Ode to a Pigeon

6 04 2012

“That thou, light-wingèd Dryad of the trees (…)”

– Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats

The history of Laurel pigeon Columba junoniae is a history of hate and love. Before the Spaniards reach the island, the mediterranean warm forest occupied a huge range at the middle altitudes of western Canaries. That habitat was composed mainly by Dragon trees Dracaena draco, Canary Islands Palm tree Phoenix canariensis, wild Olive trees Olea europaea, Savins Juniperus sabina and a great diversity of bushes such as 2 species of Pistachoes and Bully trees Syderoxylon marmulano. The Laurel pigeon used to live in that singular habitat, while Bolle’s pigeon Columba bollii inhabited the laurisilva rainforest.

Unluckyly, those mediterranean areas were the most fertile grounds and humans took profit of that fact turning them into crops and intensive cultivations. The Dragon trees were almost erradicated because its sap was useful for varnishes and dyes. As soon as new species of palm trees were introduced, they hybridized with the endemic ones and it can be hard to find a pure exemplary nowadays. The habitat was near to disappear and the asociated pigeons seemed to share the same destiny. Some of them managed to breed in the laurel forests and Bolle’s pigeons were forced to take in the refugees in their house.

A few years later (in an evolutionary sense), the Canary Islans dwellers were fed up with agriculture. They just can’t compete with the extensive plains of the continent. The ships started to transport products from what seemed an inexhaustible source of cereals, fruits and even technology. It was hard to move the water through the mountains, recovering from rocks, ravines and cliffs. Suddenly, they noted it was always sunny in his island. Beaches were beautyful and the sea was clear as if it comes from the snowy lakes of the highest mountains. Tourists didn’t take a lot of time to discover the wonders of the Atlantic Islands and the cities moved from the middle altitudes to the coasts. Hotels, golf courses and sportif harbours were build as fast as the crops were deserted.

Laurel pigeons look at each other and decided to set up the reconquest of the mediterranean slopes. They found a present let by humans:  Medlar trees and Avocadoes. The fruits tasted wonderful, there were lots of rocks to breed behind and humans seemed to be happy with their new emplacement. The result was an increase in the Laurel pigeon population even it is still endangered as most of endemics.

Fortunately, nowadays it’s not as difficult to sight a purple phantom flying from one tree to another, or from one tree to a rock, or to a medlar… They have become and they are here to stay.

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