Spring 2008: My intentions for the table were that come the warm weather, it would be somewhere convenient to rest my drink and a magazine, but nature had other plans.
Instead, a mother pigeon decided that underneath the table on my balcony would be a wonderful location to unleash the miracle of life. And so it was there that she deposited two eggs when I wasn’t looking. I didn’t notice anything unusual until I started hearing quite a lot of commotion by way of coo-ing and wing flapping out there. That is when I discovered two wide-eyed rather forlorn-looking pigeons outside.
I contacted the Humane Society and was told to leave them be, that eventually they would learn to fly and leave of their own accord.
So I just ignored them, and after a few weeks of minor activity and noise, I hadn’t seen either of the parents around for a while. Based on a conversation with the Humane Society that took place the week before, I assumed that everyone had successfully learned to fly and I had kindly been left my balcony to myself once again.
I went out to have a look, thinking I would clear out the nest, as instructed, in order to avoid another family (of pigeons, not Sudanese refugees or anything) moving in. I discovered that one of the baby pigeons had, unfortunately, shuffled off this mortal coil. That is, had ceased to exist. Become deceased. The remaining sibling looked understandably stressed by the circumstances. I was concerned that the parents had abandoned the nest as I had not heard their extremely irritating coo-ing for a few days.
Being the devoted Buddhist that I am (by which I mean I have read a Pema Chodron book and watched a few PBS specials) I gave it a slice of whole wheat 12-grain bread (heart-smart), and a small dish of water, and placed a call to the Humane Society explaining that I was in the company of an orphaned baby pigeon, and what did they intend to do about it? I was told that they could not pick it up, but if I would kindly place it in a warm blanket and put it inside a cardboard box, I could bring it over and they would take care of him – “rehabilitate” was the word she used.
This gave me visions of him strapped down in a miniature bed, begging for crack. I explained that I am without a vehicle and was tending to my own child, and as such could not spend the afternoon looking after a delinquent pigeon’s baby, and wasn’t there someone who could swing by and collect him? The example I gave was: “What if it were an alligator”? She responded by saying she had been with the Humane Society for many years and she had never had a call about an alligator – obviously missing my point. I was referred to the City of Toronto.
Determined to be rid of this responsibility, I planned on using the potential for West-Nile virus as my ace-in the-hole with the City. And I figured when they came to collect the body, they could take the live one along with it. I was told by the City that “it’s not even mosquito season” and that I was on my own with the carcass. As for the live one, that was not their problem either, but if I would kindly place it in a warm blanket and put it inside a cardboard box, I could bring it over and they would euthanize him. Even if I could get him over there, I couldn’t bring myself to do that. His stupidly cute bird-face made that impossible. To get me off the phone, this contact provided me with the number for the Ontario Wildlife Preservation Society.
Christine* at the Ontario Wildlife Preservation Society, with whom I would become well acquainted before this saga had come to a dénouement, told me that I would need to do a number of things:
1) Remove the dead sibling from the nest, as it was likely traumatizing the living bird (“He’s not the only one.” I said – no laugh)
2) “Tidy up the nest” – I kid you not
3) Place newspapers under the remaining live specimen
4) After about an hours time, return to the bird, and have a close look at the newspaper
5) Call Christine and, using my best adjectives, give a thorough description of any evidence of bowel activity my little friend may have left
These 5 simple steps were apparently crucial in order for Christine to make a judgment call on what the correct plan of action would be with regards to the pigeon. I decided in my head I would name him Bert, after Bert of “Ernie and Bert” fame, who had a strong propensity for pigeons. Unlike myself.
My daughter, Emma, and I went down to the little convenience store in my building so I could buy some rubber gloves, and so I might begin my grim task. I returned to find that the dead birds body had woven itself into the nest, and I immediately abandoned any plan of wrenching him from his final resting place. There was a big article about one of the big banks in the business section of the newspaper, which I thought would do nicely for Bert to defecate upon, and I simply placed the newspaper over the nest, dead body and all.
Emma and I went out to enjoy the day, and later returned for dinner. As instructed, I went out to the balcony to make mental notes about the shape, colour and consistency of Bert’s poop. It dawned on me as I was on my knees on the balcony, straining my neck to get a good look at Bert’s work, that other than Emma, there is no human being that I would do this for – Scott, for example, is my best friend – but I can think of no circumstance where I would be willing to analyze his poop – and yet here I was doing just that for a total stranger of another species. It didn’t seem right.
I called Christine and gave her the information on her answering machine as she had gone for the day.
The next morning at exactly 9am, Christine called and said she thought that based on my description of his poop, they better have a look at Bert (as I now had her calling him as well). It was made clear to me that they DO NOT normally pick up animals, but would make an exception in my case – I didn’t bother with my alligator analogy.
I was told that a volunteer for the Society happened to live in my neighbourhood, and would be over shortly. I was asked to place Bert in a cardboard box in preparation for Gilles, the volunteer. I explained that I did not have a cardboard box in which to place Bert, and to have Gilles bring one with him.
Twenty minutes later, a knock at the door. There stand Gilles, Jacques, and a pensive looking woman whose name I never got. Jacques is in a panic because he believes he is illegally parked. Gilles is trying to speak to me, and Jacques keeps interrupting about the parking situation. Gilles says something very curt to Jacques in French, and Jacques leaves, never to be seen again. At first I think The Unnamed Woman is annoyed with me, but I soon come to the conclusion she is just annoyed in general. She is sporting a multitude of buttons with things like “save the whorey marmot” and “Whales are people too!” on them (these may not in fact been the actual messages on the buttons – but close). The buttons are attached to a ratty looking sweater with a kitten on it. Gilles wears coke-bottle glasses that give one the impression that his eyes are actually larger than his head – very disconcerting.
Gilles stuffs Bert into a cardboard box, which has finally made its debut in the story, and they are on the way out the door when he turns to me and says:
“I will take da bird over to Christine, and we will call you to let you know da outcome”.
I assure Gilles that I am confident Bert is in good hands, and that there is no need to call me with the results of his forthcoming physical.
“No but you see, if dey find dat ‘ee iz OK, ‘ee may ‘ave to come back” Says Gilles
“Back where?” Says I
“On your balcony – dats ‘is ‘ome”
“Its also my balcony.” I say flatly, tempting the ire of The Unnamed Woman.
“”well, we see, OK?” and Gilles is off, Bert and Unnamed Woman in tow.
No less than five minutes after they all leave – I spot two adult pigeons frantically looking around the nest and coo-ing up a storm. I tell myself they will get over it, and that Bert is probably better off anyway. Let’s face it, they weren’t great parents.
An hour later, the phone rings, and its Christine. She says they have run analysis on Bert, and that he is in fine form, and that they found seeds and grain in his poop, which is apparently good news. I try to deflect this by mentioning the twelve-grain bread I provided him, but she says he is responsive and in good shape and should not be removed from his parents or his nest. She uses the word “kidnapping”, which I think is a bit strong and say so.
I tell her that I’m sure Bert will do just fine, he’s a survivor after all – that’s his nature. Christine then launches into a spiel about all the disadvantages Bert will suffer if removed from his nest and his parents, and I have visions of Bert panhandling and selling himself to adult pigeons for their pleasure as a means of feeding the renewed crack habit he fought so hard to kick.
In the end I back down – I can’t bring myself to leave Bert in a life of disadvantage. Christine asks if I removed the carcass of the sibling (who by this time I am thinking of as “Ernie”) and I cannot tell a lie and tell her I left him where he dropped. Christine asks me if I tidied up the nest, and again I must report that no, I had not done the requested nest-maintenance. I am told to do both of these things in short order, because Bert will soon be returning by way of Gilles, and we all want to give Bert a fighting chance – don’t we?
I once again don my rubber gloves and take care of the body, and do a little tidy-ing up. Gilles arrives and gives me the thumbs-up, eyes bulging, after inserting Bert back into his nest.
Bert is now back on my balcony. From what Christine explained, he is about three weeks old, and wont learn to fly for another three weeks, during which time I can expect constant coo-ing from Bert and his folks. Once Bert can fly, they will abandon the nest, and I am to clear it up and make my way to Canadian Tire where I will purchase some wire and a fake owl, which will supposedly keep my balcony pigeon free.
All I can think is thank God it wasn’t an alligator.
*some names may have been changed because I can’t remember anything