It all started as a normal Friday night… We were on our way to have dinner when we walked past a pigeon huddled in the corner at the foot of a building. He (well for the sake of this, lets call him a he, he very well could have been a she) was a beautiful beige and brown bird with a very scruffy looking head. Looking at him you could tell he was not well, he was holding himself very uncomfortably and was very thin. Eva and I looked at each other and felt quite sad at the sight of this unhappy creature.
In the back of my head at dinner I continued to think of this poor pigeon, hoping he was still OK. He was located in a very high pedestrian and car traffic area downtown. People in big cities often have a lot of disdain for pigeons, going so far as to injure and poison them in horrific ways. It’s rather horrible, but thats likely a post for another day. I secretly hoped we wouldn’t see him, and he would have flown off. Alas on the way back he was only a few feet away, following a group of 2 other pigeons. As the pigeons flew off, he attempted to follow but didn’t make it more than a half a foot before stumbling to the ground. We watched as he attempted to eat everything in sight to no avail, even when he would find something edible, it just wouldn’t go down.
Knowing that leaving this poor bird would spell certain death at the hands of a vehicle or a pedestrian, we did the only thing we could do. Eva stayed to watch him and ensure he didn’t slowly crawl onto the road while I sprinted home to get a box and some food. Thanks to the elevators being out, I ended up sprinting up and down the stairs, something I’d regret for the 3 days that followed. Thankfully we had a perfect sized box and some unsweetened 5-grain oatmeal. I ran back to Eva who was standing in front of our pigeon who had huddled back into his corner.
He was pretty weak, so getting him into the box was not particularly difficult. He attempted to shuffle away, but he was both slow and unable to fly so it was not a particularly traumatic ordeal. A pair of foreign tourists videoed us catching the little pigeon. I tried to explain what we were attempting to do to them, but they seemed less interested in the motives than the video of the act they could now take home. I added the oatmeal, closed the box up and we calmly walked home. We heard the little guy peck a few times at the oatmeal inside the box as we nonchalantly rode the crowded elevator home. Once home, we opened the box and put a heavy mesh top on so he could get air and light. We prepared water, gave him some corn kernels and stopped to look at our bird.
That first night, he was absolutely pathetic. Huddled in the corner, barely keeping his eyes open. I sat there watching with a heavy heart, when suddenly he plunged his head in the water bowl and drank and drank. After that, he returned to his pathetic huddle. A few minutes later he tried to eat again, with very little luck. He did manage to eat a single kernel of corn, and pooped. This made me feel a lot better, but even so, that first night I did not sleep very well. I really did not want to wake up to a dead pigeon we failed to help.
Saturday morning he was looking a bit better, though still having a lot of trouble eating anything. We had given him some wild bird feed the night before, which was mostly corn meal. He really wanted it, food would enter the beak but not the crop. It’s a truly heartbreaking sight, to watch a hungry creature who just cannot eat. We were very worried that he had the “pigeon canker” that prevents their crops from working, which we believed was a virus and very common. After a bit of research, it turns out that “pigeon canker” was a parasite (a protozoan called Trichomonas gallinae), indeed very common, and it was quite easily curable if caught early enough. We had been practicing heavy sanitation since we brought him home and continued to do so, but it was certainly a lot better to deal with than a virus. We had some Metronidazole that belonged to Molly the dog, pulverized 50mg, and mixed it into his water supply little by little. It’s a general anti-bacterial and anti-microbial, and worked very well against this particular protozoan. Thankfully he readily drank the medicated water down.
Wonderfully, by Saturday afternoon our pigeon was eating up a storm. We ended up having to change his paper and give him new seed every few hours. He was even holding himself much more naturally, less of a squat and more of a stand. He could keep his eyes open and he was almost blinking normally. When you talked to him, he would look very intently up at you. We were delighted to say the least. By that evening he was calmly sitting, and pecking at me when I’d change his water or paper. Amusingly he wouldn’t peck when I’d return fresh paper or water, only when I’d take it away. He even began making a chirp when he would peck at me, more on that later. I’m unsure if he really did have the pigeon canker (some research did indicate mild cases could heal very quickly) or if he really just needed some safe rest, but we kept up with the medication as he was making major improvements.
Sarah, Eva and I were marvelling at him that night when Eva exclaimed: “Hey, why does he have furry feet, is he a baby?” Sure enough, we realized that in fact we did not have a sickly aging pigeon, we had an abandoned adolescent pigeon. He had his proper feathers, except for undeveloped tail feathers, a scraggly head and fuzzy feet. A look at some pigeon development photos placed him somewhere around 20-25 days old. He had most likely been un-nested (perhaps he was “cleaned” from the ledge his nest was on) or he was abandoned for being hurt/ill. Either way we had a baby on our hands. As we continued to talk to him and stand around his box he attempted to fly, so we quickly left and let him calm down.
Sunday morning he was doing great, sitting calmly, great eye contact, blinking properly. Most importantly he was eating and pooping up a storm. He continued to peck and chirp (we learned the chirp is a baby noise, as opposed to the coo they make as adults). He even managed to connect one of his pecks against my arm, though it didn’t hurt in the slightest. Really more of a nudge. He again tried to fly in his box and made a big mess of his water. At this point we had some tough decisions to make…
From everything we read, we needed to release him on a good weather day, when he was able to eat and fly on his own. We were unsure if he could fly, but at this point in his life, every day was critical. He needed to be out practicing flying with a flock of pigeons, and thankfully pigeons are very communal and do accept new comers to flocks readily. I made the decision that we would care for him if he couldn’t fly, but we at least needed to attempt to release him, it was in his best interest. This isn’t an easy decision to make, I certainly didn’t want to send a creature to its death, but I didn’t want to be preparing him for an unhappy captive existence either. The weather was looking good that day, so we knew what we had to do… We drove around to a few locations we thought would have pigeon flocks, with no luck. A dreadful feeling was building, we really wanted to find a nice flock to release him to. Thankfully we stumbled upon a flock by the water we had actually photographed before. It was a medium sized flock in a big green space, with plenty of water and little people/vehicular traffic. Place to take cover, and likely plenty of natural food. Fantastic.
As we got ready to release him, our flock flew away from us. OK, not a big deal, that was their area, they’d be back (they were actually just watching us from a safe distance). We sat his box down and opened it up. Our baby was very reluctant to leave. He sat looking out nervously for a good 10 minutes. I guess I had hoped he would run out of the box and fly off, and that would be that. Not that easy, the world outside of the box was scary. He slowly began inching closer to the sunlight, peering out very curiously. Eventually he ventured out, ran around Eva and back into the box. Our hearts sank, this was pretty tough. Sure enough though, he quickly came back out and got more adventurous, going so far as to eat a small dandelion that had just opened. I knew what I had to do, I shooed at him a bit and sure enough he flew away. It wasn’t the most graceful flight ever, he was only a foot or two off of the ground and the landing wasn’t perfect, but he flew a good 15 feet into some thick shrubs. We walked over and gave him the rest of the bird seed. He was still cautious of us (which is a good thing), ate a bit of the seed and ran over into a thicker bush. We backed away, cleaned up what we had brought with us and left.
It was an extremely difficult thing to do, but we knew the pigeon we had named Gideon would do well. He now had his strength back, a decent sized flock in greener pastures, complete with good cover to take refuge in. I’m very glad we were able to give this beautiful creature a new lease on life.