PIGEON GRATEFUL

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Last month I rescued a sick pigeon.

I’ve done it before. In fact, this is the third pigeon I’ve rescued.

I like pigeons a lot. They are actually pretty smart birds, and they do well in captivity. Better than in the wild, in fact. In captivity, wild pigeons can live 10-15 years. In the wild (in cities, I mean), they last about a year or two. (Yes, all those pigeons you hate are very young pigeons.)

Most injured wild birds will die in your hand from shock if you attempt to rescue them. Not pigeons! They will get quiet and look at you as if to say, “Well, finally, my ride is here! Where have you been?!”

I spotted this one on my drive home one day, and knew he was in trouble. It was extremely hot and humid, and a thunderstorm was brewing. He was staggering in circles, listing to one side, barely able to stay upright.

I vaguely remembered the virus PMV that causes these symptoms. I quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot and stalked him for fifteen minutes til I caught him. He kept trying valiantly to fly away, but after flying into a building and then into a passing car, he was finally exhausted enough to let me pick him up.

I looked up his symptoms to make sure I wasn’t exposing myself, my family or my pets to anything toxic, then made up a cage for him. I didn’t expect him to survive the night–he was in pretty bad shape, with an injured eye, dehydrated and subdued. I forced a dribble of water down his throat, made him as comfortable as I could, and left him alone.

The next morning, I was surprised to see him looking (askant) at me from his cage. Beady bright little eyes, like the pilfering penguin from the Wallace And Gromit movie, The Wrong Trousers. “You made it, Magoo!” I exclaimed. I made him drink a little more water, cleaned him up, set out some cockatiel food, and left him alone again.

Soon Mr. Magoo (I have no idea if it was a he or a she, but “Mr. Magoo” seemed to fit his bewildered stare) was drinking on his own, and eating, too. He was still aslant and wobbly. But every morning he let me pick him up so I could clean his cage and refill his food and water. Every time I went out in the mudroom, he looked down at me from his cage with his shiny eyes.

About four weeks went by. I was getting ready for a drive home to my folks in Michigan. I knew Jon wouldn’t be wild about cleaning up after a pigeon every day. I toyed with the idea of letting him go. he was getting a little better every day. But I wasn’t sure if he were fully recovered or not.

The day before I left, I went to lift him up. To my surprise, he fought me and flew out of my hands. I managed to corner him and snag him in the mudroom. But I knew then it was time for him to go.

I took him out to the front steps and set him down. “If you’re ready, you can go,” I told him. “If not, you’re welcome to stay.”

He exploded into the air and flew away without a backwards glance.

I didn’t begrudge him the lack of gratitude. Wild things don’t owe us anything, even when we help them. I was glad he lived to fly again.

A day later, I went to get in my car.

On the driver’s side door was a huge white splat of pigeon poop dripping from the window all the way down the panel.

Now, I could have have been annoyed, and made up a story about how pigeons will poop on the person’s car who saved them.

But I like to think that a pigeon, wanting to say, “I’m alive and okay!” would have very few ways to communicate in a way we’d be sure to notice.

So I’m making up a story that Mr. Magoo was saying, “Thank you” the only way he’d know how, by pooping on my car.

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THE DUCKS: “Make Way for Ducklings” with a Sadder Ending

Last week my sister and I drove home to Michigan. A lot happened on the trip, mostly good stuff, and even the bad stuff ended well.

There was one sad thing that broke my heart.

We were zipping along the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way), the major highway that connects Niagara Falls (where we entered Canada) and Hamilton. It’s always frenetic, full of traffic, with one of those solid concrete barricades down the median. We were going 75 mph, five miles above the posted speed limit, and people passed us like we were standing still.

We were talking and laughing, and all of a sudden, we saw a mother duck and two baby ducks at the median, right next to the fast lane. (AKA “even faster lane”…)

It was heartbreaking. They were in a panic. There was absolutely no way we could stop. Even if we could, there was absolutely no way we could have rescued them without endangering ourselves, other travelers, even the ducks.

Our hearts sank as we flew past them.

We could have called “someone” about them. But who? I have no idea who to call in Canada about highway-stranded ducks. And I’m sure there are limited resources to deal with such things.

I’ve been thinking of them ever since, imagining their terror, and empathizing with their helplessness. I know I won’t forget that image of them easily. Why are there solid medians in expressways? Why aren’t there ways to prevent so many animals from being run over on highways?

And yet…..

From what I’ve read about animal brains, they were, indeed frantic and confused. But one of two things definitely happened.

They were probably killed within minutes of us seeing them.

Or they somehow made it back across the highway.

Either way, their agony is over.

Animals, it’s said, don’t dwell on the drama. If they made it safely across, then they immediately focused on the next task in front of them–getting to water, finding food, finding a place to rest for the night.

They didn’t carry that agony and that terror with them any longer than was necessary for their survival.

People, however, tend to fret, to “ruminate” over things that upset us, sometimes endlessly. I know I do! I go over and over the event. I hold my tongue for fear of saying something awful, then regret not speaking up. I make up stories about the people who hurt me, sometimes demonizing their intentions to justify my own indignation and anger.

I’m tired of it.

I know good things can come out of sad experiences. I know this incident helped me connect strongly to an article in our town newspaper, of a local project–high school kids taking record of how many animals are killed on local highways, and thinking up ways to cut down on the daily slaughter. And I know that animals die every day in the wild, if not from a racing car, then from predators and other natural causes.

I’m just saying that I’ve fretted far longer from that image in my heart than the ducks did.

This is what it means to be human. This is what it means to have a compassionate heart.

But I also realize that I should either do something about it or put it in perspective and let it go. Endless remorse serves no one, and nothing.

And so today, I’m telling you–and myself–a different story:

Even an “ordinary” duck and her babies crossing the road have a story to tell.

And I can learn from it.