This story (which like many I’ve posted here lately) is not about pigeons. But it nods at the ways in which birds are more complex beings than folks like B. F. Skinner ever gave them credit for. It also underscores the ways in which folks like B. F. Skinner and their penchant for capitalizing on behaviorism are deeply harmful to (this sounds a bit nuts as I write it maybe) birds’ own agency and integrity.
The story of Nigel, who died this week, is heartbreaking.
The bird was lured to Mana Island five years ago by wildlife officials who, in hopes of establishing a gannet colony there, had placed concrete gannet decoys on cliffsides and broadcast the sound of the species’ calls. Nigel accepted the invitation, arriving in 2013 as the island’s first gannet in 40 years. But none of his brethren joined him.
In the absence of a living love interest, Nigel became enamored with one of the 80 faux birds. He built her – it? – a nest. He groomed her “chilly, concrete feathers . . . year after year after year,” the Guardian reported. He died next to her in that unrequited love nest, the vibrant orange-yellow plumage of his head contrasting, as ever, with the weathered, lemony paint of hers.