Lancelot (no, Guinevere) — lost himself (no, herself) — along the coast of Scotland, where Picts and Druids and Earls and Scots laid claim to the medieval stones of her landing. Just north of these stones lie the crags and cliffs that offer sanctuary for pelagic birds, the calls of whom may have drawn her to seek some good fortune at this spot. Blue band on her leg, humbled by fatigue and flight, she wandered into this castle and found a ledge, carpeted with moss, and shielded from the Scottish gales. She stretched out her neck, preened her flight feathers, and fluffed her downy belly for a long rest.
That’s how I imagine North Atlantic life began for Lancelot-Guinevere, this rescued homing pigeon Hugh discovered while driving up the coast of Scotland this week, en route to his next gig. He was reaching across the counter to buy his visitor pass when he heard the characteristic “no, no, no” grunting sound that pigeons make when they don’t want to be disturbed or grabbed. If you haven’t heard that grunt, it sounds like “mmm-noh! mmm-noh! mmm-noh!” with a little Tony Montana thrown in.
Sorry kids, profanity in abundance. Tony Montana montage:
Lancelot, as he was first named by the castle folk, was given food and shelter when he arrived, lost in the gusts as often happens with homing and racing pigeons. They get lost. They get injured. And more often than not, the owner refuses to take them back, or will choose to cull a bird that’s become useless for racing purposes. So, it’s people like Mickacoo, and, it appears, people who tend to medieval castles, who end up responsible for wayward pigeons.
The castle gave Lancelot a nesting box in the ward of this fortress, and handfuls of feed. He lived his days as Lancelot until one pivotal moment — as is common with pigeons — Lancelot seemed to switch gender when “he” tended to “her” nest and eggs. Lancelot was re-christened “Guinevere.”
It’s the pigeon subterfuge, the switcheroo they pull on you simply because pigeon gender identification is difficult if not impossible absent a DNA test. It’s difficult, that is, until you see the pigeon interact with other pigeons, or in front of a mirror. Or you see your ostensibly male pigeon lay an egg.
Presented with a challenger (or reflection) males will strut and coo with their flattened lobster tails, and females usually stay demur. In mated pairs, the dynamic is clear, as the puffed-up male circles his girl, fending off the interested single dudes. Pigeons bond as couples for the long haul, taking care of nest and babies together in a liberated and equitable way, for years on end.
A home is a castle, no more true than in the case of Lancelot-Guinevere. I suspect pigeon stories like this will follow me and Hugh to the end of our days. Once you understand the beauty and the nuance that is “pigeon,” it’s impossible not to take note of the exceptional stories they have to tell.
For more information on Bay Area domestic pigeon and dove rescue — or for information on how to adopt a needy bird or two — check out the Rescue Report from Mickacoo. Elizabeth, Mickacoo’s founder, features the birds who are available for adoption. She also showcases some of her rescue stories and tales of incredible avian resilience. It’s impossible to read her blog and not develop an intense appreciation for these too-often-underestimated birds.