I think the pigeon people are trying to tell me something.
Late last year, I took a rambunctious fledgling pigeon to a nearby hospital. In April, I drove two [very] baby pigeons to the same hospital. I’m always snapping pigeon photos even when other photographers sweep their lenses right over the pigeon landscape.
So, it shouldn’t have surprised me when Chauncey came along. She’s a racer, bred to be a strong flyer and contender. But for reasons that will forever remain Chauncey’s private reasons, she landed one day at a home up in the Oakland hills and wouldn’t leave. This homer wasn’t going home.
The people there didn’t want Chauncey. And they knew precisely what to do: wait for their neighbor to arrive home and hand her a pigeon. This neighbor just happens to be a fellow volunteer at our wildlife hospital. When Chauncey arrived, she had four raccoons, a hummingbird, three baby cottontails, three baby squirrels and her own pets to contend with. We offered to help her find a home for Chauncey.
Here’s what we didn’t know: pigeons for adoption are more than a dime a dozen. They are abandoned, abused, lost, injured and maimed in so many ways it’s hard to wrap your head around a pigeon’s strife if you care at all for these birds. King Pigeons are raised for food and raised in such a way that their breasts outweigh their capacity to fly well. When they’re tossed outdoors, as they often are, they’re victimized by cars, raptors, cats, and the general hazards of urban life.
Racing pigeons are bred to race. When they reach Chauncey’s age of 10+ years — particularly if they’re not too good at getting back home — they are useless to most racing pigeon lofts. They are sometimes “culled” or strictly confined, owing to their flawed instincts. In Chauncey’s case, her owner was untraceable. Bad paperwork and a defunct racing club. Whether or not they wanted her back we’d never know. But that’s probably a good thing for Chauncey.
So what do you do with an unwanted racing pigeon? Well, you make sure you feed her and give her a little love. She’s been on the road for who knows how long, and needs a safe place to eat and sleep. You help her find a home and an aviary big enough to spread her wings and fly in safety. You talk to her and eventually, she coos with recognition when you come over to visit. You try clicker training her, but fail. You gift her foster home with stuffed toys, Timothy Hay, mirrors and other things that pigeon experts tell you pigeons love. You spend evenings learning about pigeons, fondly referred to as “pij” on Pigeon Talk. You give her bricks to perch on, to file her pigeon nails on. You can’t imagine starting your day anymore without thinking of her. You thank your lucky stars for groups like Mickacoo, who put their lives behind helping these birds.
Most of all, you start to develop genuine respect and appreciation for this common and under-appreciated species of bird. The “rats with wings” adage dies hard and is one of the most unfair designations we’ve smeared on a bird, especially in light of the pigeon’s intelligence and noble history with humans. (Check out Changing Our Cultural View of Pigeons for some insight on how pest-control companies had some influence on this smear campaign.)
Having this inside view into the life of a misunderstood species is a something Hugh and I will always consider a privilege. Our lives were forever altered the day we stepped into our wildlife hospital and fed our first baby bird. Each revelation, each new species and, especially, each animal that personally touches our hearts moves us closer, we hope, toward being a genuinely compassionate species.
(If you’re in the Bay Area and you’re interested in adopting a bird of any species, please check with Mickaboo for information and available rescue birds.)
- Pigeon Talk Forums
Tons of advice on keeping any sort of domestic pigeon and also helping injured wild pigeons
- The Rescue Report
Information on domestic, rescued pigeons available for adoption
The dove and pigeon division of Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue
- Project Pigeon Watch
Cornell Lab of Ornithology pigeon watching and research project for the public