Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hawk and Dove

Last week I went to Big City to give my talk, and to see friends and family. It was chilly and grey, but I had a great time. The best part, I think, was staying with my friend A and getting to know each other better. I'm one of those people who finds it fairly easy to meet people, but much more difficult to become good friends. I get shy, and sometimes awkwardly share too much information too soon. Or end up talking too much about myself in an effort to counteract any awkward silences. But this time, I felt like I got to know A a lot better, and by the end of the visit I think we're much better friends. It makes me very happy.

Although I spent 6 years in an adjacent metropolis, and another year in one further north, it's been almost three since I've spent time in a big city. And one of the things I had forgotten about was the sounds pigeons make in the early morning. Not just the "croo, croo" noises, but the obscene sounding "Mmm-HMMM" crescendo, which really sounds like they are rather shamelessly sharing their pigeon intercourse with any and all in the vicinity with ears. It turns out that those noises are actually the sounds they make when they're being territorial with one another ("Get off. It's my airconditioner!"), but it's a very distinctive sound nonetheless, and one I had completely forgotten. So much so, that in the foggy half-wakefulness of the early morning I thought I was hearing an owl hooting, which is sometimes what I hear outside my window at home near dawn.

This led me and A to a discussion of the representation of the owl in her favorite artistic Russian animated film, Hedgehog in the Fog (which I highly recommend). And a few minutes later, lo and behold, a raptor landed on the fire escape opposite her window. "Oh my god, it's an OWL!" we shrieked, softly.

Of course it wasn't an owl (it was a sunny afteroon and the bird didn't have a flat face). But it was definitely a bird of prey, and it was looking down avidly at pigeons and other things scuttling around below. We thought perhaps it was a peregrine falcon, and A took some pictures. The next day, it was back around the same time (5pm-ish), and decided to literally pay us a visit, sitting right outside A's window, looking in at us with a detached curiosity. I swear it raised its right talon in salute, then soared off into the air to hunt. I've since identified it as a red-tailed hawk (my precocious 5 year old cousin showed me pictures of peregrine falcons, and after comparing them to A's photos, he correctly identified it). The city has a few famous RTH couples, including one that nests on the shoulders of a statue of John the Baptist at the cathedral near A's apartment. It's most likely that the hawk who paid us a visit was one of these two birds.

When I returned home to a chilly Southern spring, I noticed there were mourning doves sitting on the porch railing right outside my living room window. I watched one for a couple of minutes, and noticed it flying up to the space between one of the porch columns and the porch roof, right next to the wooden porch swing. There at the top of the column, resting on the Chocolate Vine, was a tiny nest, with another mourning dove brooding on it. I've never had birds nesting so close to the house before. It's fascinating, though now I'm very worried that the neighbor's enterprising cat who frequently hangs out on my porch will devise some way to infiltrate it. But so far, he's oblivious. And the birds don't seem to mind me wandering around on the porch. I think they are safe.

I can't decide whether this is a good or a bad omen: it's lovely to have such beautiful birds making their home close to mine. But they are mourning doves, and their call is both comforting and melancholy. My folklore research has turned up some mixed symbolism. On the one hand, doves represent peace, love, and marriage, as they are associated with Roman Venus and the Christian holy spirit. On the other hand, a mourning dove circling above or tapping at the window signifies sickness or death. Luckily, there has been no circling or tapping. Mourning doves' calls are supposed to indicate an end to drought, and they are supposedly a good omen where love and relationships are concerned, so I'm inclined to see this little dove family in a very favorable light.


Bardiac said...

There's a great birding site at Cornell university http://www.birds.cornell.edu/

They have photos and descriptions of all sorts of birds!

Congrats on seeing the redtail. VERY cool in the city!

Pamphilia said...

Thanks for the link!

Oddly, I never used to pay attention to the birdies, but my ex was a birdwatcher.

One of the things about a relationship ending well, for me at least, is discovering how much I've learned from the other person. I think that explains all the birdies I've been noticing and watching!

AP said...

People of Big City loved that you visited!

And so did the birds, I think: the hawk hasn't been back, and the pigeons haven't been cooing as loudly without you! The latter, by the way, is just fine with me :)

Pamphilia said...

I miss you, People of the Big City. And thanks for taking those gorgeous pictures of the hawk. I forgot to credit you.