Rock Pigeon (Photo by Don Reimer)
Rock Pigeon (Photo by Don Reimer)
In my personal life there are very few times when I am disconnected from birds and local wild creatures in their natural habitats. This is my simple, spontaneous response to any given day. Remember that anyone seeking a broad spectrum of bird sightings must visit a number of specific habitats in order to succeed. You won’t find Prairie Chickens in a tract of boreal spruce forest, you could say.

What would happen, though, if our total access to wildlife were cut off for some odd reason? Would that really matter to us? Would it make any discernable difference in the quality of our daily life experiences?

My customary string of daily sightings was suspended on June 3 when I was wheeled into a cardiothoracic surgical suite at Maine Medical Center for a valve replacement. No window views in that place, for sure; just clusters of piercingly brilliant surgical lights and green-clad medical professionals waiting in place.

Following my successful surgery, the sky view from my patient care room also left something to be desired: a square window across the room with exterior alcove leading to angular metal rooflines and flat, pebbled roof terrains. Hemmed in by six to eight stories of vertical building walls, I was prepared to spend some extended time without birds.

Then I heard an excited voice coming from the outer hallways: “Look at the two baby pigeons outside on the roof! The parents are feeding them!”

“Oh, yes, I can see them!” replied a second enthused viewer. “Over in that shady corner. They have pin-feathers and can’t be more than a couple of days old.”

An unanticipated birding opportunity had presented itself in this otherwise cloistered, sterile environment. Getting myself out of bed, I sojourned into the outer hallway for a quick peek. The habitat was certainly right for pigeons: “Nests on window ledges, crevices in buildings, under bridges, in barns.” “Nest is shallow, flimsy platform of carelessly arranged grasses, straws, debris.”

Originally introduced from Europe several hundred years ago, Rock Pigeons have existed in Portland for dozens of decades. While they’re considered a potential disease spreader and general pest by some people, I was not in any position to be choosey about the selection of birds available at this particular juncture. Beyond my recovery accomplishments like bathing myself, shaving or walking without assistance for the first time, this was a definite “normalizing” moment for me, emotionally therapeutic and nourishing in the best sense.

Checking online later, I learned of an actual “Pigeons of Portland Maine” Facebook page where folks can post their pigeon pictures. Why not? Everyone else seems to be on Facebook these days.

Next a passing hospital administrator entered the same hallway area, apparently leading a facility tour for some visiting medical dignitary. Noting the growing hubbub around the pigeon sightings, she whispered to the visitor, “We are very proud of our pigeons.”

I’m home now and seeing scores of birds in my neighborhood. The future looks bright for most of them and cautiously guarded for others. Science-based watch lists developed by the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy highlight the survival challenges facing a number of these species. Ponder this: If you arrived at Baskin Robbins Ice Cream (28 flavors) to discover they now carried just two flavors of ice cream, would that concern you?

Now back to my original question: If bird populations and species diversity plummeted to critical lows in the future, would you care? I think you should. Birds are good for the heart.