We’re sitting at the kitchen table, me and my friends S & G, after another unpleasant 45 minutes in each other’s company. Every Saturday we do this, putting ourselves through yet another bike session that feels so tough that by the end, you can’t manage another pedal stroke, and have to be physically peeled off the bike. This, my friends, is what we do for leisure around these parts.
Anyway, conversation turns to Speckled Jill. “What do you know about incubation times for pigeon eggs?” I asked S & G, in the same off hand manner that you might use to ask about the weather, or Norwich’s chances in the premier league.
“Nothing”, responds S, and that, a few years ago would be the end of the conversation. But nowadays, with everything connected to the internet, it isn’t, and before the coffee is cold, we know more about pigeons than is strictly healthy.
1. Pigeons are very intelligent, can recognise themselves in the mirror, and can distinguish between humans in photographs.
2. Both male and female pigeons take care in incubating and looking after their young. They change places in the morning and the evening; one web site told us that the female sits on the egg overnight, and the male takes over ‘at 10am’. The young pigeon (known as a squab, fact fans) stays in the nest until it’s fully grown, which is probably why you very rarely see a baby pigeon. The egg takes 15-19 days to hatch.
3. Both parents feed the squab using ‘pigeon milk’ which both male and females can produce.
4. Pigeons mate for life and usually raise two chicks at the same time.
5. As we know from last week’s stories of the National Flying Club, they’re pretty good at navigating. They the sun as a guide and have an internal ‘magnetic compass’. They’ll also use landmarks as signposts and will travel above roads and motorways, and will change direction at junctions.
Armed specifically with facts from point #2 above, the smallest child in the house was immediately despatched to our bedroom to keep watch. This being about 0950, he was also told to keep an eye on the time, and sure enough, just after 1000 he came downstairs to tell us that the swap had taken place, and that a new bird (who obviously had an internal watch as well as a compass) was now on the egg. So, we are now home to both Speckled Jill AND Speckled Jim – and we have an unparalleled level of excitement on the pigeon front.
It would be nice if they had a little chat as they changed over. This being Norfolk, I’d be disappointed if they didn’t have some sort of an accent (for those of you unfortunate enough not to live in Norfolk, I’ve provided a translation).
Jim : “Arr y’oroight that Jill-gel?”
(Are you feeling well, Jill?)
Jill: “I fare badly terday, I dew, an’ orll; tha’s this hoddy doddy egg hare, an thas nest is on the huff”
(I don’t feel terribly well, on account of this small egg, also the nest is sloping to one side.)
Jim; “Co ter heck, yew’ll meke me blar an’orl. Eff that come on ter rain; haint yer got a ruff on gel?”
(Crikey, you’ll start me crying at this rate. If it starts to rain, at least you have a roof.)
Jill says nothing. She is sulking, as only a pigeon mother-to-be can.
Jim, in recalcitrant mood: “Are yew garn up th’city there?”
(Will you be going into the city later?)
Jill, relenting slightly: “Arr, Ahm garn up Primark to squit on a furriner or mebbe a yellowbelly”
(Yes, I shall be flying over the Haymarket area to crap on a tourist, or possibly someone from the Fens)
Anyway, that’s what I think they’ll be saying. It’s kind of a sixth sense with us pigeon men.
I’ve just got home from being away for work, and scoot up to the bedroom. There’s nothing happened, according to Mrs E, but, because I’m a bloke, I need to see for myself. And, standing on the bed on tiptoes, you can just make out the shape of a small feathery thing at the bottom of the nest, no doubt taking on a bit of that wholesome pigeon milk. There he/she is, lil’ Pride Of The East 2. Meanwhile, Speckled Jim has a look somewhere between pride and worry, that reminds me of a long time ago, in a maternity ward, far far away…