New York City From The Perspective of a Pigeon Lover
by "Anonymous" (volunteer rehab worker)
IN a Manhattan Borough, there was a small area that represented a little microcosm. An overhead trestle constructed for one of the elevated train runs formed that underpass. Beneath, is a set of supporting columns and horizontal formations that are created by the concrete beams. A street runs there and cars pass by throughout the day. There is an island separating the traffic merging into a single road. It was a natural roosting place for pigeons and a large flock once resided there. They made their nests on the horizontal beams and would come down to the island and the sidewalks to peck on the cement, looking for the pieces of grit they required for the mineral content their system s needed. Sometimes, a kindly person would drop some bread on the island and it was a welcome treat for a flock in a perpetual state of near starvation and malnourishment. This was a natural dumping area for those who felt it was an easy drop point for those items that were no longer needed. There were broken air conditioners, old tires, pieces of discarded cars and miscellaneous other types of garbage. The place reeked of automotive oil rotting organic material. and was rat infested.
Anyone caught dropping some food for those birds would get an argument by residents of the surrounding residential area. After all, these birds are dirty and give diseases to people. These well meaning folks would be on the receiving end of these arguments while all of the rotting garbage lining the area stood accumulating.
Nobody ever realized that this unclean place was giving diseases to the pigeons. It was, of course, the pigeons that were giving diseases to people. Perhaps the energy spent in fighting good people would have been better spent in cleaning up the area but it's always easier to open up a mouth and complain about the birds than to do something more constructive.
The birds somehow survived in this area for years. They would fly to the avenues and look for anything edible that had been dropped onto the ground. They would hunt for grass seed that was there during the warm weather. They went about their business of trying to make a living as best as they could but there were a lot of casualties.
Baby pigeons become very excited when the parents come to feed them. Sometimes, they forget where they are walking and fall down onto the pavement. Their young wings are too weak to carry them back to the nest. When they come down, they are frightened and either run in different directions looking for a way up, thereby becoming lost or sit where they fall, waiting for the parent to come help. They usually die first.
Small neighborhood kids usually found these babies and grabbed them by a wing, swinging them around and around until the flight feathers were ripped off and the elbow holding these feathers were shattered.
When the fun is over, the hapless youngsters were left to their fate and it came in the form of a car running over t hem, a street cat or rodent looking for an easy meal. They were the lucky ones. These unfortunate birds smart enough to seek cover, died of trauma, starvation and thirst. Sometimes, a kid would pick up a rock and use the baby as target practice.
A good idea was to jam the bird into the hole of a tree, step back and see how many rocks it would take to kill the it. Sometimes, if there was a book of matches available, one was lit and various parts of the body received the flame. These things have happened. They have been observed.
I took what was left of the birds and tried to bring them back. There are lots of ways to torture and then destroy life and it's easy. It's not so easy to save life.
Once, a young bird first trying out its flying abilities came down on the barbed wire that was lining the top of a metal fence. The barbs penetrated his body and the more he struggled, the more injured he became. He die d slowly, hanging upside down. I'll never forget that sight. This was one bird I didn't see.
A young pigeon picking among the garbage, became entangled in some string. It wrapped around his foot and when he flew, the long strand of string would trail behind him. One day the pigeon landed on a tree branch and the string caught on some twigs. The youngster, weakened by a lack of food did not have the strength to break free of this trap and after he was totally exhausted from his attempts, sat on the branch until he died of starvation and thirst.
He was seen hanging by the string from the tree after he died.
Had the bird been stronger, he would have flown, ripping the leg from his body in order to escape from that situation. The chances are that if that happened, he would have died from loss of blood.
Somebody would have had to have seen this bird and gotten a ladder to reach him in order to save his life. Nobody ever looked into the tree to seek anything like that and if by any chance, the hapless bird was spotted, who would have helped? I didn't see this bird until after he died. One doesn't forget sights like that too easily. They stick in the mind and come back at night to haunt.
Pigeons are very territorial. Where they live, they stay. Their instincts prevent them from moving somewhere else. The pigeon has a strong homing instinct and even though an injured or sick bird would be picked up and healed by a rehabilitator, it would fly back to that place, back to its home, back to hell.
I went to that area every evening after work to feed the pigeons and pick up any bird that was injured or sick. I found a nightmare of illnesses that ranged from severe abscesses to salmonella cases that were the worst I had ever seen. There were a lot of injured pigeons too. It took a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of effort to bring these birds back. I picked up more birds from that area than I had from any other before or since that time.
The neighbors finally did something about that place. An exterminator was brought in to kill off all of the birds.
Driving through now, it is all been cleared. If one stops to look and listen, it is very quiet. There are substantially no birds there. The pigeon flock is gone. There are no new birds being born. The silence is no longer broken by their peeping sounds. There are no longer birds coming down to the people who dropped some bread for them. All I know is that they are gone and the garbage is still there.
Occasionally, a single pigeon can be spotted on the ground looking for something to eat and who is to say that it was part of the original flock or a passerby?
One also wonders how the kids who "played with the babies" will turn out but the people who raise them now have a pigeon-free area and that will be enough to keep them satisfied. After all, kids will be kids. However, they may grow up to become those who abuse their wives and children or continue to pillage our planet until there will be nothing left for the pigeons or for us but everybody is entitled to their share of what is left, aren't they?
This isn't just about one area. It's about the lack of respect most people have for our fellow travelers. It's about what we teach our children about the sanctity of life. It's about compassion. It's about how we are educating our children and it's about what is not being taught to them. It's about abusive parents and how they shape those who will take over after we are gone.
This is the way it is for all pigeon flocks no matter where they are. This is how they try to survive in spite of all the dangers.
These birds can teach us something about life and how to fight for it until the very end. They will hide their illnesses until they can't anymore. They stand until they can no longer stand. Then they lie down until the last breath leaves them. They are fighters and survive in spite of what we do to them and to their environment.
When you hear somebody call a pigeon a "Flying rat," think about it. Perhaps it is more important to think about who is saying it.
I don't visit that place anymore. There is nothing for me to do there.
- Anonymous rehabillitator, NY; copyright 2004
"Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace." Albert Schweitzer (1875 - 1965)
In 1986 the Association of Pigeon Veterinarians issued a statement that concludes, "To our knowledge, the raising, keeping, and the exercising of pigeons and doves represents no more of a health hazard than the keeping of other communal or domestic pets." A spokesman for the American PigeonFanciers Council says this statement applies to feral pigeon flocks, too.http://birds.cornell.edu/ppw/faq.htm
POST TO OTHER RESCUERS FROM PIGEON RESCUER IN BROOKLYN, NY
Ultimately when you care about wildlife and animals, you encounter heartbreaking situations. From not being able to help every pigeon to encountering mean-spirited people to whatever it is... I'm just curious how most people in this group deal with that.
I encountered a fledgling pigeon on the top of some brownstone steps the other day and I sussed out the spot and decided the bird could survive between there and a spot I saw the bird 'hide in' at night the night prior.
Okay, I know some of this is hard to gauge but gauge we must, to the best of our abilities. I went back the next morning and kind of figured out its routine. I had once had a situation with some rehabbers where a bird had come down from a store ledge, we put the bird back 'up top' and it flew right back down the next day. And the rehabbers thought if given a couple more days the bird would be able to fly and it was best not to intervene.
These are the decisions people have to make every day, some may not agree with that, but I personally try as hard as I can not to separate the bird from its parents (I’m sure most do but some people it seems want to step in all situations and that is not me).
Anyway, I left a note at this house with what I had discovered... and said the bird will be able to fly in a few days ... can you let it be? Explained that it still needed the parents but could eat on its own (I threw down some
seed and it ate some). Well I went back the next morning, the bird was gone and also my notes were gone so I assume they saw them. I looked all over to see if the bird had a new spot. It's hard for me not to think the worst.
Some people are so wonderful and then others won't want a fledgling pigeon - with other pigeons - anywhere near by.
Not to be partisan in any way but these people had a "john kerry for president" sign in their window which made me think... couldn't you be a little compassionate? (if not just to the bird, to me?) not that that is the inclination of all democrats.
Now, I've assumed the worst that they moved the bird ... but since I cannot know at the moment what happened... my questions are: how do you all decide when you have to make decisions like that?
I left a note and I didn't know whether it was better to bring it to their attention, or not.
(It seemed, from the 'poop' factor that the bird may have been there a day or so.) and how do you not get so angry at people - whether this is justified or not in the situation - why wouldn't they call me?
I'm curious how others deal with upsetting situations and not (a) torturing yourself about decisions made and (b) getting too angry at others. I've had a rehabber tell me that it's also something you will question - making the right decision - no matter what so maybe that comes with the territory.
DIARY --------------------BY MERLE ENGLISHSTAFF WRITERJuly 18, 2004In the 12 years since she retired, Connie von Hundertmark, a former flight attendant, has awakened between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. every day to feed hundreds of wild ducks near the boathouse at Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
The ducks have come to know her over the years. They hear the motor of the blue van she drives from her home 2 1/2 miles away and run to meet her, hungry for the day-old shredded bagels, rolls, pastries and bird seed she brings them. Sometimes she is surrounded by as many as 300 feathered creatures, including Canada geese and what she refers to as a "resident swan."
"I am not allowed to feed the geese, because it interferes with migration, but the ducks don't migrate," von Hundertmark said. If geese approach her while she is feeding the ducks, though, she won't shoo them away. Some of the ducks eat from her hand. A few are so tame and approachable she gave them names. One, which she described as "part duck and part geese," she called Half-&-Half. He had yellow feet and a yellow bill, but instead of white feathers, his were dark like those of a black and white Canada goose.
On July 1, her pastime, which she said brought pleasure to bikers, joggers and picnickers, was marred by a horrible scene.
Six of the ducks were dead. Their necks had been wrung. Half-&-Half was among them.
"The murderer waded through the water, past a fence and crept into their sanctuary under the boathouse where they have taken shelter and nested for years," von Hundertmark wrote Newsday in a letter faxed the same day. "They survived New York's most brutal winter only to be killed while they were at peace. The resident swan is also missing. Perhaps she too was a victim."
To von Hundertmark, 57, a Pittsburgh native who is single and has no close family members living, the "carnage," as she described the duck slaughter, was a personal blow. "What I found today was a horrific act," she wrote. "This massacre saddened me deeply. This idyllic park has become a horror site of animal killing. The murder of these innocent animals was a sadistic, vicious act."
The parks department's enforcement patrol has had the area under surveillance since it learned of the incident, according to Ashe Reardon, a spokesman. "We're following up on it," Reardon said. "We don't like these types of things to happen."
A special bond was formed between von Hundertmark, who rescues strays, and her feathered friends when she first took her dogs to the park to let them run and swim in the lake. She found a bag of matzo cakes after Passover in the spring and started feeding the ducks.
"I was like the duck mother," von Hundertmark said. "I sustained them through the winter. The deepest snow, the most pouring rain, I am there. I drag myself there if I have to. It's something they look forward to."
Last winter when some of the ducks' webbed feet got caught in ice on the lake, von Hundertmark poured hot water on the ice, melting it to free them.
"I consider myself the spiritual mother of all animals," von Hundertmark said.
She once used mouth-to- mouth resuscitation, she said, to revive a mouse that was caught under an upturned cup. "He was breathing his last," she said. "There isn't anything I wouldn't do for an animal, no matter what peril I'm in. It's just what God has given me to do," von Hundertmark said. "All the heartaches of my life have been with animals. A lot of people don't have sympathy. They say, 'You're a nut.' A friend said, 'You should get a life. How can you love a duck?' "I'm a strict vegetarian. I could never eat an animal product, not even eggs," von Hundertmark added. "I truly believe when I die and go to heaven the first thing I'll see are all of my ducks, and they'll come quacking up to me, because they have souls, and anyone who thinks they don't is terribly misguided."
When five stray cats that she brought into her home subsequently died, she had them cremated. She keeps the ashes in jars. "I hope when I die, I'll be cremated and my ashes mixed with theirs," von Hundertmark said. She wants park goers to be "vigilant of suspicious activity around the waterfowl."
Copyright (c) 2004, Newsday, Inc. --------------------This article originally appeared at: