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Paris Notebook

28 August 2013
Paris Pigeons (and Crows)
There are too many pigeons in Paris and they are a nuisance. The problem is particularly bad where I live on the Grands Boulevards near the triumphal arch at Strasbourg St Denis. This splendid arch, built in the seventeenth century on the orders of Louis XIV to commemorate his military victories, was so damaged by pigeon droppings that pieces of the stonework were falling into the street. A few years ago extensive restoration work was carried out and the arch was returned to its former glory. The birds can't roost there any more because there is an electronic device on the arch now which keeps them away, so they have taken up residence on the big Art Deco post office opposite my building. At certain times of the day they swoop in a huge black cloud making a horrible mess on cars, benches on the boulevard and anyone unlucky enough to be a target.

It doesn't help that there are people who persist in feeding the pigeons even although it's an offence to do so. I once went up to a woman who was scattering crumbs on the pavement and said 'You know, you shouldn't feed these birds. They don't need it and they're a health hazard.' She'd had her back to me, but she turned round and I saw that she was a clocharde (female tramp). She was furious and gave me an almighty kick in the bottom! I fled down into the M├ętro.

The Paris Mairie is trying to control the pigeon population humanely. They have set up pigionniers (pigeon houses) in a number of arrondissements of the city. Food is placed in the houses which contains a contraceptive but for the moment it is doubtful whether it has been very successful. A friend of mine has twice had a pigeon build a nest on her balcony. The bird sat on the eggs and they eventually hatched out. (I'm afraid that when I found a pigeon egg on a pot of geraniums on my window sill, I threw it down into the street, determined not to increase the pigeon population!)

Where I live, the pigeons have driven away every other species of bird - it's rare even to see a sparrow, so it was a surprise two years ago to find that a crow had built a nest in an acacia tree immediately in front of my window and was sitting on it. Although crows are not particularly nice birds, I was delighted to think that there were actually other birds than pigeons in the neighbourhood. I followed developments eagerly, watching through my opera glasses. The crow had a faithful partner who regularly came with food that he put in her beak and when the babies hatched out she was a devoted mother watching over them. The ugly, featherless little creatures grew into handsome birds and flew away. The following winter the tree was drastically pruned by the Mairie and the abandoned nest was thrown away. But one day in the spring the crow returned and perched where her nest had been. She was obviously hoping to lay her eggs there again but there was just a naked branch. She never came back.


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