Darwin For Pigeons
By Rodger Jacobs
“Did you make that pigeon blow up?” the little boy called up to Trace.
Trace was standing on the balcony of his fifth floor residential hotel room. Moments before he was smoking a cigarette and observing the pigeons on the lawn below. There were two of the birds pecking and hunting for food. One was a slate-gray pigeon with ruffled feathers, a scruffy little fellow, and the other was a plump and stout bird. Every time the scruffy pigeon happened upon a scrap of something or other – pigeons will eat damn near anything, after all – the plump and stout bird would shoo him away and confiscate the morsel for himself.
Trace had a habit of tossing his spent cigarette butts over the hotel balcony railing and onto the well-tended lawn five stories below, relying on the moisture of the lush green grass to extinguish the burning embers. There were plenty of ashtrays in the room that doubled as his office and living quarters but once something became habit with Trace there was no reversing the course.
He finished the cigarette, took the butt between thumb and middle finger, and sent it soaring over the balcony. When the cigarette landed on the lawn the scruffy pigeon beat feet toward what it probably hoped would be something desirable.
“It’s still lit, dummy,” Trace muttered.
He turned his back to the balcony railing, anxious to return to work on his latest magazine deadline, when he heard a loud pop, like somebody imploding a small paper lunch bag. Looking down at the lawn, Trace saw what remained of the plump pigeon. The bird had simply exploded. The head and hindquarters occupied one slice of lawn and in the middle were the bright red entrails, flecked with the undigested remains of popcorn kernels, chunks of bread, what appeared to be a small dog turd, and, in the center of it all, a still smoldering cigarette butt.
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Trace shouted over the railing to the small child who had paused on the sidewalk to observe the horrific scene. The scruffy pigeon was still at the scene of the crime, observing – perhaps in ironic wonder, if pigeons are capable of grasping irony and who is to say that they are not? – the fate of his bullying feeding mate.
“Go on now,” Trace waved at the boy. “Don’t hang around there. Pigeons are full of germs.”
Trace wondered what to do next. Does one call Animal Control when a bird explodes? Or do you just leave the mess for nature to clean up? Furthermore, why would a burning cigarette cause a bird to explode like a feathered hand grenade?
He felt responsible for the gooey mess on the lawn below and the questions plagued him as he tried to finish writing his article about the exploitation of dead porn stars.
Two years prior, Trace had written a screenplay, “Claws”, about a flock of predatory condors that escape from the Los Angeles Zoo and prey upon the city’s weak and vulnerable populace. During the process of researching the script he had become friends with Dewey Hopper, the chief ornithologist at the L.A. Zoo.
“A cigarette won’t make a bird explode,” Dewey laughed when Trace phoned him a half hour after the incident.
Dewey had encountered this phenomena in relation to different types of bird seed, some of which contain types of grain that are unsuitable for different birds.
“It has to do with the size and speed of the birds digestive system,” Dewey explained to Trace, “and the amount the grain will expand when immersed in liquid.”
It was more likely, Dewey said, that the pigeon had very recently ingested rice.
“If he had eaten a lot of rice and it expanded over a period of time, filling his stomach, well … you get the picture.”
“Literally,” Trace said, staring down at the mess on the lawn while speaking to Dewey. “Thanks, Dew.”
Trace hung up, slipped the cell back into his leather hip holster, and lit a cigarette.
He wondered how pigeons survive in China.