The two doves resting on the plinth of a statue in front of Paris’s Musee D’Orsay had struck out boldly from their usual habitat: to get there from the River Seine involves waddling across a four-lane highway.
But these days, traffic on the road is rare because of the coronavirus lockdown in force in the French capital that has reduced human activity, and, according to ornithologists, emboldened birds to adventure into new territory.
“They are turning into explorers. The coast is clear,” said Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, head of the French League for the Protection of Birds.
“They are curious by nature. They wonder if they’re going to find some food, or some tranquility, or a satisfactory spot.”
The French government’s strict restrictions on movement, imposed to try to contain the world’s fourth deadliest outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, are now in their sixth week.
Most people are staying at home, almost all stores are shut, and the usually traffic-clogged roads are quiet.
That creates a more welcoming environment for birds, especially the decline in noise pollution that has been measured on some of Paris’s busiest thoroughfares. Birds performing mating songs now no longer have to compete with the rumble of traffic.
The phenomenon has been observed too at Mont Saint-Michel, a tidal islet off France’s northwest coast. It is normally thronging with tourists. With the lockdown, it has fallen quiet.
“All the little birds that before were hidden are showing themselves,” said Sister Eve-Marie, a nun with the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, who lives on the islet.
“It wasn’t the case before. They are less scared because there are fewer people.”
But the newly emboldened birds could have to change their behaviour after May 11, when French President Emmanuel Macron has said that he will begin gradually lifting movement restrictions.
“A certain number of animals have occupied spaces without any great worries, and you can understand that, and then mankind is going to brutally come back to their territory,” said Bougrain-Dubourg. “They are going to have a shock.”