Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail

The Meaning of Wood Pigeons

It is hard to go for a country walk and not send a wood pigeon or two up into the air ahead of us. Their raucous flapping is part of the soundtrack of the woods. Or to be more precise it is the soundtrack when something, including us, disturbs the peace of the countryside by bumbling along through it. The noisy pigeon’s flight is deliberate – it is part of a code. Their loud flapping alerts all the other pigeons in the area, and many other animals too, that something of concern is going on. It is a very simple but effective type of alarm.

Notice how the pigeons tend to fly away from the approaching disturbance; if we are walking towards an oak tree and cause a pigeon to take off, it is much more likely to fly away from us than towards us. Again, this is a deliberate part of the signal, it instantly tells the other birds the direction to head to get away from a perceived threat.

Now notice how we can tell what others are up to in the wood from this simple sign. This is a trick that has been used by outdoors professionals, like gamekeepers, and their adversaries, the poachers, for centuries – the flight of wood pigeons announces both the location and direction of travel of those on the ground. The pigeons tell us that someone is drawing near, long before we set eyes on them.


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