The pigeons that I rescued last winter from a sticky trap at Meijhers (the female) and literal run in with an antique store window (the male) Have recouperated and decided to stay here with me. They built their nest in the fawn pen and two weeks ago the babies hatched. This is what they look like today.
With faces that only a mother could love, I am relieved that I do not have to feed this brood by hand. They brought to mind the very first pigeon I ever rehabilitated amany years ago. His name was Poo.
We bought a house in Ludington, Michigan just before my husband began a two year assignment in the Persian Gulf. It was immediately after the first gulf war and we knew it would be a tense time for all concerned. It was to be his last “sea Duty” assignment before he retired. When he returned to the states we hoped that he could finish out the remaining year and a half at a nearby reserve station or at the least, Great Lakes Training center near Chicago.
I had grown up in the Ludington area and my family still lived there. It’s a small quiet town on the shore of Lake Michigan with pristine beaches and mature hardwood forests. We thought it would be the perfect place to retire to when James got out of the Navy. The area had served me well growing up and I knew it would be a safe, nurturing place for Levi to do the same. We came home from Rode Island on vacation over the Fourth of July (is it ever really vacation when you visit family?). We went downtown on the Fourth to watch one of those wonderful parades that one only sees in a small town. An old friend invited us for coffee afterwards and we walked the few blocks to her house.
On the way, we passed a beautiful Victorian cottage for sale. It had clean lines, a wraparound porch and none of the fussiness that too often complicates homes from that era. It had a for sale sign in the front yard and on a lark, we investigated. It was love at first sight. It had huge sunny rooms inside and stately maple trees in the back yard. There was a full basement with lots of nooks and crannies perfect for a 10 year old boy. From the front porch, you could see and hear the light house, just 4 blocks away. From the master bedroom window upstairs, the courthouse clock tower would serve as a night light.. If the window were open, you could hear it toll the hours. We could walk to town and school and my best friend lived only three blocks away. Not only was it the Victorian house I’d always dreamed about, but it was in the perfect location. We put in an offer and returned to Rode Island.
Ten weeks later we closed through the mail. I would not necessarily recommended that tactic. We had only seen the inside of the house once and of course, it looked much better in my memory than in reality. You don’t see a lot of potential problems from 850 miles away. You don’t know that the previous owner is using it to house his dogs while he refurbishes his new place. We arrived in the middle of a late night storm which had required Levi and I to hide under an overpass while a tornado passed over. We had driven over 24 hours with a U-Haul truck and a mini van hauling a trailer. In this mini van (which had gotten smaller with every passing mile) was Levi and I, everything that wouldn’t fit in the truck, a mother cat and her kittens, a guinea pig, two turtles, a toad and a Jack Russell Terrorist. I was three feet past the end of my rope.
It was a good thing it was dark when we got there. We couldn’t see that they had dug holes all over the yard removing plants, taken out built-in cabinets, abandoned anything that they didn’t want to take with them (including over 800 magazines) and not cleaned up after the dogs. The cold light of day took on a whole new meaning. James went deer hunting, Levi took off to explore the town and I proceeded to chip two teeth unpacking boxes It was good to get reacquainted with my old dentist so soon. Two days later, James went back to Rode Island, leaving me with a half butchered deer and frozen water pipes. Things were looking up though, Levi started his new school.
Within weeks, I was well on my way to turning that place into my dream home. Already, I was stripping wall paper and restoring stained glass windows. I was learning new things every day like the fact that my neighbor was an accomplished pianist and practiced often. I discovered the joy of sitting on the porch and watching the thick fog creep up my street and spread across the town. I learned that a newly installed doggy door actually can save your sanity and that you miss your husband more after 12 years of marriage than 2.
We made it through that first Christmas without daddy and somehow managed to cope with one of the heaviest snows in years. I woke up to 12 inches of fresh white crap on the ground one morning and went out and bought a snow blower only to discover that the only reason I got it IN the van was because I had help, I had no clue how I was going to get it out of the van alone. (I eventually piled enough snow behind the van so I could drag it down the ramp I had created.) I’m not sure if there were ever two people in history so glad to see spring arrive as Levi and I.
Spring came with a vengeance. Where once there was snow and ice, I discovered periwinkles and crocus. Spring brought balmy breezes off the lake, late night fog horns and all new reasons to sit on the front porch. Spring brought morel mushrooms to hunt in the woods, fish for Levi and his grandfather to throw worms at. Spring brought us closer to the date when James would return and renewed hope. What we didn’t expect spring to bring us, was Poo.
One morning I was sitting on the porch swing sharing my Cheerio’s with the local squirrels. (I think they had come to actually prefer their cereal with milk and sugar.) It became a ritual, we’d have our breakfast and then they would leave me with my coffee to plan the rest of the day. Today, my reverie was broken by an odd sound near the porch steps. “Poooooo, Pweeeeee” I tried to ignore it. I had things on my mind. Important things, like how to get squirrel poop off of a wicker table. “Pooooo, Pweeeee” The noise seemed a bit more frantic. “Pweeeee, Pweeee, Pweee!” Ok, the cat was headed down to investigate; I guess I’d better get there first.
I went down the porch steps and saw something move under the ferns beneath the crawl space. I got down on my hands and knees (in my PAJAMAS mind you) to see if I could find the source of the noise. There, all alone and half feathered was a baby pigeon. A common gray, (what we used to call “flying poop bags”) pigeon. I looked around and glanced at the roof tops. Not another pigeon in sight. Actually not ANY bird. I think they were all hiding from me. I understood completely, I didn’t want a baby pigeon either, but here he was. He was cold. He was hungry. He was desperate for someone to feed him and kept flapping his wings at me and going “Poooooo, Pweeeeee. What ever made him think that I was going to feed him?Faith, I guess, faith that this gigantic human would somehow know what to do and take care of him.
He had faith. I had no clue. I knew that pigeons were crop feeders. That means that they stick their heads down their parents throats and the parent bird barfs up something milky into the chick. Ok, what do adult pigeons eat? Well, in my yard, they ate birdseed and peanuts and cheerios. Oh, and once when I turned my back two pigeons ate my scrambled egg sandwich. I was pretty sure that there actually wasn’t any milk involved though. If I had known how to use the primitive computer sitting on Levi’s desk, I might have found something there, but that was before I learned where the On- off switch was. So I did the next most logical thing. I called the library. I asked if anyone knew what a mother pigeon had in its crop. They hung up on me. I called back. I told them that I was serious, that I had a baby pigeon who expected me to feed him something. She told me that pigeons were “icky” and that they pooped on her car. Then she hung up again. So much for small town helpfulness.
Next I called a family friend who was a veterinarian. I had to wait for him to stop laughing. He asked me if I was really serious about hand feeding a “Rat with wings”? I told him that the pigeon certainly thought I was. He finally stopped snickering long enough to tell me to put peanut butter, boiled egg and some oatmeal or other grain in a blender with just enough water to make it soupy, “No milk?” I asked. “No Milk” came back across the phone line. That’s ok, I had somewhere to start. I thanked him and hung up on his third joke about serving squab.
I brought the Pigeon in and put him in a wooden salad bowl on the kitchen counter. I had no oatmeal, but figured that cheerios are made of oats, so I could use them. I dumped everything into the blender and whizzed the heck out of it. It was disgusting! It looked and smelled awful, but the pigeon caught wind of it and the little wings started to flap in earnest. “Pooooo-Pooooooo-Poooooooo”. I offered him a bit in a spoon, but I don’t think he’d gotten any lessons in table manners. Finally, I found a small turkey baster and filled it with the foul brew (no, I will NOT make the obvious pun) and tried to put it over the birds wide beak. It didn’t work and he was now scattering cheerio slop all over the counter with his scruffy little wings. “Pooooooo-Poooooooo-Pooooooooo” He couldn’t get more excited. He was absolutely positive I was going to feed him. Well, if he had that much faith in me, I would just have to find a way.
I took a few deep breaths, pried open his rubbery little beak and shoved in the turkey baister. He held absolutely still. I carefully squeezed the bulb. Pigeon milk went in and he swallowed. We were on a roll! I refilled the baster and tried again. He closed his eyes in ecstasy. I could now see the bulge where his crop was filling with long awaited food. Then I discovered what happens if you feed a baby pigeon too much, too fast. As I held the bird at eye level to make sure that no food had gotten into it’s nostrils, two thirds of the peanut butter soup came shooting back out. By the time I had cleaned off my glasses, he had settled down into the salad bowl and gone to sleep. The “Poooo” noises had finally ceased. That’s what we called him. Poo.
Baby pigeons grow at an amazing rate. If you’ve ever wondered why you rarely ever see baby pigeons, it’s because seemingly within days they are nearly as large as their parents. In order to support that accelerated growth, they eat an astonishing amount of food. I kept Poo’s salad bowl on the counter in the kitchen where I would pass it often. Each time I passed I would shoot some food in his mouth. Every other time I passed, I would change his nesting papers. Lots of food equals lots of poop! Poo quickly learned to do something that, in my experience no other pigeon or dove has done. He would open his beak to be fed when he saw me. It was actually pretty comical. There in a salad bowl next to the toaster was this unbelievably homely little bird, flapping it wings with it’s mouth open and all the while crying “Poooo,Poooo,Poooo”.
It wasn’t long and Poo wouldn’t stay in his bowl. He wanted to be anywhere I was. If I wouldn’t allow him sit on my shoulder, he would follow me around on the floor or sit on my feet. We seemed to be developing a sever attachment problem. I made a cage on the sun porch, but his cries were so pitiful that we usually ended up allowing him to be with us. I’m not exactly sure how long a mother pigeon feeds her offspring, but I know it is not as long as that bird convinced me to hand feed him. He was nearly full size and completely feathered out, but still getting excited every time the turkey baster came in sight. I needed to do something.
Gradually I started mixing more and more unblended food in with his peanut butter soup. I scattered bits of grain, vegetables and crumbs in the bottom of his cage. I took away his salad bowl and put up a perch. If he opened his mouth I put appropriate bird food in it. He gradually got the idea and began feeding himself. Now he ate like a bird and sat on the perch like a bird. It was time he realized that he actually WAS a bird.
I let him ride on my shoulder and we went outside. First, we just sat on his familiar porch and worked up to walking down the block so he could observe some of the wild pigeons sitting on the rooftops. I would point to them and tell him that he really belonged with them and not me. (I can only imagine how I must have looked to the rest of the neighborhood). He would cock his head and look at the other birds, but I never got the feeling that he was anything less than appalled. It was kind of like a wealthy person walking down Broadway and encountering homeless people. Yes, they might be the same species, but that didn’t mean they had to share dinner. A few times, in absolute frustration, I would toss Poo up in the air near the others and run back to the house. He would always beat me there and land on my shoulder. It was time for desperate measures.
I moved Poo’s cage to the open widow of the sun porch. A few screws was all it took to attach it to the windowsill so he could enter the cage, but not the house. I hoped that this would provide him with a measure of protection while still forcing him to stay outside. The first few days of his exile were pitiful. He would sit in his cage, as far into the house as he could get and call for someone to come and release him. He missed us. He missed his daily cheerios in the kitchen. I think he really missed television. If we ignored him he would fly from window to window to seek the rooms we were in. Once he established where we were he would peck at that window till I would lower the shades. It was tough love, but we began to see results.
One morning I went out of the porch with my coffee and Poo didn’t come racing around the corner to join me. I began to get a bit worried and scanned the rooftops. There he was, sitting on the neighbor’s roof with other pigeons. There was a young dusky female with white feathers in her wings and he was bobbing and cooing at her feet. She, of course was playing hard to get so as soon as he saw me, I was restored to the object of his affection. He stopped sleeping in his cage though and spent most of his time on our roof or the one next door.
The rooftop gave him a wonderful vantage point to keep tabs on me. I could no longer sneak off without him. If I decided to walk down town for something, then he followed. If I went into a restaurant or shop, he would wait on the rooftop and wait for me to come out. He would swoop down and greet me with his customary “Poooo, Poooo” By now most of the town knew about the “crazy lady and her pigeon” (Why didn’t anyone ever say that ’’lady and her crazy PIGEON.) My son saw no humor in the situation and avoided walking with me in daylight hours. Nothing disappointed Poo more than my taking the car somewhere. He would wait on the roof of the garage and try to follow me as far as he could in the air. Thankfully he usually gave up within the first mile and would return home, but he never stopped trying.
By the time the leaves turned colors, Poo was a full grown, adult bird. He has beautiful pale gray feathers with barring on his wings and an iridescent ring around his neck. Considering the rough start he had in life, he turned out to be a bit larger than most of the other birds. He seemed to be spending more time with the wild birds on various rooftops than on his own. I noticed that the dusky female was almost always nearby. They slept under the eves on the south side of the house and hung about the bird feeder during the day. By early spring the flock had started to separate as the pairs found nest sites. There were times when I could actually walk downtown without a pigeon chasing me down the block.
One morning I heard a noise on the ledge outside the stained glass window in my closet. It was a small window. Set deep into the outside wall. It had the perfect lay to get the morning sun and was sheltered from the wind and rain. I peeked out through the colored panes, there was Poo. He was shoving sticks and bits of debris about to make a nest. It is with reservations that I call what most pigeons, build a “nest”. They are loosely constructed affairs and one wonders how they can even prevent the eggs from rolling out. Poo was no better than any of the others at construction. The dusky female was even worse. It was then, that I had an idea.
I ran downstairs and rummaged through the kitchen cabinets until I found the old wooden salad bowl that had been his nest as a chick. I found a wood screw and the screwdriver and climbed out the bedroom window till I could reach the sill by the closet. Clinging to the siding for dear life (I could see the headlines in the paper now: “Woman Falls To Her Death From Rooftop Still Clutching Salad Bowl). Somehow I managed to screw the bowl onto the ledge and came back into the house to wait. I didn’t have to wait long.
Both Poo and the female arrived about the same time with more nesting material. She seemed a bit confused by it’s appearance, but Poo apparently got the idea immediately. He dumped his sticks on the roof, picked up the grass that his partner had brought and tucked it into the salad bowl. By morning, it was nicely lined with grass and other materials. On Sunday afternoon, I could see two eggs.
Poo and the dusky female were ideal parents, they took turns sitting the eggs and feeding each other. A few weeks later when the quarter sized babies appeared, I was afraid they were too small to survive. I needn’t have worried. Within days they were the size Poo was when I discovered him under the porch. Within weeks, they left the nest and the salad bowl was empty once more. Now that he had his own family, Poo was much less interested in mine. Levi no longer had to look over hi shoulder when going somewhere and people actually began asking me where my bird was. He would still come down for breakfast on the porch and I saw him looking in windows occasionally, but most of the time was spent with his own kind.
Twice more that summer, Poo and the dusky female returned to the salad bowl to lay and incubate eggs. The second lay was lost somehow, but they quickly lay a third set of small white eggs. These hatched the first week in August and by September they all had left to rejoin the flock on the roofs. Poo always remained near the house, but did not use the salad blow again. I left it there, just in case, when we moved the next year. He watched us, packing the moving van and offering an occasional “Pooooo-Pooooo”. I think he was asking where he could get cheerios from now on.