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Among the senile amusements of my vacation, none exceeded that of teasing the mourning doves (id est pigeons) who roam the vicinity with bits of thin pretzel knots. Choosing broken but not crumbling pretzels, I break them up into a few pieces and scatter them on the patio. Eventually, the doves screw up their courage and peck at what must seem to them to be a kind of worm. Dove beaks are not suited to hard pretzel, however, and almost invariable the fragment gets tossed spastically to one side. At first, the doves will walk away from this frustrating encounter, but eventually they are certain to give way to avian rage, flaying the pretzel to bits. In one horrifying instance, a particularly thwarted dove swallowed much too big a piece. It stood there for a minute, incapable of forward motion so long as its esophagus was occupied, and gulped blinkingly if uncomplainingly. This went on for - too long. I was sure that I'd done a very bad thing, that the poor thing was going to suffocate to death before my eyes. This didn't happen, however. Within moments, the dove was feuding with an interloping colleague. I did take to breaking the pretzel into smaller, less challenging pieces.

After three days of this, the doves have built up a certain resistance to pretzels, and are no longer so entertaining. Tant pis pour eux - I've eaten all the pretzels.

Even more entertaining than the mourning doves on the patio are the blackbirds on the breakfast terrace. The terrace is netted, but there are at least half a dozen blackbirds darting among the tables at any given time, and they are better than a show. This morning, we watched an enterprising fellow tackle a bit of English muffin, which he promptly swallowed down with a gulp of cream. His beak emerging from the pitcher in "Got Milk?" form, he proceeded to wipe it on the tablecloth! At lunchtime, the thing to watch for is the stray French fry. We've seen birds lift off with fries half their body length. For while they might nibble on breads à table, fries can only be enjoyed aloft, in the relative privacy of umbrella struts.

Just beyond the netting, there is a quaint, hip-roofed bird feeder. It's popular with the blackbirds, but if it's meant to distract them from the table scraps, it's a bust.


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You bad boy, you! You're appealing to this amateur birder, and I repay you with the following link. Endless fascination.


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