When I was a child, my dad taught biology at the local high school. Injured and orphaned wild animals were often brought to our house so they could rest and recuperate before being set free again. It wasn’t uncommon for us to have a lizard convalescing in the kitchen or a snake draped around my dad’s neck for warmth while it healed from whatever injury had befallen it. Often times, the person dropping off the injured animal didn’t know that it was best not to interfere – like when we were brought an ‘abandoned’ baby squirrel whose mom was likely hiding and watching as a well-meaning individual carrying her offspring away. As fond as I am of wildlife, I try my best not to get involved, but yesterday I had to make a quick decision. I just hope it was the right decision.
Back at the beginning of lockdown, we were visited by three semi-tame pigeons. The advice I found online indicated they were probably pets, and that if I fed them and let them have a rest, they’d soon be on their way. I followed the advice, but instead of moving on they moved in. I’ve spent hours with them in the garden nearly every day and grown very attached.
A couple of weeks later, a new bonded pair of white pigeons turned up and the female – who quickly picked up the name Debra – was extremely friendly. She walked right up to me and ate from my hand when I offered her food. The bonded pair didn’t move in like the others, but they did turn up several times a day for food. Of course, they had me trained in no time, and I was out the door with scoops of pigeon food whenever they turned up to peer at us from the roof or windowsill.
I few days ago, I saw a pied bird in the garden with what looked like a wound on its side. P had a look and we agreed it was a new bird with markings we’d not seen before. The bonded pair regularly bring their babies to feed, so it isn’t unusual to see new birds appearing from time to time. I didn’t rush out to feed this new bird because there was already food on the ground and I didn’t want to frighten it. Because of its unusual markings – dark streaks on each wing – it didn’t occur to me it could someone I knew.
At the same time, Debra stopped appearing. Her mate was still coming, but she was nowhere to be seen. I feared the worst as I’ve had birds disappear and not return, but in this case I was extra worried. Of all the birds I feed, Debra is my favourite. I was beginning to fear the worst.
Yesterday, I saw a couple of birds sitting on my greenhouse and went out to feed them. As I opened the shed to get the food, I heard Debra land on the ground behind me. I turned around to find that she was badly injured with most of her left wing missing. She was the ‘pied’ bird we had seen earlier. The markings were dried blood. I had to make a quick decision – do I try to save her or do I let nature take its course? If she’d been completely feral, the answer would be easy. But she’s quite tame and I knew she’d be dead within days if I didn’t intervene, so I herded her into the chicken run, closed the door behind me, gently lifted her up, and took her to the vet.
The vet’s first impression was bad. There is so much tissue (and possibly bone) missing that the feathers may never grow back. But Debra was bright and alert, so we decided to give her the best chance for recovery. I’m giving her pain medicine and antibiotics while she rests indoors in a makeshift cage I’ve fashioned out of a dog carrier. She seems quite happy until it’s time for me to lift her out of her den for her meds. She makes a funny sort of growling noise and I have to pretend to be afraid.
I don’t think our arrangement is a good long-term solution, but it’ll be okay for a week or so. My hope is that we will ward off infection and discover the wound isn’t as bad as we first thought. My ultimate goal is to get her back to her mate. Fingers crossed I’ve done the right thing.