Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I guess most cities in the world have a large pigeon population, apart from those that see the creatures as pests and eradicate them with poisons. I actually remember being quite horrified upon discovering this had been done in Dunedin, New Zealand, when visiting the city sometime in the 1980s. And here in Sydney, it has recently become standard practice to instal rows of razor-sharp upright nails - of the 9-inch variety - along ledges of the outside walls or fences of upmarket buildings, particularly fancy hotels and apartment blocks, in order to keep the birds off these favoured roosting places. Bird poo has been outlawed.
People regularly refer to the maligned creatures as 'rats with wings', despite the fact that their scavenging says more about the excesses of human beings. Nonetheless, a fair sized population of pigeons still thrive, many of them hanging around Hyde Park, north-west of the fountain. This is no doubt due, in no small part, to the presence of an old, white-haired lady in black clothes, who spends her afternoons there feeding the birds with a variety of different grains. She sits on the grass and is immediately surrounded, talking to the birds all the while as she unzips her backpack and pulls out the knotted plastic bags filled with the grains and carefully undoes them.
The pigeons are patient with her as she feeds them and the seagulls don't even bother to try their luck. This is pigeon territory only. The woman talks to them kindly and also sternly at times, as if they are her children. When she has finished feeding them, she ties the plastic bags up and puts them away, spreads newspaper on the grass and lies down for a nap in the sun. The birds stay with her, still surrounding her and some sit on top of her. She allows them to stay. When she gets up again, she sometimes notices bird poo on her clothes, which she carefully wipes off, before leaving for the day.