The natives and the interlopers

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They ripped down cottages to make way for an old people’s home. They gutted trees and bulldozed the land. Any pigeons that for years had lived in the topmost branches alongside the magpies and starlings moved on. The rats of the skies.

Now they line the telegraph wires along the side street beside my house. I see them in the mornings, lined up like soldiers, one by one, beaks burrowed into their chests, heads lowered, asleep or dozing or doing whatever it is that birds do when they are not in flight or scavenging.

By mid morning the pigeons move on, from the telegraph wire to my neighbour’s gutter. Or her television aerial. Their midmorning cooing is like velvet against the background blast of traffic from the street in front.

Awake now the pigeons peer into my back yard. I can see them edging closer. By lunchtime, they are ready for another rest. The gum tree in my backyard is forked. A runt of a tree, it should never have been allowed to sprout higher than a sapling, but it grew despite its crooked branches, like a misshaped tooth in an otherwise straight set of teeth, it grew at an angle, down and back into the soil where ants burrow to make nests.

Last summer the caterpillars hatched, yellow and white with orange tufts that flared along their backs. They stripped the gum of its leaves, stripped it of its strength, no flowers now, just half chewed leaves a resting board for the pigeons that line its bare branches in increasing numbers.

I tried once to count the pigeons, as if in counting them I could satisfy my belief that they have increased in number, that they have been breeding, that they have moved in from other places, maybe not only down the road but up the road as well where the bulldozers have moved in to make way for a new shopping centre, a new office complex.

The bulldozers have brought down more cottages since, ripped down more trees, taken over the homes of other birds.

I cannot hang out washing on the line any more, on any but the two outer lines on one side. It might seem a small thing to you, a trifle perhaps to find your washing smeared in the white brown sludge of bird poop, but for me it is a catastrophe.

I have lived in this house for many years. I have lived in this house, uninterrupted, and cared for my cats, my fish and birds. I have distributed birdseeds daily for the wattlebirds and sparrows, shooed away the greedy minor birds and kept my cats in at night.

By day I tell my cats to go after the birds. Go after them but discriminate. I tell my cats to discriminate between the natives and the interlopers. These pigeons must be culled. They have no place here.

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48 Comments on The natives and the interlopers

  1. The Elephant's Child
    June 25, 2011 at 3:10 am (6 years ago)

    While I appreciate where you are coming from, we too are interlopers here. Not sure what the solution is, but know that our relationship with the native people is as acrimonious and difficult as it is in the bird world. And we too thrive, largely at the expense of the indigenous population.

    Reply
  2. Rob-bear
    June 25, 2011 at 4:00 am (6 years ago)

    A prime example of what happens when we upset nature. Some might think this trifle — certainly it's not the end of the world.
    But it is a nuisance, for the people and the birds. It means new adaptation for all.
    A pox on the bulldozers and those who drive them.

    Reply
  3. Marja
    June 25, 2011 at 5:03 am (6 years ago)

    We've been attacked by bird poo so I can relate. Not good to have them hanging above your garden. In holland we lived in an area were thousands of canadian geese stroke down for a rest on their flight to warmer places. They didn't bother us though.

    Reply
  4. River
    June 25, 2011 at 6:09 am (6 years ago)

    There's nothing worse is there? Than finding bird poop on your freshly washed and dried clothes.

    Reply
  5. Windsmoke.
    June 25, 2011 at 6:18 am (6 years ago)

    The first fleet have got a lot to answer for bringing pigeons, sparrows, feral cats and dogs or any other predator with them that kills native birds and animals :-).

    Reply
  6. steven
    June 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm (6 years ago)

    elisabeth, not very far from where i sit a similar event has taken place. a field, the edge of a woodland and a marsh, all altered, drained and reconfigured to make way for a senior's recreation centre. it's the nature of living in a city that this is a necesary feature of the growth of numbers, the changes in needs. the part i can't reconcile is the reconfiguring of the experiential map that connects my mind to the little part of the world now gone. steven

    Reply
  7. Robert the Skeptic
    June 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm (6 years ago)

    "telegraph wires", that term dates us Elisabeth. *smiles*

    Lash a couple of whirly-gigs, something brightly colored and flashy above your clothes line. That usually frightens the birds away. I have used this method successfully in keeping cliff swallows from building muddy nests in my eves and smearing poop down the side of my house.

    Reply
  8. The Weaver of Grass
    June 25, 2011 at 6:27 pm (6 years ago)

    I know what you mean. Here there are magpies that steal eggs and baby birds from other birds' nests – it is easy to think they should be killed. But unfortunately cats don't think along those lines and any bird who is not always on the lookout will suffer, sadly.

    Reply
  9. erin
    June 25, 2011 at 9:37 pm (6 years ago)

    holy. unforgiving. but it is who that is unforgiven that is the key.

    brilliant writing, elisabeth.

    xo
    erin

    Reply
  10. Jim Murdoch
    June 26, 2011 at 6:43 am (6 years ago)

    Having a bird who has free reign of my flat I know a thing or two about bird poop. And that’s all I’m saying about that. Pigeons were not birds I knew much of growing up. An odd one would appear in the garden and it would be a bit of a treat. When I first went into Glasgow city centre I was quite taken by the profusion of these birds but there was also something pleasing about how tolerant everyone was, the birds of us and us of them. What my mother objected to were seagulls. We lived only a couple of miles from the sea and so it wasn’t unusual for them to appear and steal the bread she’d thrown out for the smaller birds. It didn’t matter what it was that appeared in our garden, whether it had fur, feathers or scales, my mother would assume responsibility for its care and protection. Unless you were a seagull. Of course it wasn’t the seagulls she objected to as such, it was the bullying, and I was always instructed to break the bread into very small pieces so that a gull couldn’t just come along and fly off with a whole slice. I don’t recall her ever going so far as to go out to them with a broom or anything – yes, they were greedy but they were still clearly hungry and they were obviously coming inland because they weren’t getting fed elsewhere and that was probably our fault, overfishing or whatever.

    Reply
  11. Kath Lockett
    June 26, 2011 at 1:42 pm (6 years ago)

    Bird poop on clean washing isn't needed, I'll grant you that, but cats killing birds isn't needed either. I'm not sure what your solution is unless you can hang something on the line to scare them away?

    Poor things – like you, they've been affected by the demolition of their home.

    Reply
  12. Kirk
    June 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm (6 years ago)

    I'm sure in the history of the world, we've infringed on animals much, much more than they've infringed on us. The ones we don't drive to extinction, the ones that adapt to we humans, the rats and pigeons and crows and seagulls and skunks and raccoons, we rail at, label them vermin. Yet, they may be the ones we have most in common with, in their ability to exist just about everywhere. It's not for nothing that rats are the animals that scientists use to test new medicines (and cosmetics).

    None of this to say I want to spend all my free time with rats and pigeons and the like, or blame you for siccing your cat (another adaptable animal, a species that may have domesticated itself) on them. I'm just trying to put it all in perspective.

    Reply
  13. Frances
    June 26, 2011 at 11:11 pm (6 years ago)

    They're dirty. They foul things. They breed. They inconvenience me. They make me have to change my habits. They don't belong here. They are interlopers. They deserve what happens to them.

    I've heard these words about migrants and refugees all my life.

    Reply
  14. Anthony Duce
    June 27, 2011 at 12:51 am (6 years ago)

    This is wonderful writing as usual. I enjoy and sympathize. Being in a place long enough to recognize the changes, seems similar to living in a body too many years.

    Reply
  15. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 7:05 am (6 years ago)

    I agree, Elephant's Child. In some ways we are all interlopers in this world. We screw around with nature as much as we muck up the space for those who are native, both human and animal.

    I'm not sure there are absolute answers but a little awareness of the conflicting pressures and prejudices might help.

    Thanks, Elephant's Child.

    Reply
  16. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 7:07 am (6 years ago)

    Adaptation is a serious issue, robe bear as you say. And although I too despise the bulldozers, I suspect we also need them. It depends of course on whose driving them and what is their purpose.

    Thanks, Rob Bear.

    Reply
  17. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 7:07 am (6 years ago)

    Sorry To scare you, Elizabeth, but I suppose the issue is scary, for all – birds and people.

    Thanks, Elizabeth

    Reply
  18. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 7:09 am (6 years ago)

    It's not the birds' fault they need to poo, Marja. But the issue goes beyond my mucked up washing. It has more to do with biodiversity and a balanced ecology.

    Thanks, Marja.

    Reply
  19. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 7:10 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks, River. The birds aren't to know, but yes, I do wish they'd find a toilet elsewhere.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 7:56 am (6 years ago)

    The first fleet brought convicts along with those animals soon to become feral, Windsmoke. As the animals encroached on the established animal habitats and ecological balance, the people encroached on the indigenous peoples with tragic consequences, as you would know. These issues are fraught with conflict.

    Thanks, Windsmoke.

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 8:53 am (6 years ago)

    I think I understand what you say here, Steven.

    We recognise the need for these things – changes in our environment – at some level but we cannot so readily reconfigure them in our minds. And the adverse consequences compound this.

    Sometimes the adverse consequences seem to outweigh the benefits, which is how it might seem for the folks living in these establishments. The so-called old people who indirectly have displaced the birds.

    Thanks, Steven.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 11:22 am (6 years ago)

    Whirly-gigs and telegraph wires, Robert. We are such creatures of our pasts.

    Thanks for your suggestions.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 11:26 am (6 years ago)

    I have an ambivalent relationship to magpies, Pat. They are quite an Australian symbol, but they are aggressive, especially in spring when they're nesting.

    They attack people's heads all too readily. I am fearful in spring at the washing line because of the magpies, but I wouldn't want the cats to get at the magpies. I suspect they couldn't.

    Thanks, Pat.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 11:27 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for the generous words, Erin. Forgiveness and survival of the fittest. They clash.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 11:35 am (6 years ago)

    I'm fond of sea gulls, Jim, but I can see why your mother might object to them. I love the way they soar through the sky above the beach but I have noticed that they can be brutal when it comes to gathering cast off from folks who sit nearby on the sand picnicking.

    I'm curious to know what you might say about bird poop. When ever it gets on my car, my husband urges me to wash it off post haste. He reckons it can be corrosive, though not as bad as bat poop. Something in the acid of their- the bat's- diet.

    I suppose there are worse things to worry about, though.

    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 11:37 am (6 years ago)

    You'd have seen your share of pigeons in Melbourne too, Kath. It seems so strange writing to you in far away Geneve. I imagine they have their pest problems there too. It's hard to strike a balance.

    Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 11:40 am (6 years ago)

    Yours is a balanced perspective, Kirk. I agree we tend most to malign those who are like us in the survival stakes. It's probably that competitive urge. And I agree with you: we humans have been the worst of protagonists.

    Thanks, Kirk.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 11:42 am (6 years ago)

    Too right, Frances. These are the words directed against migrants and others who are considered undesirable because they are different or because they threaten us in some way.

    I feel suitably chastened by the metaphor. Thanks, Frances

    Reply
  29. Elisabeth
    June 27, 2011 at 11:43 am (6 years ago)

    Most of us find change a little difficult to tackle, Anthony. And so we look for someone to blame, perhaps, despite the fact we know change is inexorable.

    Thanks, Anthony.

    Reply
  30. Jim Murdoch
    June 27, 2011 at 12:43 pm (6 years ago)

    Oh, I have nothing profound to say about bird poop, Lis, other than after being urinated on, defecated on and vomited on my daughter as an infant a little dod of bird poop really does little to offend my sensibilities. Since our bird is territorial and always goes to the same places in each room we’ve bird-proofed those areas as best we can. His cage has an extra cardboard ledge jutting out to catch whatever he decided needs to go over the edge. In that respect he’s quite good and will back up over the edge to do his business. The same in the kitchen. He always flies to the top shelf and so it also has a protective undershelf. But if you time it wrong picking him up he’s not averse to leaving a neat poop on your shoulder or on the carpet. The rule there, certainly as far as the carpet goes, is leave it till it dries if you can. With a bit of practice you can, however, lift the whole thing with a piece of tissue paper leaving only the tiniest smear which you can get rid of the next time you vacuum. I usually go over his spots with a metal spatula we’ve set aside for that purpose. The dribbles on his cage I get with the predicatably-named ‘Poop Off’. Wonderful stuff. He actually makes more of a mess chucking seeds off the top of his cage and shedding feathers.

    Reply
  31. persiflage
    June 28, 2011 at 10:22 am (6 years ago)

    The pigeons are out of control, not just here in our cities either. I do think they are verminous creatures.
    The sulphur crested cockatoos can be a great nuisance too, and are both raucously noisy and destructive. They sharpen their beaks on the woodwork of buildings and do quite a lot of damage.

    It always amazed me how they would break off a branch, and extract the nut kernel, but then drop the branch and ignore the other fruits on it. It made me better acquainted with the term bird brain. However, I regard the cockies with quite a lot of fondness, which I never feel for the pigeons.

    Reply
  32. Elisabeth
    June 28, 2011 at 11:59 am (6 years ago)

    When we had birds, Jim, many many moons ago I remember the mess of seeds scattered across the floor more than the poop. I've never heard of this amazing 'poop-off' product. I doubt you could use it on washing. Another go through the washing machine is no doubt the best bet there.

    As for the mess generated by babies and little children, I know it well. One of our daughters now in her mid twenties tends to make a mess whenever she eats. My husband's response; 'We should get the cooks in'. Chooks is the Australian slang for chickens and hens. I expect you'd know it.

    They will eat anything, and they too leave a mess.
    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  33. Elisabeth
    June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm (6 years ago)

    I'm inclined to agree with you, Persiflage. There's something glorious about our cockies, for all the noise and mess they make. Why is that I wonder?

    Is it the visual? Is it the fact they're native here? I expect both. Also, although they seem to be increasing these days, there are still fewer cockies in the city than pigeons, as far as I can see.

    Thanks, Persiflage.

    Reply
  34. KleinsteMotte
    June 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm (6 years ago)

    I don't find the bird poop as awful since I grew up in rural areas and it was just dealt with by rinsing the spots. What I find sad is that bulldozers are moving into some very pristine areas so real estate can maximize it's profit. The urban planners have lost sight of the future. Our world is now just one huge "let's make the profit now"place.
    Pigeons are very intelligent birds. They could be moved to a better site.

    Reply
  35. Phoenix
    June 29, 2011 at 10:22 pm (6 years ago)

    When things are thrown out of balance in nature and life, it's hard to remain loving and understanding and forgiving, even if these are absolutely our intentions. I am certainly not one who hates birds, but to see me sobbing from tiredness a few months ago, as a mockingbird had set up shop just outside our window and sang for females from 4:30 am to 7:30 am for two months straight… I would have killed that bird with my bare hands. When tiredness, frustration, and impatience take over, we resort to solutions that will benefit only one of us – the one more willing to viciously defend its territory.

    I won't say that you're wrong or right, or admonish you for your feelings of frustration (which to me seem justified.) I will say that this world is shrinking, every day, and that every living thing needs a place to go, and if we do not find ways to co-exist, woe will befall both of us. And this can be extended to immigrants and refugees of all sorts, just as Frances suggested. I wish you peace, I wish you an easy solution, and I wish the birds a new home that fits them well.

    Reply
  36. Tumblewords:
    June 30, 2011 at 4:25 am (6 years ago)

    Well said. Change is difficult when it comes unbidden, I think. Supposing we are all interlopers at some time, and in some place, it probably behooves us to take care of 'stuff' as we go. Nice to have found you!!

    Reply
  37. Ruth
    June 30, 2011 at 10:26 am (6 years ago)

    I immediately thought of Steven's similar story of disrupted nature.

    It's good to see you and read your rich words again.

    Reply
  38. Elisabeth
    June 30, 2011 at 10:42 am (6 years ago)

    I did not realise that pigeons were intelligent, Kleinstemotte, but I suppose of I reflect on it long enough, it's evident they are, particularly their homing abilities.

    Thanks for this.

    Reply
  39. Elisabeth
    June 30, 2011 at 10:47 am (6 years ago)

    Co-existence seems to me to be so necessary, Tracy and yet as you say more often than not the stronger one forgets the needs of the weaker and operates according to their own whims and needs rather than compromising with the needs of others.

    I have found out recently that part of the problem with the pigeons is that they have been encouraged to take up residence by a neighbor who likes to feed them bread daily. She's since been reported to the local council and has been told to stop feeding the birds. It seems very sad, doesn't it?

    Thanks, Tracy.

    Reply
  40. Elisabeth
    June 30, 2011 at 10:49 am (6 years ago)

    It's lovely to see you here, Tumblewords.

    I agree, change is difficult to accommodate and yet it's inexorable. You'd think we humans would get used to it, but no, we still baulk at its demands.

    Thanks Tumblewords.

    Reply
  41. Elisabeth
    June 30, 2011 at 10:50 am (6 years ago)

    Steven and I coincided on this theme, Ruth. It must be something in the ether.

    It's lovely to hear from you again, too. Thanks.

    Reply
  42. Frances
    July 1, 2011 at 9:44 am (6 years ago)

    I did not mean my comment to be chastening, Elisabeth. Just a comment on the atavistic – but not universal, as can be seen in the comments here – ways of the human heart.

    Reply
  43. lucychili
    July 2, 2011 at 11:45 am (6 years ago)

    yes.
    our ever growing population and the bulldozers marking our right of way are really scary

    Reply
  44. Elisabeth
    July 4, 2011 at 11:37 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for the qualifier, Frances. I don't intend to read your words as 'harsh' but sometimes I do. By now you'd think I'd know you better. Thanks.

    Reply
  45. Elisabeth
    July 4, 2011 at 11:38 am (6 years ago)

    Scary bulldozers, Lucychili, the price of progress, so-called. Thanks.

    Reply
  46. The Tame Lion
    July 8, 2011 at 7:41 am (6 years ago)

    Vigorously nodding my head in agreement!

    Reply
  47. Elisabeth
    July 8, 2011 at 11:16 am (6 years ago)

    I'm glad you agree, Tame Lion, or at least nod your head my way. Thanks. I'm pleased to meet you.

    Reply

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