Shortly after buying my first house, I discovered that my next door neighbor tended to overreact to any dilemma. His name was Joe, and I started thinking of him as Overkill Joe, and later simply Joverkill.
For example, Joverkill found that he had squirrels living in his attic. It was no surprise to me that he had more squirrels in his yard than anyone else on the street. He had two lovely nut trees growing at either end of his house. In his front yard was a beautiful oak tree. A perfect shade tree, if I ever did see one; and in the fall it was laden with acorns. In his back yard was a huge pecan tree that I was particularly fond of because it would drop about a half bushel of pecans on my side of the fence every Fall. Both trees were so old they must have been planted in 1925 when the house was built.
With two heavily producing nut trees on either end of his house, the squirrels naturally wanted a highway between them. And, his roof was right there. Underneath that roof was a nice warm place for storing nuts and making babies.
Now I don’t like squirrels living in my attic either; I’ve had them and they are hard to get rid of. Sadly, Joverkill’s solution was not the sensible one of cutting off the squirrels’ entrance ramp by cutting back the branches that were close to his house, but to cut the trees down instead. I came home from work, and was aghast to see blue sky and sunshine where there had been only foliage before.
Then there was the time he noticed bamboo encroaching into his backyard from his other next door neighbor’s yard. Joverkill rigged up one of those bottles that you attach to your hose so you can spray poison on plants. I don’t know whether he was using Roundup, Paraquat, or Agent Orange, but he soaked the bamboo with it. The bamboo loved it and continued to spread, unluckily for me the spray drifted over into my yard and killed a few of my ornamental shrubs.
Once he had gotten rid of the squirrels, pigeons moved in. It would seem that the next logical step would be to fill in or patch the holes the animals were using to enter his house, but that never seemed to occur to Joe. All the houses in our neighborhood were close together and separated only by a driveway. One afternoon as I pulled up in my car, I noticed that Joverkill had ripped out all the soffit from underneath the eaves on the side of his house that ran along my driveway.
Getting out of my car, I looked up at the long gaping hole that ran the length of his house, and said to Joe who was standing nearby, “Are you remodeling?”
“Nope, just getting the pigeon nests out of my house.”
It was then that I saw the baby pigeon on the ground. It was bigger than a newborn and covered with downy feathers. Usually the parents will feed a baby bird on the ground that has fallen out of the nest. But, I feared one of the neighborhood cats might have a penchant for squab, so I picked it up and carried it into the house.
I found an empty box and made a nest out of a hand towel. I then made a few phone calls (this was in the days before Google) until I found someone experienced in rescuing birds. She told me they didn’t take in pigeons, but explained to me how I could feed it Gerber’s baby cereal from an eyedropper. It was a ravenous creature that gobbled up all the cereal that I would feed it. When it got larger, I started feeding it a more normal pigeon diet of pepperoni pizza, French fries, and hamburgers with pickles, mustard, and ketchup.
It was about that time that I started letting it out of the box in the hopes of getting it prepared to go back into the wild or at least the inner city. For lack of a better name (or perhaps creative interest), I called it Pidgy. It would follow me wherever I went; running as fast as its little legs would go. It followed me through the house, or around the yard. It even followed me while I was mowing the grass. It was very cute.
I tried teaching it to fly by tossing it up in the air over the thick carpet grass of my backyard, but it would only flutter to the ground. Some days I would run as fast as I could to see how well it could keep up with me. Then one day as I did this it broke into flight and landed in my hair. I quickly learned to hold out a finger as a perch for it to land on.
Now that it was flying I wanted it to remember that it was a pigeon. I built a roost for it on a pole with the opening facing my bird feeder that was ten feet away. The bird feeder was frequently covered with pigeons so I was hoping that it would figure out by observation that it was a pigeon too. I would take it out there every morning, and it would sit in its roost watching the rest of the flock. I would also put it on the bird feeder to eat. It wasn’t making the connection that it was a pigeon very quickly; and every time I came out of the house it would immediately fly to me. This went on for weeks. I recall one day sitting out on the patio eating a long juicy wedge of watermelon, when Pidgy came flying toward me. I didn’t have a chance to hold my finger out and it landed right in the middle of my melon. YUCK!
One weekend I went out of town for three days. When I returned, my other next door neighbor came over to visit. He was eager to tell me what happened while I was away. He said he was on a ladder cleaning out his gutter when a pigeon landed on his shoulder. He was so shocked he nearly fell off the ladder. When the pigeon didn’t fly away, he started petting it. Then he called his wife to come see it. She then brought him some bread and he fed it while it continued to sit on his shoulder. He thought it was the most remarkable thing. Eventually it flew off. He was so excited about it that he went across the street to tell his mother-in-law about it. She laughed and said, “Oh, that must be Rob’s pigeon!”
My going away for three days must have made Pidgy lonely because it started hanging out with the pigeon flock after that. I could always pick Pidgy out because of its distinct markings. If I called it and held out my finger, it would leave the flock and fly over to me. After a while it stopped flying to me. When I called its name, it would turn and look at me, but it wouldn’t come. Then as the weeks passed it stopped turning and looking at me when I called. Pidgy had finally reintegrated into pigeon society. It was a sad day, but my job was done.
It’s a natural human motivation to be moved by compassion when we encounter any creature who is in need of help. I see people helping others all the time. I genuinely believe that most people are good, and willing to give a hand whenever and wherever it’s needed.