The Story of Elma, Sole Survivor

Guest Post by Xavier Heydt

Xavier warms & comforts rescued baby pigeon Elma

On Monday, September 7th I received a message from Palomacy’s founder, Elizabeth Young. She was asking for help to find and rescue six baby King Pigeons that had been abandoned at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park and I happened to be just minutes away. It was around 8:30 pm and pitch black. We had limited information on the vulnerable birds’ location sent in an email from a pigeon-loving 7th grader named Elma who had seen the baby birds huddled under a certain bench an hour earlier. All we knew was, “There were two pure white ones, one white with light gray, one white with dark gray, one gray and brown, and one white with brown. They were standing under a Stow Lake park bench dedicated to John P. Swenson.” Elizabeth and I somehow managed to run into each other while searching and then split up again in order to cover more ground.

Golden Gate Park is full of raccoons and we had already seen them out and about. After walking by many benches and checking each, I finally found the bench that had been mentioned in the email.

As I approached, I saw a raccoon scurry off into the darkness. No birds were immediately visible near the bench that the six baby King Pigeons had taken refuge under, nor in the bushes directly next to them. However, as I looked around with my phone’s flashlight, I noticed some movement behind a rock that was half-submerged in the water of Stow Lake. Approaching the rock, I saw the head of a pigeon pop up and then disappear. I was very glad of my previous experience with rescuing pigeons (having rescued over 35 pigeons, the majority with my bare hands) as I crept up to the rock. I memorized the location of the pigeon, shut off my flashlight to ensure that the baby pigeon would be unable to flee my attempted rescue and made the grab. The baby was easy to catch and I soon had her in both hands, pressed against my shirt. The baby was drenched in foul-smelling water and I noticed some blood smeared on her beak and some superficial claw wounds underneath her left wing. I called Elizabeth immediately, and she began making her way to my location. Although I’d already surveyed the immediate area prior to finding the soaked baby bird, it was only at this moment that I spotted a rock covered with the blood and feathers of a less fortunate pigeon.

My heart dropped as I looked to the right of the rock and discovered the partially-consumed body of another baby King Pigeon laying motionless in a crevice. I realized that when I had approached the bench, I had interrupted the raccoon’s meal. Though both Elizabeth and I had known that the six babies were extremely vulnerable and unlikely to survive a night alone in Golden Gate Park, it was at this point that the threat to the baby pigeons became painfully clear. Elizabeth arrived with a carrier and we secured the found baby to continue searching for the other four.

We searched in ever widening circles around the bench, pushing aside reeds, walking through vegetation, trying to find the pigeons based on a few feathers (one brown and white pigeon in particular provided unmistakable feathers), and bringing Elizabeth’s car up to the site to illuminate the area with her headlights.

Because it had been clear that the surviving pigeon had flown into the lake to escape a raccoon attack, we were worried that one or more survivors could be hiding along the lake on the other side of the reeds, invisible from land. Elizabeth, being the dedicated and brave individual that she is,  entrusted me with her phone and keys and waded into the filthy waters of Stow Lake, walking and slipping along up and down the shore multiple times.

I’m sad to say that after nearly an hour and a half of additional searching we found only traces of evidence suggesting the fate of the other birds. I held some small hope that when animal control officers searched the area in the morning they might find a miraculous survivor, but they didn’t.
What strikes me about the situation was how it could have been avoided. Whoever abandoned these baby King Pigeons had bought them live at a meat-market with the dangerous intention of “setting them free”. Palomacy is the very first result for google searches of “pigeon rescue san francisco” and that simple search (or even a related search regarding whether or not these pigeons could survive in the wild), would have almost definitely resulted in a different outcome. Someone saw these helpless, adorable birds being sold live for food, decided to help them without putting any actual effort into educating themselves on how best to accomplish that goal and ended up trading one slaughter for another. I’m happy to say that the surviving pigeon, Elma (named after the girl who made saving her life possible), is now happy, healthy and safe. She managed to survive against all odds while her companions were killed and this incrediblylucky baby King Pigeon will now be able to live a safe, happy life that most pigeons never get the chance to.

Still, I have a hard time forgetting the suffering that Elma had to endure as the result of human carelessness. I’d like to say that I’ve forgiven whoever was responsible for the events described above but the truth is that I would like nothing more than to inform them of the very real consequences of their actions, which they were able to remain blissfully ignorant of by walking away and imagining that everything would work out for the helpless baby pigeons they left in a dangerous environment. I would like to show them the pictures of the bloody rock, the scattered feathers, the body of Elma’s unlucky companion and the great lengths to which we go to in order to save the lives of birds like Elma the pigeon on a daily basis.

Xavier is fostering baby pigeon Elma



  1. Thank you for your help saving Elma! I know she will live a long happy life.

    • Elma- Thank YOU for taking the initiative to speak up on behalf of these poor baby birds despite being discouraged by others. Without you, Elma would be dead & the story of these babies would have never been known. No one else reported them. You were the only one. Thank you for your compassion & for persevering on their behalf. You are a hero.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: