Posted Apr 24, 2013
Every pet who has ever lived with me, was either a rescued, special needs, or orphaned animal. One of the smartest pets who I ever met, was a mostly black, American racing pigeon, I named Peppercorn.
How I wound up with this beautiful bird is a very interesting story. At the time, I was living in Baltimore, renting the second story of a row home. It was summer time, and so hot that I just knew Hell had to be cooler than Baltimore in August. I always felt sort of bad for animals living in a city, because there seemed to be too many of them, and most people didn't want to take care of them. Being raised on a farm, I was attentive to the needs of wild birds, especially food and water. The city in the summer time can be a hot and dry place.
Before I went to work in the morning, I used to put bowls of water with ice cubes, and large dinner plates (purchased from Good Will) for bird food in my yard for the birds to eat. After I adopted a stray puppy, I couldn't do this anymore, because he would chase the birds and I was afraid he might catch one. So, I went to a lumber store one weekend, and with just a saw, some nails, glue, and some planks of wood which I recovered from a dumpster, I constructed a not-too-ugly platform for the birds, which I placed outside my second story window. They loved it! Most of the birds who came to eat were regular city pigeons and sparrows.
One hot summer evening, after walking home, I changed out of my work clothes, and started the normal house chores. The first thing I usually took care of, was the bird platform. Those birds were really messy and it required daily maintenance. On this day, I couldn't believe what I saw: A mostly black pigeon, who couldn't fly. I gently picked her up and took her in the house. She may have been afraid, but she didn't show it. I noticed she had a bright yellow plastic donut around one of her legs. With a pair of wire cutters, I removed it and discovered some tiny printing which turned out to be a phone number. Of course I called the number and a voice mail message greeted me. I left my name/message about the injured bird. I didn't have any idea about how to take care of a bird, or diagnose her injury. The vet’s office was closed and wouldn't re-open until the next day, which luckily was a Saturday, so I didn't have to miss a day’s work. I gently placed her in a large cardboard box, placed some bird food and a saucer with water.
Next day, I tried calling the phone number from the band that was on her leg, and there was no answer. I took the pigeon to my vet. Thank goodness he knew all about pigeons; when he was younger, his favorite uncle raced pigeons. He discovered that the bird suffered a broken wing. When this happens, the birds usually don’t race ever again. He treated the bird, as much as he could, gave me some advice for caring for a pigeon, and wished me luck.
When I got home, I tried calling the phone number again, and this time I got to speak to someone. Turns out that Peppercorn was indeed a real American Racing Pigeon. The man was a breeder of these birds. He asked me how I came to have one of his birds, and I explained the entire situation to him. He told me that if I wanted to, I could keep her. It’s not as though he was ungrateful (he offered to mail me a check for the money I spent on her), but he said he would probably only use her for breeding purposes, and he didn't know when he would be able to visit Baltimore to recover his pigeon.
I was happy to keep her. She stayed in the center room of the house I was renting, and even though she never flew again, she did jump up from the floor to the sofa on many occasions. I took her to walk with me outside several times a week, and she always rode on my shoulder. There were a few times when she did attempt flight; I guess she would always know that her true home was in Virginia, but that injury to her wing kept her earthbound. The only time she almost flew, occurred one day while she was sitting on my shoulder, while I was working outside. I don’t know why, but she actually almost made it to the roof. She wound up sitting on the window sill for about 5 minutes, before returning to my arm.
Peppercorn lived with me for about 8 or 9 years. I don’t know about other types of birds, but this pigeon was a great friend. I taught her silly little tricks, like climbing up a bird ladder, opening a door on a bird house, and ringing a bell. I think about her a lot, and wonder how she is spending her time in heaven.