Jun 1, 2013

Peril for a pigeon

By susan McCarthy



A Marin County resident spotted a problem in a small flock of pigeons she feeds on her back porch. One bird had thin green twine wrapped around his feet. There was a lot of it. It tangled around each foot, and also cuffed them together. “He can fly, but he can't walk,” she observed. A week went by and the twine was still there.




Although he was managing to get by, and even puffing his neck feathers at female pigeons, he was at serious risk. At any time the twine might snag on something and trap him, condemning him to slow starvation.

Pigeons, also called rock doves, aren't glamorous birds. They're not native wildlife. But their lives matter to them, and to many people who love them.

On the advice of the Humane Society, the worried resident tried to trap him with a tilted box on a stick, but wasn't able to make that work. She called WES.

After talking to her on the phone, we made a plan. She fed the birds half their usual amount the day before we hoped to catch the bird, and nothing on the day itself.

When I arrived at the usual feeding time, the pigeons were sitting hopefully on the eaves. We soon spotted the bird with the tangled feet.

I placed a long-handled net on edge, next to objects on the porch, so the net wouldn't stand out as an object in the birds' vision. I crouched down, holding the end of the net handle. The resident placed a tempting pile of seeds right in front of the net and moved away.

Within seconds the hungry birds descended. The hardest part was keeping an eye on the target bird in the gobbling crowd. Soon he was directly in front of the net, head down, eating. I quickly flipped the net over, catching two birds, including the one we wanted.

Using very small scissors, I cut the twine off the bird's feet. It was tough, waxed string, probably meant to hold up through all weather for gardening uses. It would never have come off by itself.

Could he be released or did he need to be taken into care? I felt the sides of his keel bone and found he was well-nourished – the resident's feeding had kept him from going hungry. His feet were also in better shape than expected, with no open cuts. There was a constriction at the base of one toe where the twine had been, but no cuts. The circulation was good in all his toes. We decided to release him. The resident will monitor him to see how he does now that the twine is gone.

I gave him to the resident, the person who had spotted the bird's problem and gotten him the help he needed to survive. She opened her hands and set him free.

Within a few minutes, he was with the other pigeons, scrambling for seed.