist, the soft cooing of the wood pigeon in a leafy wood, during the breeding season, is one of nature’s most evocative spring sounds. However, to the farmer it is a serious pest and causes more damage to our agriculture than any other bird.

Like it or loathe it, however, the wily wood pigeon is here to stay.