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Vermilion

This post is one of my guest blogs on To Be Shouted.  Click the link to visit the archives:

I always have to remind myself that the color vermilion is actually red, because the ‘ver’ part makes me think of green.

I was going to write a whole blog about that, then realized that basically I have no more to say about it. So instead I’m going to tell you about pigeons.

Pigeons are, obviously, a standard feature of most major cities. London is no exception, and Trafalgar Square has long been famous for its pigeons. The ones I am thinking of are not famous, posh pigeons. They live in a tiny little patch of green near my house, a tucked-away public garden called Crabtree Fields.

Crabtree Fields is a very small oasis of serenity. I live in a fairly laid-back neighbourhood as it is, actually, but on a hot day every scrap of green space in Soho Square and Regent’s Park is crawling with people. Our little park is so tiny and out-of-the-way it doesn’t even show up in the London A-Z. Apart from office workers snatching some vitamin D at lunchtime, it’s often just me, a couple local tramps, and the pigeons.

I don’t remember how I learned about this, but for some reason, I can recognize the pigeon mating dance from across a crowded park. (Probably my misspent youth watching way too much public television.) It looks like this: Gentleman Pigeon approaches Lady Pigeon (or Pigeons). Gentleman Pigeon puffs up his chest and neck in an attempt to flatter his best attributes, while fanning his tail as if he believes he is a radiant peacock. Gentleman Pigeon struts rapidly towards Lady Pigeon(s), cooing in a come-hither manner.

I have never seen a Lady Pigeon become enamored by this dance. The Lady Pigeons more often than not seem mightily unimpressed. While Gentleman Pigeon is strutting towards them (puffed up neck, fanned tail, cooing noises), they are usually scattering rapidly, probably doing the pigeon equivalent of a suppressed giggle. Gentleman Pigeon can’t move very fast while showing off his moves like that, so he’s not particularly difficult to evade.

It’s the time of year for the pigeon mating dance. Normally I don’t pay any attention to pigeons, just seeing them as mobile parts of the scenery. (Greedy, mobile parts of the scenery.) However, perhaps because it is a quieter, less stressful park than others nearby, the pigeons of Crabtree Fields are behaving as though it is their own personal bordello. You cannot move for all the pigeon mating dances going on in Crabtree Fields.

To be fair, I haven’t actually been watching closely enough to notice if it’s a whole bunch of amorous male pigeons trying it on at every opportunity, or just the one guy who can’t seem to get any luck. Whether one or many, the male portion of the pigeon population in that little park is determined. I’m sure he (or they) will eventually persevere. In which case, the Gentleman Pigeon will proceed to perform a behaviour called ‘clapping.’

Clapping is basically the Gentleman Pigeon’s equivalent of a Touchdown Dance. I quote directly from the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “After mating, a male pigeon may make a display flight. In this display, he “claps” his wings twice.” He’s basically applauding himself for getting some. It’s not like he flies really far or anything. He just wants everybody in the immediate vicinity to be aware that Lady Pigeon and he have come to know one another in the Biblical sense.

I was sitting in the park earlier, in fact, and an ardent Gentleman Pigeon nearly chased a Lady Pigeon right into my lap. We shared a sardonic look before she veered off into a crowd of her peers. Seriously, for comical striving, expert spurning, and the eventual hope of finding love (or something), it’s better than television.
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