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The pigeon life cycle

For some 20 to 25 days, a pigeon pair was nesting in our balcony. It all began when we found them fidgeting around on the plant tub in our balcony that had a tulsi plant in it. We guessed they were trying to make a nest. Our initial reaction was to try to shoo them away. But nature preempted this: within a day we found they had laid two eggs. We stopped trying to get them to fly away.

Endless series of hatching sessions began. One of the two birds would always be found hatching the eggs. And yes! They would take turns lasting eight to 10 hours, in our estimate. Initially it was hard to know which of the two was sitting at any given point. To solve that confusion, my mom came up with a (somewhat kind but effective) solution. One day, she smeared one of them with oiled vermilion on the head. Also, we arbitrarily decided that one of them – the one without vermilion smeared on its head – must be the father; probably because it was the more restless and less trusting of the two.

The funniest moments during the hatching period was when the pigeons would change shifts. The one coming in would fly in from one side of the balcony. The one finishing its duty would fly out from the other end. In between there would be some minimal exchange between the two. However, they wouldn’t take enough time even to face or touch each other. The changeover would happen ritualistically, diligently, promptly. No show of romance or affection that the poets so love to associate with love-birds.

We would enjoy thoroughly making guesses about what information they passed between them while changing shift, what the other parent pigeon would do during its absence, and what would even make it come back to relieve its partner.

Of course, there’s no way to answer these questions. Scientists wash their hands of all such questions with a single word: evolution. I believe in evolution. But I find it hard to believe that it provides the complete explanation for such spectacles. Considered casually, they appear funny, even comic. But on a second look, all this looks nothing less than a miracle.

On Sunday, it was already a few days since we had started feeling that it was taking the eggs too long to hatch. Probably the eggs would go bad; probably they already had. Why wasn’t the pigeon couple just giving up this futile routine?

But that afternoon, I casually strolled into the balcony. And what did I see? Two tiny creepy crawly creatures had replaced the two eggs. It was the father who was watching over them. I shouted out in excitement. The others at home rushed out into the balcony to have a look. Each one of us was equally excited, as if it was a childbirth in our own family.

The presumed mother, however, didn’t turn up for several hours. We were eagerly waiting for that moment when she would come and find that her chicks were out. We waited for what would be a memorable moment.

Finally, by dusk it arrived. The father was hatching the chicks pretty much the same way he would hatch the eggs. The changeover routine began. The father shifted himself. The chicks got revealed from under him. Now was the moment!

The mom quietly took position, nudged the chicks under her wings, and started hatching. No fluttering of wings. No cooing. No dance of joy. No ‘emotion’. Nothing! Come on lady, you’ve got to be kidding me!

This anti-climax was kind of really sad. It did appear that after all these are probably not conscious creatures, but puppets being controlled through invisible strings. Who is pulling the strings? God? Evolution?

Childbirth is a matter of joy and excitement! They ought to have felt joyous as we would have; and should have expressed it the way we would. Maybe it’s this emotion and its expression that distinguishes people from them.

Or does it? Why is childbirth supposed to make us feel happy? Do we know? Or are these all strings too — coloured and strengthened differently — with which some invisible hand is making us play the drama of life, both humans and pigeons alike?

It’s been two days. The chicks are growing. The parents feed them out of their own mouth with regurgitated food. We watch. The whole mystery, miracle, science, God, evolution, life... unfold before our eyes on the plant tub. It makes us wonder and smile. It overwhelms and makes eyes well up.

Meanwhile, the tulsi plant has withered. My mom says its offspring will come back to life once this family vacates; there are plenty of seeds dropped by the drying tulsi. Hopefully, the pigeons haven’t devoured them.

sujitkc@iiitb.ac.in


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Printable version | Jun 3, 2021 9:17:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-pigeon-life-cycle/article27034542.ece

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