When you’re helping out a pigeon, the reaction from people passing by tends to be polarized: “how sweet” or “disgusting.” Pigeons have such a lousy rap, some people are aghast that anyone would think to rescue one of these birds, let alone touch it.

Well, that’s precisely what Hugh and I were doing in the middle of a busy shopping mall today. Touching pigeons. We didn’t mean to. We’re trying to lead “normal” lives, I swear. But these situations find us. Or rather, we see these situations and simply can’t turn away.

It started innocently enough with me photographing this group of pigeons, picking up scraps from some friendly shoppers. I know most people don’t photograph pigeons, owing to their ordinariness. But I do. I like to find the pretty in the ordinary.

Feral Rock Pigeons

Feral Rock Pigeons

As I’m sitting on the pavement waiting for Hugh I’m taking these shots. I see one poor pigeon hobbling to the point of tipping over. He’s doing his best to scramble for crumbs but it’s obvious he’s incapacitated. On closer look, I see that both of his feet are tied together in a mess of twine. Okay, great. I don’t really have time, but what else can I do? I’ll kick myself all the way home if I don’t try.

Normally, I’d have a photo to insert here, but I dropped my camera bag and moved in to grab the guy, thinking I could untangle him.

So here I am, sitting on a bench in the middle of an outdoor mall that might as well be Disneyland, it’s such a contrived environment. And I’m holding a mussed up feral pigeon in my lap, trying to reach my cell phone to call Hugh, to ask him to please meet me and bring scissors. Fortunately, he picks up and is just across the mall.

We take turns cutting the twine and pulling it out of a calloused wound the thread has sawed into the pigeon’s leg. The string is choking his feet like a blood-pressure sleeve. No, worse. Like asphyxiation by piano wire.

Our scissors are a blunt-ended children’s pair, an almost useless tool we have stashed in the car. They just aren’t doing the job on this intricate mess of string. And this pigeon’s squirming as his pals watch this curious development. Hugh said the other pigeons were probably thinking, “Is he getting food? Food, please. Can I have some food?”

There’s a Sephora shop in my line of sight, so I hand the pigeon to Hugh and run in for some nail scissors. I’m standing in line, fidgeting, knowing Hugh can only hold this bird for so long. But I’m not quite willing to cut in line for a “pigeon emergency.” So I wait through three beauty makeovers at the register, as the cashier up-sells luminous color and rejuvenating serum.

Pigeon Rescue

Pigeon Rescue

Oh by the way, did I mention I’m contorting my walk to hide the pigeon crap I have on my pants — and my hand is dripping blood from a puncture wound I gave myself while testing out the scissors? If I had a hump on my shoulder I’d be a shoe-in for bell-ringer.

Cut to: Back outside, cutting away at the twine on a twitching pigeon with curious children wondering what in the hell we’re doing to this poor bird. Telling the parents we volunteer at a wildlife hospital generates some interest — about the pigeon itself and about wildlife work in general. I didn’t anticipate this situation being a teaching opportunity, but am gratified to see the children investing some care in the outcome.

Then, finally, we get the last threads squeezing the life out of his feet and toes. We dab some veterinary disinfectant on his wound (yep, we carry that, too) and Hugh opens his palms. Our pigeon friend flaps like the dickens upward, then hobbles to a landing on a nearby roof. We’re not sure what his story ending will be, but we hope our spontaneous mall rescue gave the little guy a fighting chance and at least one good foot. They can make it with one.

You have, I’m sure, seen many peg-legged pigeons limping around the city. The urban hazards are monumental. Like them or not, you have to give pigeons respect for their toughness. They are true survivors in a world that doesn’t often give much love to these super birds.

I love me an underdog. Or underbird, as it were.

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