Tux the Pigeon || Hitchhiking to Heaven
Birds, Words

Letting Birds Be Birds

I’m not in the habit of committing copyright violations, but I had to post this picture I snapped of my favorite postcard. The photograph was taken by Martine Franck in Nepal in 1996. To me, it says everything about life. Surprising intersections of being. Humor. Acceptance. Pigeons.

Things haven’t been going according to plan around here. I mean, I have plenty more to be grateful for than I do to complain about, but I’m going to go ahead and talk about the pesky stuff, anyway. It started about ten days ago when Quince’s breathing became labored. (If you haven’t met Quince and Yuzu yet, here’s a little introduction to my two new rescue pigeons.) It was Easter weekend and there weren’t any easy or clear options for care.  After about twenty semi-panicked phone calls, I found a very kind avian vet who was willing to stay late at his clinic on a Saturday evening while I drove an hour and a half to bring him my pigeon.

Long story short, Quincy had to stay two nights at the hospital and I’ve been in the car a lot — and up at 2 a.m. a lot — listening to the smallest sounds of pigeon breathing. (Is it an infection? A blockage? The results of a neonatal injury? Tracheal irritation? He wasn’t telling.) Now, he’s on a 14-day course of antibiotics — it’s fun to give a pigeon drugs by mouth — and doing quite well. While he still has some symptoms, he appears in all other ways to be a happy, hearty bird. (He’s still a world class eater, that’s for sure.) Thank goodness.

Yuzu was not pleased that I took him away for a couple of days, even though she got to come in the house and watch movies with us at night. (She seemed to enjoy Space Cowboys.) After Quince came back, she spent a lot of time looking at me like she would gladly peck out my eyes if I touched her guy again.

Which brings us to this question: Is Yuzu really a girl? In recent days, she has been behaving in ways that have us thinking we may have two boy pigeons here. (More about that in a minute.) Birds, like humans, form a diversity of beneficial familial and partnership bonds, so we’ll just wait and see who these two turn out to be. We’re open to keeping them as a pair or letting them pair up with others. As long as they’re happy, we’ll be happy. (As a related digression, here’s a photo of my neighbor’s exceptionally beautiful goose, Charlene. She has rejected all male partners and hasn’t been able to form a partner bond with another female, though she has tried. As you can see, however, she has made her own family and taken on a very important job. You’d better not mess with her ducks. She is their fierce protector.)

A couple of days ago, we did try to introduce two new birds to our pigeon house. Elizabeth from MickaCoo Pigeon & Dove Rescue brought us a wonderful pair named Betti (pronounced “Bitta”) and Tux —  mature Roller pigeons who would greatly benefit from a small, quiet aviary like we thought we had here. Tux recently sustained an eye injury while trying to defend their nest box in a much larger coop. We figured our youngsters would be respectful of him and that maybe some of the grown-ups’ elegance and charm would rub off on Yuzu and Quince over time.

Fat chance.

Our Yuzu is a terror! Displaying shocking behavior for such a young bird, Yuzu stalked the newcomers, drew a bead on Tux, and took him right down to the floor, pounding on him. I had to separate them and bring Yuzu into the house for a time out. Tux was downright depressed afterward. It’s true. You could see it. His girl Betti stayed right by his side, nuzzling him, grooming him, and doing all she could to cheer him up. My heart went out to the sweet guy. I had wanted to give him a home where he could be the boss of his own Tux-sized domain.

Tux is a handsome, gentle guy.

Yuzu’s inhospitable behavior continued, and Betti and Tux had to go back to MickaCoo. We’ve decided to remain a two-bird family for a while. If we try again, we’ll more slowly introduce pigeons of similar age and weight. Pigeons tend to work things about amongst themselves over time. Perhaps another, bigger, bird can teach Yuzu to play nice.

Oh so briefly, we were four.

All of this — Quince’s respiratory relapse, Yuzu’s violent behavior, having to surrender two sweet birds — undid me more than I’d like to admit. I was so concerned with all things pigeon that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I missed appointments and classes. I didn’t sleep for worrying. I surely haven’t made a dollop of jam. (I did get to the pickles, though. A deadline is a deadline.) I’ve been obsessive and weepy and not much fun to live with, I’m pretty sure.

These pigeons are teaching me a powerful lesson. I’ve been holding on too tight. I can provide a solid foundation for them — a good home and responsible care — but after that it’s up to them. I have to trust their instincts, intelligence, immune systems. As I wrote in a note to a good friend, these birds are helping me learn to live with more acceptance and grace in the face of what I cannot control.

Holding Baby Lily, a MickaCoo foster dove. (Photo: Elizabeth Young)

I am learning to open my hands and let the birds be birds.

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15 Comments

  • Reply Dawn May 2, 2011 at 5:09 am

    As another friend of all those feathered, this post made me laugh and cry, and totally sympathize with the hours of driving and sleepness nights, and even the avian gender ambiguity (I once had a lovebird who was “my little guy” for about two years before I woke up one morning to find an egg in the bottom of the cage). I wish you the best in learning to let birds be birds. After 17 years, I’m still learning. :)

    • Reply Shae May 2, 2011 at 8:34 am

      Thank you, Dawn. I don’t think we’ll know anything about these two for sure unless one (or both?) lay eggs at some point. Quince is pretty clearly a boy, but Yuzu likes to switch up her courting behaviors to keep us guessing. (Hey, I was over at your blog and noticed that you forged ahead with the pate de oops. I totally agree with you on the lack of clarity around cooking temps for that stuff. If you make further progress, I hope you’ll share notes!)

      • Reply Dawn May 4, 2011 at 4:29 am

        I’ve located a different recipe (in English even) and am preparing for another attempt at the pate de oops tomorrow. Results will be posted!

  • Reply caroline May 2, 2011 at 8:37 am

    that was an important post…. (were you paying attention to the chicken saga at grow and resist?) the reason I say it’s important- I think so many people assume that they can branch out from growing a few tomato plants and making some jam into animal husbandry, and it can be SO stressful and heart-wrenching sometimes. For me atleast, taking care of living creatures is often so much more challenging than making jam. i boarded a sick rooster at a vet office for a week once and paid a lot of money for it. so i feel ya.

    • Reply Shae May 2, 2011 at 9:15 am

      I have been following Meg’s story word for word. What she’s been going through with those chix is so much more intense than this — it’s lucky she’s a nurse! No matter what the intention in keeping and caring for animals — for pets or production — they are a tremendous commitment. I think you are a great example of someone who culls birds for consumption but gives them good care, too. Birds like Yuzu and Quince who are intended for squab are generally terribly mistreated, so having voices like yours in the discussion is super important, too.

  • Reply meg May 2, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Shae- This is a beautiful post- the words, the photos- everything. I am sorry it didn’t work out with Betti & Tux. It is so shocking when they attack. I know it is nature’s way and all that–but it catches me off guard when it happens.

    @Caroline- I am not sure if you were insinuating that I jumped into raising chickens without thinking it through or not. But just to be sure I did not. I did a lot of research, took classes, visited other chicken owners, etc. And it is at times heart wrenching and hard. But I’ve found it is mostly full of laughs and eggs. They are a joy!

    I am glad that my chicks are on the mend and that I have a lot of local resources in Seattle (the urban farm co-op) to fall on when I need them. Including people that offer classes in humane slaughter and people that will gladly take your chickens for there own humane slaughter.
    We have had many conversations about eating chicken & that we feel we should be able to cull them ourselves. However, I’m not there. I just don’t enjoy eating chicken enough to kill them myself. However I wouldn’t have started raising them if I didn’t have local resources that I trusted to be there when needed. To vet or not to vet is different with everyone- for us, it isn’t something we are willing to do. I am willing to go incredibly far to manage any illness/injury and will have them humanely slaughtered if they are suffering with something I can’t manage.

    PS- I LOVE the goose picture!

  • Reply kaela May 2, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    It seems to be the month for bird-related trauma, no? I’m sorry about Betti & Tux; they seem like such a cute couple. But alas.. we couldn’t expect to just throw 4 random humans in a room together and have them get along could we? Same goes for birds (and beasts) I imagine. The smackdown is just more physical (usually) but also a bit more honest, in my opinion.

    I now have a vivid image of Yuzu on the couch, in pigeon PJs, sitting between you guys watching Space Cowboys. Occasionally pecking into a big bowl of popcorn. Giving the stink eye if a human hand strays too close to the remote.

    • Reply Shae May 2, 2011 at 3:30 pm

      Yuzu totally has the Clint Eastwood thing down. “Go ahead . . .”

  • Reply caroline May 2, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    @ meg! oh lord no! oh my gosh, that is horrifying. I meant to refer to your recent adventures as yet another story of how heart-wrenching/stressful it can be to raise animals! shae going to the vet with pigeons, me taking a sick rooster to get boarded at a vet office, you nursing a sick hen back to health and having to struggle with whether or not to cull her.

    PLEASE don’t be offended :)

    And my poorly worded comment wasn’t even meant to be even be that negative; i think that I went to the same process myself- having chickens or dairy goats, or whatever really can often seem very romanticized and I think it’s nice for people to really truly understand what they’re getting into before it starts. thats all.

    Sorry if I caused you any stress meg! I love your blog!

  • Reply meg May 2, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    =) Thanks Caroline! I didn’t think you were insinuating…I just wanted to make sure. Because I know I was pretty candid with my drugging of my chicken, etc. I have expected strangers to line up at my door to yell at me =)
    And you comment wasn’t poorly worded~ I’m not at my best these days and seem to be reading into everything- so thought I should clarify! No worries!
    How is the rooster?

    Kaela- that is a classic image now firmly implanted in my brain. Too funny!

    • Reply Shae May 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm

      Meg & Caroline: I’m glad you two worked that out! I knew there were no negative intentions there. I have great respect for both of you as gardeners/farmers. Meg, I hear you on the vet/no vet thing. I am learning to do more myself, but I definitely need to go to the doc when I’m over my head. (And it’s easy for me to get over my head!) I think your medical training puts you in particularly good stead to be a chicken nurse. :-)

  • Reply Aimee May 3, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Oh dear. I am so sorry to read about all of these troubles. I work with feral and friendly homeless cats, not birds, but I do know all about those urgent health situations, emergency vet visits (and bills), relationships that don’t work out, as well as the tears, the stomach in knots, the heartache, and the wishing we could do more. (there are a LOT of homeless cats in Brooklyn, and we try to sterilize / help as many of them through the winters / find homes for as many as we possibly can).

    I want to thank you for taking the time to post this and speak so openly about your feelings and what you have come around to realizing – about holding on too tight and at some point acknowledging (and somehow trying to be okay with the fact) that you’ve done all that can be done, and sometimes it’s up to them…health…circumstances beyond your control, etc.

    This was a particularly great thing for me to read and to read right now. Particularly when it comes to rescuing animals, learning to live with acceptance and grace in the face of what we can’t control is infinitely easier said than done. It’s also necessary, I think, if we are to maintain emotionally healthy lives…it’s so easy for it to become too much and to consume us.

    I’m very happy to hear that Quince’s health has improved on the antibiotics (and my heart goes out to you – I can’t imagine trying to medicate a bird!).

    I’m sorry that Yuzu is not being cooperative as far as any potential roommates…it’s tough when you have to return a foster animal because the situation just isn’t likely to work out. I’m glad Betta and Tux have a place to go back to.

    I have been keeping up with your posts about Yuzu & Quincy since you got them and am so inspired reading about all you’ve done for them. It really gives me hope – just knowing that there are people out there like you who care and are doing so much to help make a difference in the lives of animals that need it.

    Thank you again for this post, and for taking care of these marvelous birds. I hope that you will be able to reach that point where you can accept and let go when you need to…it’s just wonderful that in spite of the hard times you and they have been going through, you are willing to find the positive thing in all of it and think of it as them giving you the gift of a valuable (but hard) lesson.

    Best of luck – I look forward to keeping up with them!

    • Reply Shae May 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm

      Aimee, thank you for this thoughtful note and for the animal rescue work you do. I can tell you understand! This is all such a good lesson in finding balance. Because I care about birds so much, it breaks my heart not to be able to do everything for all of them who need help. When I look at the amount of work that the MickaCoo rescue organization does, I am floored. There are a lot of volunteers, but it’s mostly one amazing woman — Elizabeth — who works more than full-time to rescue these birds and help them find homes. I see that and think no way am I doing enough. But for now I am doing what I can do. If we let ourselves get too stressed out, it’s not good for us or our loved ones or our animals, right? I hope after I integrate the big step of making a home for these two, I can eventually take in more and do more pij & dove volunteer work — but all in timing that I can make work in my life.

      Also, I’m glad you stopped by because it reminded me that I had new information to share on that question you had about the half-wine barrel planter, way back when. If you pop over there, you’ll see my response to you. :-)

  • Reply janis May 16, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    Oh Shae – such a moving post, beautiful … Big hug from me to you…j.

  • Reply Pigeons First « Hitchhiking to Heaven June 28, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    […] I had always intended to have more than two birds, but Yuzu has made it repeatedly clear that no other boy pigeon will be getting into the house he shares with his girl, Quince. For months, I’ve been vacillating about creating a second aviary in an unused space on our […]

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