The Story of Mr. Bird

Guest Post by Christine Housel

Mr. Bird

Mr. Bird

One lovely fall day in 2012, a coworker and I took a stroll on the trail behind our office.  We’re lucky to work with the Florida Park Service, in a building nestled in one of our state’s natural treasures: Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.  We ambled along, admiring the magnificent array of birds and gators we see there all the time.  But, oh my—what’s that up ahead?!  Perched on the boardwalk railing, watching as we slowly approached, was a pretty white dove-like bird with colorful leg bands.  It was like no other bird we’d seen before—a visitor, for sure, and perhaps injured or sick.  JulieAnne snapped a photo and we calmly passed, trying not to frighten him.  Sadly, the hikers behind us weren’t as polite: a girl tried to touch him and down he flew, bumbling toward the gator-filled water hole and then disappearing under the boardwalk.  Mystery Bird was gone from view, but not from my mind.  I couldn’t think of anything else.  Where did he come from?  What was his story?

“That’s probably a racing pigeon,” our biologist colleague said when he saw the photo.  “A woman caught one just like it out on the prairie a few years ago.  Called the owner, and he said he didn’t want it back.”  Um, really?  His little bird was rescued and he doesn’t care?!  Naïve and troubled, I went home and read everything I could find about homing pigeons…and the “sport” that was responsible for Mystery Bird’s predicament.  That little pigeon, I realized, wouldn’t survive long in a park filled with gators, owls, and hawks…and if a predator didn’t get it soon, it would likely suffer fear, hunger, and thirst for days.  Paynes Prairie Preserve is a wild, wonderful place—great for the wildlife that lives there, but a death trap for a domesticated bird like a homer.  I knew that lonely pigeon might not survive the night, but if he did—I couldn’t rest until I tried to catch him.

It wasn’t until mid-afternoon the next day that I could get back out on the trail.  With a cardboard box in hand, I searched everywhere.  No pigeon.  I was too late, I lamented, and so bummed.  I tried to console myself with practicality: “Christine, he was a good meal for a hungry hawk.  And now, he won’t suffer.”  I wandered down the trail, half searching and half mourning, almost ready to turn around, when I stumbled into a wildlife photographer setting up his tripod.  “Hey, have you seen a white dove-like bird with colored leg bands?”  His face lit up.  “Oh yeah!  Funny little bird!  Saw him wandering under that big oak this morning, and a few hours ago a hawk swooped and just missed him.”  Elated, I ran back to the oak and searched until dark.  Still no pigeon—but now, at least, a little hope.  This is a smart bird, I told myself.  He’s hunkered down for the night, waiting for morning.  I’ll find him then.

Morning came and I was on the prairie again, my heart racing with anticipation as I neared the spot where Mystery Bird had last been seen.  Under the big oak, wild horses were grazing and lounging.  Cattle egrets encircled them, busily preening and foraging, their white feathers glistening in the sunny morning mist.  And there, in the midst of that elegant circle, desperately trying to find food and blend in, was the little white pigeon.  “Hello again, Mr. Bird,” I quietly murmured, slowly creeping toward him with the cardboard box.  He continued to forage, inching away as he eyed me nervously.  I knew I had to act quickly—and that I only had one chance.  One second too late, or one wrong move, and this guy could be gone forever.  I lunged forward and whumped the box down.  Startled horses lept to their feet, egrets flurried off, and hikers on the boardwalk gasped.  Shaking, I knelt on the ground, overcome with both joy and disbelief.  Mr. Bird was under the box.

“It’s OK,” I hollered to the bewildered spectators.  “The bird is safe with me.”  And safe with our family he continues to be, to this day.  Mr. Bird—who lives up to his name, with his dramatic strutting and beautiful displays—is a treasured family member.  He’ll soon have a female companion—another rescued pij—and a roomy aviary next to our porch.  Sometimes, when he’s curiously perched on my leg or snuggled calmly in my arms, I find myself thinking about the parts of his story that I’ll never know: all the adversities he faced during his frantic flight home, and the beloved mate—and perhaps babies—that he’d never again see.  I’m also reminded that his rescue—the happy part of his story—is the exception, not the rule.  That for every lost, injured racing pigeon that is rescued and rehomed, many others are not so lucky.  Until pigeon racing is a thing of the past, so many of these beautiful, smart, gentle homers will continue to suffer and die.  It gets me down, until I remind myself that rescuing one little pigeon—who bravely let me capture him—is significant.  The starfish story rings true: for this one bird, a caring hand made all the difference.  And for me, the joy and honor of caring for this lovely creature has enriched my life in ways I’m only beginning to understand.  A connection that, somehow, was meant to be.  Thank you, Mr. Bird.

3_023 Strollin' IMG_1877 IMG_1847

Mr. Bird’s Photo Album

As a new pigeon mama, knowing very little about birds and absolutely nothing about pigeons, I was hungry for good information and advice.  My many Internet searches turned up a mind-boggling number of sites filled with info, both good and bad.  But only one site really stood out as a cream-of-the-crop source worth bookmarking and visiting many times:  MickaCoo Pigeon & Dove Rescue.  A wonderful, volunteer-run non-profit group, 2,800 miles away from me, with a website and Facebook page full of professional, detailed, clearly-presented information about pigeons and doves….as well as many inspirational stories, photos, and helpful links.  What a treasure!  And to MickaCoo, I realized, good care of these birds means so many things, on so many levels.  Indeed, they provide a wealth of info. on optimal nutrition, housing, and physical health of pigeons and doves.  But their caring goes far beyond that: to MickaCoo, the birds’ social and emotional well-being is just as important.  Finding loving, forever homes is a priority, and potential adopters are thoroughly screened.  On top of all that, MickaCoo is actively engaged with the public–in communities both near and far–to teach about what they do and get people involved in caring too.  In doing so, they spread an important message the world needs to hear more often: that ALL creatures are worthy of kindness and respect.  This is my kind of group, I remember thinking–  Exactly the kind of support I need to give this little pigeon the best life possible.  I e-mailed Elizabeth and immediately received the kindest, most encouraging, well-written, info-filled reply.  Her advice made such a difference as I strived to make the best decisions for Mr. Bird and our family.  Since then I’ve e-mailed Elizabeth many times with a wide variety of questions and musings….and despite being busy 24/7 with rescues, adoptions, bird care, and educational efforts, she has always made time for me.  Many thanks to Elizabeth and the wonderful MickaCoo crew for all they do, every day, to help make the world a kinder, gentler place for our feathered friends (and their caretakers too).  Christine Housel

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10 Comments

  1. That’s Elizabeth for you…she is wonderful, an inspiration to all of us who volunteer our time for MickaCoo and these gentle, funny, smart, amazing creatures.

    • Jill, thank YOU for all you do!! I see all your great posts and photos on MickaCoo’s Facebook page and thoroughly enjoy them all. Your birds are lucky to have you as their mom, and MickaCoo is fortunate to have such a dedicated, stellar volunteer. THANK YOU for your kindness! ☺

  2. ps: Thank you, Christine, for going out of your way to help Mr. Bird. I know that when I met my first pigeon, Elinor, also a racer, my life changed in ways that I am continually thankful for. I’ve met the sweetest people while helping pigeons. People who look past the pigeons undeserving reputation and see these birds for what they are, just as you did. : )

    • Yes, it frustrates me too that some people are biased against certain species, including pigeons, without even having interacted with them. Lots of misinformation and bad images floating around in peoples’ heads. That’s one of the many important things MickaCoo’s public outreach does– Breaks through the stereotypes and gives people the opportunity to experience what lovely, unique creatures pigeons truly are.

      I know what you mean about meeting sweet people thru pigeons! I’ve met (electronically!) some wonderful folks in the past year. A shout-out to you and Elizabeth of MickaCoo, Reti in Miami, and Joe (South Florida), De & Krikky (Singapore!), and John D. (UK), who I met via the excellent Pigeon-Talk forum. Thanks to ALL of you for your kindness to your birds and to me.

  3. What a lovely story Christine. We keep pet pigeons in the UK and also look after sick and exhausted racers. I used to offer them back to their owners until I found out the ghastly truth about pigeon racing, how some birds are made into drug addicts to give them another reason, apart from the loss of a mate, to fly home. Trouble is, if they get lost they go “cold turkey” and their chances are even less. How birds can be kidnapped by other breeders and made to mate with bird after bird to get the “right” race winner, when they’re a species who want to mate with one partner for life.
    Now we get them well again and put them out in the pigeon house with our birds, they can then choose to stay or go.
    What a lucky bird Mr Bird is.

    • Julie, thanks so much for your kind words–and for providing a safe, caring refuge for racers in need. Ghastly truth, indeed– Pigeon racing is animal cruelty, in my opinion, and should be illegal. Wow, I didn’t know that, about getting the birds addicted to drugs–though I am not surprised. Truly, how awful that whole “sport” is. :-(

      The birds you care for are SO lucky! I bet most that you put out in your pigeon house choose to stay. Smart birds who can recognize kind people and a caring home (I would stay too ☺). Thank you!!

  4. We found a stranded racer in our yard years ago. Now I have a better idea what to do – and who to turn to for information – if it ever happens again. Thanks.

    • Yes– the folks at MickaCoo are the best for info., advice, and kind support. I don’t ever hope for stranded racers, but I do hope that if there are any tired, disoriented birds in the midst of their “race,” passing through your area…that they find your yard, RH. Thank you for caring!

  5. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH Christine for saving this precious soul’s life and giving him a ” Forever Home”. It is a beautiful story ( scary till you got him safe in the box of course !!! ) and you are so right- Mr. Bird is one of the very few fortunate Homers who get rescued. The joy that he will add to your family is immeasurable, and what you are giving him, and his soon to arrive companion,is boundless. I cannot imagine my life without my rescued Collared Doves. With love and gratitude, Donna

  6. Thank you so much, Donna–for both your kind comments AND for caring so lovingly for your own rescued birds. As you saw from Elizabeth’s post to the Facebook page (and will soon see via the update to this blog, which I’ll write soon)–our newest member of the family, Buddy, is proving to be a wonderful companion for Mr. Bird. They’re a delightful couple– So happy together! ☺

    In addition to again thanking Elizabeth for her ongoing wonderful advice, support, and enthusiasm, I would like to thank Zoe Martell for her excellent preventive health suggestions. I truly feel that the steps I’m taking (all mentioned in her guide) are helping keep our birds healthy. Thank you Zoe!

    Finally…a BIG shout-out of thanks to my dear, loving husband, Trey, who has been unfailingly patient, helpful, and supportive from Day One. Trey has patiently endured days of significant household chaos, as well as various bird-related modifications of our back porch (our home’s most valued living space). I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful partner–and both pijies think he’s pretty darned groovy too ☺.

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