“It’s like when you’re happy that two people you really like get together,” H. announced, smiling, after witnessing Brownie and Sentinel engaged in an intimate act on our kitchen balcony.
I understand it was a blink-and-you-miss-it, straight-to-the-point performance, but long enough for H. finally to establish that Brownie is – as previously suspected – a female, and Sentinel a male.
Brownie has been loitering on the balcony outside my study for a couple of years, by no means the only one of her kind (we are woken up every morning by a chorus of chesty cooing) but her brown and white plumage immediately caught my attention. As did her persistant observation of me even though I never fed her. I’d look up from my computer and see her perched on the railing or standing right on the other side of the French window, staring at me. In the summer, when I sat in the sunshine, she was the only one to waddle up quite close to my feet, head bobbing. I’d start talking to her and, as far as I was concerned, she listened, her orange eyes fixed on me.
At the same time, on the other balcony, the one outside our kitchen, there was Sentinel. H. called him that because he seldom left his position on the roof, and would look over the gutter, like a diligent watchman. Grey, but with very distinctive white markings on his head, as though he’d been caught in a crossfire of white paint squirting. There was another reason for our getting attached to him. About two years ago, we found him – for the first time – not at his usual post but on the kitchen balcony, barely moving, eyes closing, hiding in a corner, then behind the shed. We tried calling the RSPCA and the RSPB without any luck. So, for three days, we kept checking he was alive, worried, I improvised some Qi Gong distance healing, and we hoped. On the third day, he vanished and we were joyfully relieved to look up and see him peering down at us from his usual observation post.
During the first lockdown, I began feeding Brownie. She and I quickly developed an understanding: I would throw seeds on the balcony outside my study once a day, but only when there were no other pigeons around. After all, I didn’t want to turn my balcony into Trafalgar Square. If I didn’t see her for a couple of days, I’d be concerned and stand outside calling, “Brownie? Brownie?” while shaking the glass jar with the birdseed. Sometimes, if I was absorbed in my work, she’d come right up to the window pane and start cooing until I looked up and served her breakfast. We kept up this arrangement for several months, it was our little secret.
“I think that’s Brownie up there with Sentinel,” H. said one day.
I rushed into the kitchen. Indeed, there she was, on the roof, next to Sentinel. It was the first time we’d seen her on that side of the flat. Even so, I continued to feed her only on the balcony outside my study.
Then, one morning, as I looked up from my computer, I saw that Brownie had brought Sentinel along. She hopped off the railing as soon as I opened the French window and was soon followed somewhat gingerly by Sentinel. And so I began to feed them both. He gradually became more forward, and now there are times when he’s pacing up and down outside the window even before Brownie.
Only now there’s also Bluto. Large, dark grey, with a prominent nostril cere, an insufferable bully who starts chasing and pecking Brownie and Sentinel as soon as the seeds are on the concrete. Once, I had to resort to a water pistol. So I try and make sure he’s not around before I feed the friendly couple.
Brownie and Sentinel have been an item for nearly a year now. While the seagulls were nesting on the roof, in early spring, and engaged in regular killing sprees, sending all the terrorised pigeons flying in every direction, they’d often take refuge behind the shed and wait for the commotion to die down before stepping out into the centre of the balcony. They’re an attractive pair. She with her soft brown plumage, he with that shock of white on his grey head and neck. I sometimes see Sentinel puff himself up, spread out his tail, and circle around slender, younger females like an aged Lothario, under Brownie’s watchful eye. His flirting is never successful and the young females fly away as soon as they see him approaching. And Brownie knows that. She just perches on the railing and watches him try anyway. He thinks he’s still young and handsome. Why disillusion the poor fellow?