Sandy's Garden ... What did for the doo?

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I had an unexpected encounter with the Grim Reaper in my garden one morning last week.

There, stretched out on a pathway, lay the corpse of a culver, struck down by … by what?

I am not … and have never wanted to be … a pathologist; I am not inclined to examine corpses of any species; and I was never going to spend time determining the cause of the death of a pigeon in an open part of my garden where it would have been very difficult for a predator to operate. But having disposed of the body, my curiosity began to get the better of me.

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My first thoughts were that, however unlikely that seemed, it had in fact been caught unawares by a ground-based predator, perhaps one of the domestic cats which regard my garden as, literally, a hunting ground, a fox … yes, there are foxes in the neighbourhood although I haven’t seen one particularly near my property recently … or something more exotic like an escaped ferret or a weasel.

Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy SimpsonFalkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson
Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson

However, the lack of evidence of any feathers having been removed from the dead pigeon and the absence of any obvious signs of parts of the body having been eaten … no, I didn’t look too closely … seemed to suggest that the creature had not had its existence terminated by an animal predator. I discounted the possibility that the deed had been done by a stray dog, having only ever seen one or two lost dogs near my home … not strays … looking for help to reunite them with their owners.

I considered a scenario beloved of the writers of televised detective stories; had the doo been killed elsewhere and its body dumped in my garden to cast suspicion on me as the murderer? But the obvious next questions would be – why do that? Who was going to investigate the doo’s death and why would anyone want me accused of engineering its demise?

So, if the deed was not done by a human hand, could the pigeon have been killed on the wing by a raptor … a hawk, an eagle or a falcon, maybe … and fallen to the ground in my garden? Yes, I think this could have been the case: but the generic term for these and similar birds – raptor – is derived from the Latin raptare, “to seize and carry off”; and this doo had neither been carried off nor, as I have already noted, did its body seem to have been tasted as a food source. So a raptor killing its next … substantial … meal seemed very improbable.

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Then a thought occurred; do predators or raptors kill for pleasure or, perhaps more accurately, just the sake of killing? I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer to that question; but I know that seals will kill salmon during the spawning season, when large numbers of them throng certain rivers and well-sated seals kill many fish, apparently just for the hell of it.

I suspect that they may, if the opportunity presents itself and they don’t have to put much effort into it, just as I might well aim a casual kick at an abandoned ball lying in my path. Perhaps, then, my dead doo had inadvertently flown below a raptor and the raptor had used the opportunity for a bit of unexpected target practice. I quite like that idea.

But then again, maybe my pigeon perished from natural causes. I learn, from the website of Travipharma, a Dutch company which has spent decades developing medicines, for ‘domesticated’ pigeons, that these birds … and, presumably, their ‘wild’ cousins … are vulnerable to some very unpleasant infections.

They may develop coccidiosis, a potentially fatal parasitic disease, or trichomoniasis, which causes sudden death (hmmm!), or ornithosis, otherwise known as ‘parrot fever’. Then there’s mycoplasmosis, salmonellosis, E-coli, hexamitiasis and necrotic enteritis among other nasty illnesses, several of which can transfer to people.

And learning that, I assuredly do hope that it was a predator which did for the doo.

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