Shades of homer

Oh dear, was it a mistake to put millets out for my finches, and then some agéd pot barley after that. More proof that I cannot be God, even to these avians. The finches didn’t mind at first, were curious and poked about. I had sprinkled some crushed ancho chilli into the millets, to give it zest; the chief food reviewer among them (an exceptionally ruddy fellow) conceded that this was a nice touch. In fact his mates, and theirs (the females), seemed to be picking out the chilli seeds, to which they are quite partial.

“But what do you call this?” one of them asked, rhetorically, looking into a metal disc of the stuff with what I should have interpreted as a gesture of disapprobation.

“Anchoes,” I replied.

“No, I mean the little round white beads, what are they?”

“Millets,” said I. … “Pearl millets, it said on the bag.”

“Atrocious,” was his sneering comment. “Tastes like soap.”

But it was the (unspiced) barley that brought things to a head. That ruddy fellow, whom I call Robespierre, perched on my railing, six feet from my face, loudly chirping for my attention. He had taken it bravely upon himself to speak for his whole chirm.

“What do you think you are doing, Lord Denizen? We are purple finches — seed-eaters, can’t you see? Take a good look at this beak. …”

Then drawing himself up to his short height: “Grain is for pigeons.”

Whenupon he was joined by five or six others, chanting along the railing in disgust: “Pigeon food! Pigeon food!”

I thought this rather indiscreet on their part.

Unfortunately the pigeons, loitering along the roofline above, overheard this. Their own foraging captain, an exceptionally dark-feathered bird I call Aaron Moor, was first off the mark. Several times I heard him on the concrete balconata floor, scuffling about. I was confrontational, but you know how it is with pigeons. Nothing you can do will make them angry, let alone send them off in a sulk. He kept coming back.

And this morning, when I rose, there they all were: a dropping of ten or more pigeons (I think that is the collective noun). And no longer scuffling the floor, for remainders, but right up in the trough, like an awkward squad of fat men balancing on a girder.

I’m a “nomby” when it comes to pigeons (“not on my balconata, you …”). I do declare, however, that I am not prejudiced against them, like so many others in the Greater Parkdale Area. But Aaron Moor, for one, is sceptical of this claim. That I’ve fed them stale bread at other locations, possibly in defiance of municipal regulations, he frankly does not believe. I tell him this is a finch restaurant, with a finch menu, and he coos, under his breath, “We’ve heard it all before.” He takes it with equanimity, nonetheless, reciting his motto in the pigeon language: “The meek shall inherit the earth.”


I’m in a quandary about these pigeons at the moment, truth to tell. For I’m honestly not a columbidaphobe, let me assure gentle reader. I have met some fine, upstanding pigeons in my time.

Near where I once lived in London, the old men raced them. The big event was once a year — from Clapham Common to the bois de Boulogne in Paris, and the reverse. I once got to name one of the contestants (“Beothuk”): an old-line Janssen as I recall, of a magnificent sanguine coloration. He was very sharp, very quick, and totally committed. No racehorse was so sure as this homer, of what he was about. And a useful source of income, too, for Derek, his working-class boss, who loved him as some men love a maid. (Gone since to his reward, aheu; and Beothuk, probably to a hawk, or power line.)

Pigeons carried mail throughout the Roman Empire, as well as the Babylonian, the Asokan, the Chinese; did the daily relay, up and down the Nile. For centuries, nay millennia, they were the radio for ship-to-shore. They are what we will need when the Internet goes down, for good: bear this in mind when you shun them. Decently fed, they make one of the world’s best fertilizers. And I love when they leave it on shiny, upscale cars.

Moreover, I’ve had squabs in Egypt, stuffed with freekeh (roasted cracked green wheat), and those walking onions. That stuffing charged with lemon, in an oily pigeon broth; parsley, mint, cinnamon, allspice. They provide a delicious dark poultry meat, and to the end of having more, I once proposed to my super that we build dovecotes on the roof, the way they do in Cairo.

She said no, however.