Guest Post by Emily Riska
June 23rd, 2016 was a very bittersweet day at Cheat Lake Animal Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia. I was working an 11-hour shift, and I started my day off terribly by finding out that the ACCA’s very first educational ambassador bird, Luna, a stunning Barn Owl, had passed away overnight. She was a diva, but boy, was she special. She loved being out on the glove in front of people, moving her cute face side to side to listen to everything going on. She was the first larger bird I felt comfortable handling, though she was still intimidating! Needless to say, we were all very devastated and solemn that summer morning.
The Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia (ACCA) is a wild bird rehabilitation and conservation group that runs out of Cheat Lake Animal Hospital. The volunteers, myself included, work very hard to educate the public through various programs and presentations on how native birds are important to our ecosystem and how to conserve these species. We are licensed to give medical treatment, including euthanasia if necessary, to any bird species native to West Virginia, aside from game birds like turkey. Occasionally, raptors with non-life-threatening injuries that cannot survive in the wild will become our educational ambassador birds.
Later that day, a kind Samaritan brought us an injured feral pigeon he had found. He was very concerned about the bird’s welfare, and he even donated $100 to the ACCA when he dropped the bird off. I don’t remember how I ended up with him in my arms, but I remember just routinely walking around the clinic to find a cardboard box to stash him in until the veterinarian could assess him. I tucked him safely away and thought nothing of it…until later.
I came briskly walking around a corner, and another volunteer, Areil, quickly blurted out, “Hey, do you want a pigeon?” I stopped.
Areil was at a treatment table, holding a gas anesthesia mask over the pigeon’s head. Dr. Fallon, the ACCA’s vet, was at the next table down drawing up the “pink juice.”
“Uh, yeah. Can I do that? Legally?”
“Yep,” Dr. Fallon said, as he pushed the plunger of the syringe to replace the euthanasia solution into the bottle.
And that’s how I ended up with little Fergus. However, that isn’t the end to this story.
Since pigeons aren’t a native species, we cannot treat them or release them. On the other hand, as a non-native species, they can be legally kept as pets! Upon my adopting the pigeon, Dr. Fallon started diagnostics and treatment. Radiographs revealed a bad fracture at his “wrist,” as well as a BB pellet in his side. Someone had shot this gorgeous bird and left it to suffer and die a slow death, unless some predator came along and took advantage. My heart broke. He was a bit malnourished but otherwise in apparent good health.
A few days later, Dr. Fallon amputated half of that broken wing. It was a non-repairable fracture for sure. He lost all of his flight feathers on his left wing. He can no longer fly. The BB will remain in his side because it’s not causing any damage where it is.
After the amputation, I took him home. He had to stay in a cat carrier for a while until I could get the cage and supplies. Poor little dude was scared to death! Here he was, missing a wing, and in a weird place full of predators! (I have a dog and two cats.) I didn’t buy anything prior to the surgery because I’m superstitious, as most veterinary personnel tend to be. He was also on two oral medications, an anti-inflammatory for pain and an antibiotic for infection, and I’m sure medicating him was just the icing on the cake.
Fast forward to almost a year later, and Fergus is living the high life. He is possibly one of the most spoiled “house pigeons” in the world. He is healthy, broody, and a diva just like his namesake. He easily shares this apartment now with his predator flock (as well as the two newest additions, the budgies). He wears a Flight Suit and leash, suns himself with me outside, and has gone to work with me! Walking around during your shift in a big veterinary hospital with a pigeon on your shoulder is pretty great for coworker and client morale alike.
Having Fergus in my life has been a blessing. He makes me laugh, and I learn from him every day. The budgies are fun birds, but pigeons are so different! The noises they make, the dancing, the territorial behavior of the cranky boys, etc. He scares the dog and the cats. (He did the Wing-Fu on them once, they learned quickly.) Pigeons are honestly one of the best pets I can imagine, as well. They’re clean, easy to care for, and like to sit with you and watch TV. What could be better than that?
Emily Riska is a dedicated veterinary professional who has been in the industry for over 10 years. She also volunteers with the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia (www.accawv.org), a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is “to conserve the region’s wild birds through research, education, and rehabilitation.” She is passionate about advocating for pigeons whenever and wherever possible after welcoming Fergus, an injured feral Rock Pigeon, into her home. Fergus even has his own Instagram, @fergus_the_feral. Emily is an avid amateur birder, an outdoors enthusiast, and an aunt to three amazing nephews.