At 12:30am this morning, as I lay on the settee watching Walking With Monsters on the UK History channel, there came an almighty series of loud noises from the fireplace. Like most British homes these days, we retain an open chimney, but the fireplace it’s connected to is sealed over with a metal plate. A gas fire is in front of the plate, its flue connected to the chimney via a rectangular opening in the metal plate. From time to time bits of mortar fall down the chimney. But this time, noise continued for many minutes after the first series of big, initial noises. And Tigger Mamum-Ra, our oversized tabby (yes, I have my own mega-cat), was very interested…
Obviously, a bird had fallen down the chimney. A big one, presumably a Wood pigeon Columba palumba. As I crawled up to bed I forgot about it… and it wasn’t until this morning, when Will burst into the bedroom* and gleefully spoke of flapping noises in the fireplace, that I remembered what had happened. So I had to remove the fire: I got my dad to help me with this as I didn’t know how to safely turn off and disassemble a gas tap and its attached pipe. We couldn’t remove the metal plate without a lot of hassle, but with the fire out of the way I could peer in via the rectangular opening. Sure enough, an adult Wood pigeon had fallen down the chimney. It looked healthy, normal and undamaged.
* (to deliver his mother’s day gifts)
I had decided to try and get the bird out for several reasons. One could, theoretically, just let a trapped bird die in a sealed chimney. After all, a lot of trouble is involved in getting it out, and its corpse will probably dessicate rather than rot and create a stink. But that’s not a risk I was willing to take, and the thought of a trapped bird being left to die in a dark prison where escape is impossible is a bit dark for my liking. So I ended up ripping my arms to shreds on the sharp edges of sheet metal, grasping for a frightened pigeon.
As you can see from the photos, I succeeded. I managed to extract the bird via the rectangular opening, and release it. It flew away, minus some rectrices. It might have died minutes later from shock, but to be frank my main concern was extracting it from the house, and not its welfare. Having said that, my actions obviously were to the benefit of the bird as well as to that of my family. On an incidental note – if you’re wondering – most people in this country don’t exactly worry about the welfare of Wood pigeons. They’re a serious agricultural pest that you’re allowed to shoot at any time of the year, and there are about 3.2 million pairs of them in the country. They don’t really flock, but you might still see over 300 birds feeding on an arable field at any one time.
Anyway, a bird falling down a chimney might not sound like a particularly exciting event but, actually, it raises some interesting questions. What the hell is a big diurnal bird doing falling down a chimney at 12:30am in the morning? Wood pigeons roost in trees, sitting on branches 4 m off the ground and higher. If startled during the night (by a person or a predator), they burst loudly from the branches and fly off quickly in panic. I suppose if this happens, a panicked pigeon might end up settling in some stupid and inappropriate place, like on a chimney. It was tremendously windy last night, making sitting on top of a chimney a dangerous thing to do. I wondered if the bird might have tried to hide or take refuge in the chimney pot, only to accidentally fall to danger. After all, a surprising number of birds do actually creep into cover at night, secreting themselves away into crevices or into deep foliage (to see how I know this visit Little birds in crevices). But I don’t think pigeons do this. Wood pigeons are way too big to regularly indulge in this behaviour: they’re about 40 cm long and 450 g in weight, which is big for a pigeon.
So… quite why the bird fell down the chimney, I don’t know. And if you think that this is more interesting than the use of rhinos in combat, or than the newly published, giant, dromaeosaur-eating compsognathid Sinocalliopteryx gigas, then… shame on you! Though feel free to disagree