Fergus the Feral

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.

Me with Luna at a festival

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.

Fergus the day he arrived at the hospital

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.

Fergus after his amputation surgery

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.

I named him Fergus Shannon Geallach pretty quickly. Fergus is a character in the Outlander book series, a French orphan boy who was adopted by the main characters. Fitting. Geallach is Irish for “moon;” I wanted to name him in honor of sweet Luna who had passed away that fateful morning. Shannon…well, it’s Irish, but also the name of a veterinarian I used to work with who always insisted that I name my animals after her. So I did!

Happy boy!

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.

Outside enjoying the nice weather

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?

Beautiful creature

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.



  1. What a lovely story!!

  2. What is a flight suit? I adopted two doves and yes, they are so sweet. I am amazed at how gentle they are and how they interact with me and my dogs/cats. It has been a great experience to see them caring for each other. I have always been a dog person, but I have so enjoyed having these little creatures around.

    • A flight suit is a brand of bird diaper that can be used with pigeons. You can learn all about pigeon pants here.

  3. What a wonderful story of Fergus .. I have a similar story.. I have Pidge. I was working three stories down in a pump room, and a co-worker who knows I have parrots and am a “animal person, rescuer” came to me and said there was a pigeon walking down the road up above. Waiting for the punch line, he said he was serious. so I had to see for my self. This pigeon had walked 100 feet down the road by the time we got upstairs. seeing that the pigeon was in distress I grabbed a towel from the truck we were using. I toweled the pigeon, doing a quick exam, I could see the right wing hanging by flesh at the elbow. I stabilized the pigeon. I called my Avian Vet, stating I had an emergency problem. I whisked the pigeon off to the vet immediately after work. I was given 3 options, 1 – euthanize the lil thing, 2 – amputate the wing, or try to reattach the wing. I chose #3. I left the pigeon, and they preformed surgery that afternoon. I picked it up 3 days later. They pinned the bones together. Long story short, “she” follows me around like a dog. I have 4 dogs, 3 cats, and 12 parrots. Fortunately everyone knows their place, and no one is “food”. Periodically she lays me an egg, sleeps on my night stand a coo’s off and on. She’s the Queen of the house!

    • And, Oh, it was determined that some one had been playing target practice with local pigeons which is how her wing got broken.

  4. I also have a Rock Pigeon named “Pidge.” When he was about 3 weeks old, he fell from the rafters in the barn where I boarded my horse. I brought him home (inside my riding helmet) and found that he had a wing injury. No one would help, so I kept him in a large cage until I could find a large aviary that has since been his home. His yellow down disappeared and he grew into a beautiful adult, albeit opinionated! It will be 5 very fortunate years in November that he has lived at my home. He loves to take baths, will jump on my hand for rides, and supervises me while I work in the yard.


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