I have rescued, raised and released many wild birds, among them, feral pigeons. I have had many bond to me as mom, but have encouraged them to leave and eventually have. I live in Israel, not in the city. I rescued Hercules, a feral pigeon (we think he was a day old). He bonded to me as mom and then at 6 months old, started biting the whole family including me. I though he was getting ready to leave but at 8 months old he chose me as his mate. I tried introducing him to other pigeons, but with no success. He will be 2 years old in August. I was just wondering how common this behaviour was. He does all the dancing, cooing, tail dragging and billing to me and tries to mate with me, to the point of ejaculation. He presents me with twigs or sticks, one at a time, to build the nest. He is extremely possessive and follows me everywhere, even into the swimming pool and shower.
Something else which I though put Hercules above normal, is that he will adopt, sit on and feed any baby bird which is presented to him. Feeling sorry for him (as he was sitting on anything white which he found on my bed), I presented him with a chicken egg which he successfully hatched (chick was returned to mom). He has successfully nested on and raised two doves which had been rescued.
Has anyone heard of this kind of behaviour?
Hoping to hear from you
While not all pigeons will act in this way, I have seen simular behavior with my hand fed hen (female) pigeon "Lucky".
Lucky is in love with me, she will not even look at another pigeon, follows me around like a puppy, gathers twigs to build nests, lays unfertil eggs, drinks warm sugar tea with me in the evenings, loves the television.
Lucky has successfuly raised 4 young squabs from fertil eggs that I placed in her nest. Her offspring are very tame and make wonderful pets.
People often ask me why I developed the pigeons.com web site, was it because I liked pigeons and wanted to share my passion? This is true, but the main reason is because I am in love with Lucky.
Lucky In Love”
A Pigeon Story
If Lucky were born as a street pigeon, instead of a Birmingham Roller, there would be no story here and Lucky would probably be on some ferry dock, begging French fries from the car passengers. That’s what feral pigeons do here in Seattle. But Lucky was lucky.
It was a cold December morning in 1998 when I entered the pigeon loft behind the barn, to find a baby pigeon there on the floor. Two days earlier I’d found another baby pigeon that had frozen to death. Apparently, the chicks were falling from the nest during the night. When this happens during daylight, the mother and father pigeons will come to the rescue, giving warmth and food to their baby. But this happened at night. And since pigeons won’t fly before morning light, in cold weather the baby is usually doomed.
I reached down and picked up the cold, hard body of the baby pigeon, and was about to throw it into the ravine when I felt a slight movement in my hand. I stared closely at it for a moment and finally, yes, it moved again. It was still alive, but just barely. I immediatley ran for the house.
Paul, my youngest son met me outside the kitchen door and wanted to know what I had cupped in my hands. I told him it was a frozen baby pigeon that I thought was still alive. He wanted to see it. He looked at it, then at me, and said “Dad, I don’t think this bird is going to make it.”
I didn’t say anything, but took the baby bird into the kitchen and carefully placed it on a soft towel, near the wood stove. I watched for a moment, there was no movement. So I covered it with another towel
and decided that I had done all I could for the time being. I left the bird alone and returned to the barn to finish my morning chores.
About two hours later I returned to the kitchen to check on the baby pigeon and found a miracle. I lifted the towel and there in the warmth of the lamp was a live, kicking, screaming little baby pigeon. It was completely revived, head lifted off the towel, bobbing back and forth, making little peeping sounds. The tiny squab was alive! I could not believe my eyes! Squeak, squeak, squeak was the sound it made. It was actually alive—and very hungry. I couldn’t get over it.
And so our story begins, a story about love and friendship with a unique and interesting pet, a pigeon called “Lucky”.
The Squab Job…Someone Has To Do It!
My first reaction to Lucky’s miraculous recovery was to think about returning her to the nest for continued care from mom and dad. When I checked the loft, I found the mother caring for the other baby in the nest. The father was nowhere to be found. I searched the loft again and again with the same result—no father pigeon. Since pigeons are exemplary parents, I concluded that the male pigeon must have met with some tragic end while flying outside the loft. Perhaps he met with a Cooper Hawk or some stray cat. Whatever the reason, the mother was now alone; and I feared that she could not take care of both squabs on her own.
In my 34 years of marriage to Sondra, we had raised 5 children, most of them grown, now gone from the nest. The prospect of a new baby in the house was not exactly thrilling. But this little squab, that I later named Lucky, needed help now! Someone had to do it…
I remembered all the formula stuff, the night feedings, the bathing and care our children had received, mostly from their mother. I had played father largely on the sidelines, watching it all go by. Now it was my turn. But where would I start? While I was thinking this through, the racket continued from the kitchen: Squeak! Squeak! Squeak! Lucky was telling me what my next step should be: “FEED ME NOW!”
Where was I going to get fresh “pigeon milk”? This is the primary staple given to baby pigeons by their parents (male pigeons lactate too). I deduced that it must be a mixture of seeds and some kind of milk produced in the parent’s craw. I decided to try to replicate the stuff. So I boiled some pigeon seed, mashed it, then mixed it with half & half, and tried to feed it to Lucky with a small spoon. Disaster. Lucky’s craw was completely empty and I had made no progress. Lucky screamed, I screamed and Sondra screamed, because I had burned the bottom of the pan. I headed for the pet store.
Once again, Lucky was lucky. The pet store carried “baby bird formula”, plastic syringes and information on how to hand feed baby parrots. I purchased some Neo-Nate formula by LM and followed the directions on the package:
1 to 2 days: 1-part formula, 6-parts water.
3 to 14 days: 1-part formula, 3-parts water.
2 to 3 weeks: 1-part formula, 2-parts water.
Necessity is a mother… At first the feedings were a real chore for me. Learning to hand feed a squeaking, wiggling, uncooperative little squab was a challenge. With syringe in one hand, the baby on the towel, I would try to open the small beak with my one remaining hand. Hold still, you! Damn. I know you are hungry, just calm down and let me do my job. ****!
But eventually we came to an understanding: I am the feedor. And you, my little squab, are the feedee. I took the towel and wrapped it around Lucky until she looked like a mummy, with head poking out the top, and placed her in a cottage cheese container. That should do it! And it did. From then on Lucky could kick and scream all she wanted, but I was able to hold her head, open her beak and shoot formula into her craw. This worked perfectly. Her tummy was kept full! Lucky began to grow larger…I was growing older—fast.
But from there things got real smooth. Soon I actually looked forward to the feeding times. And so did Lucky.
At week three I began introducing small frozen corn and peas, warmed in the microwave. I would hand feed them one at a time, after the formula feeding. I would occasionally drop in some hard, dry pigeon feed, just to get the digestive system working. I also placed dry pigeon feed in Lucky’s box for interest. I would see Lucky peck at the dry feed, not quite getting the idea of swallowing it. This, I learned, was normal. Eventually the dry feed would become the daily staple.
And sure enough, at four weeks Lucky was eating dry feed without my help. An era had ended.
I still didn’t know if Lucky was a boy or a girl (cock or a hen). But when I found two eggs in her box, I got my answer. Of course, the eggs were unfertile. But Lucky took up round-the-clock setting operations anyway. Well, practice makes perfect, I supposed. I later removed the eggs.
Routine! Routine! Routine!
All pet birds love routine. Pigeons are no exception.
They seem to fall in with the rhythm of the household and come to expect it. Feeding times were spaced and maintained day after day. Three hours and the little tummy (craw) was almost empty, time to feed. After week two we could feed at 10:00 PM and not again until 6:00 AM. That was wonderful! I now have some idea of how it must have been for my wife during the baby years in our home, a little late, maybe, but at least I “get it”. Lucky’s daily routine went something like this:
6:00 AM---Breakfast, followed by a drink of warm tea.
9:00 AM---Regular feeding, followed by play time in box.
12:00 PM---Lunch, playtime and long nap.
3:00 PM---Regular feeding.
8:00 PM---Warm bath in the dish pan, followed by towel
dry-off period, some TV watching, petting
and bird talk. Don’t forget the warm tea.
10:00 PM---Late snack, followed by bedtime in the box,
lights out, towel over box until morning.
At 33 days Lucky was fully developed, feathered and weaned
(sure beats 18 years!). But she was inexperienced. She worked at flying with assisted hops, controlled falls and some short, successful flights. Since Lucky’s mother was a Birmingham Roller, a type of performing pigeon, and her father a Syrian Tumbler (also a performer), I saw no reason for her not to eventually master the fine art of flying.
I had experience with pigeons, as I’d kept lofts and been around them most of my life. I have a fondness for them and I admire what they are. Over the years I have learned much.
Given the chance, pigeons usually mate for life. If the pair is separated for any reason, each will find a new mate. A major priority is getting on with the business of making little pigeons. But they are not barbarians. Courting must take place first. And their courtship is somewhat like that of humans. It begins with the male chasing the female, until she finally catches him!
When they decide (mutually) to do the deed, the first egg will appear in 10 days. The second egg appears 40 hours after the first.
The hen’s job will be to warm the eggs within the nest by setting on them from about 4:00 pm., until 10:00 am. The cock will brood (set on the eggs) the rest of the time. The eggs hatch in 17 to 18 days, with the second egg hatching one day behind the first.
The baby chicks grow very fast, doubling their birth weight in the first 48 hours. Both parents share equally in the feeding and setting with the chicks in the nest. As the squabs grow, the parents stay away from the nest for longer periods. It is not unusual for the parents to prepare another nest and be sitting on new eggs even before the squabs are weaned.
Our Days Growing Up
Lucky’s growth each day was astounding. So was mine...
By the seventh day her eyes were open, showing two little black shiny blinkers. Pinfeathers covered most of her body and she had grown to about 6 times her original size at birth. On the sixteenth day, Lucky was covered in light gray pinfeathers, with pure white tips. A few full white feathers were now showing.
Once we got past the more mechanical parts of daily existence such as eating, bathing, sleeping, pooping (we will address this subject later), and exercise, Lucky and I found that we actually liked each other very much. We became the best of friends. I enjoyed taking her with me everywhere. It was fun to watch her experience new things.
At morning breakfast, she would be into the Honey Nut Cheerios (no milk please), and warm tea. Morning and evening chores found her riding high on my shoulder. She was privileged to watch me feed the other pigeons in the main loft. I often wonder what she thinks of the other pigeons. She doesn’t seem to have any interest in them, wishing only to follow me around all day. Most of my day is spent at the computer with Lucky sitting on the monitor, and occasionally walking across my keyboard. Her every moment seems to be in the here and now, and watching her intrigues me. Now and again, I will find myself with Lucky, absorbed in the here and now, just watching it all go by. And it feels fine.
Lucky is good for me. It would be terrible to be without her in my life and I cannot bring myself to imagine it.
Lucky’s first bath came during the “terrible twos” (2 weeks
old), the awkward stage. Covered with pinfeathers and some beginning white feathers, I lowered her into a dishpan filled with warm water. Her first reaction was shock. What’s happening here? Then she calmed down and realized that she actually enjoyed it! Then she pooped! So I changed the water for her. And she pooped again. Once more, I changed the water. Apparently all pooped out, she relaxed and enjoyed her first dip. I decided the bath was over when I noticed Lucky’s eyes were closed, fast asleep, head bobbing almost under water. I plucked her from the dishpan and placed her on a dry towel, covered her with paper towels and gently patted her almost dry. I finished the job with the electric hair dryer, on low setting, (Lucky loves the hair dryer!) while she continued to sleep deeply.
I thought to myself, isn’t she cute?
At five weeks, the scruffy little pin feathered baby squab had grown into a lovely young pigeon, with feathers as soft and white as the clouds. She was now exercising her wings regularly, sometimes actually lifting herself off the table a few inches. This activity excited her, especially when my wife and I would applaud her efforts to fly.
At six weeks we would take walks outside near the pond, by the orchard, Lucky on my shoulder. She had accomplished some short distance flights in the kitchen, from the table to the counter top and back again. I knew she could fly, but I also knew she was very cautious about this kind of serious activity. She wanted to take it slow, and so did I.
On one special morning walk, I reached my hand up to my shoulder and she hopped on. Then I turned her so she faced me and lifted her upwards, into the air perhaps 6 or 8 feet. She opened her wings and gently fluttered back down to me. I caught her in my hands. She liked it. She had that “lets do it again” look all over her face. So we did it again, and again. Higher and higher she went, sometimes circling two or three times before coming down to my hands. It was a wonderful experience, for both of us.
On another day, as we left the house for our walk, I set Lucky on top of the porch railing post. She just stood there craning her neck, investigating everything around her. I continued walking by myself, down the steps, across the grass, down the path to the pond. I looked back often, watching to see what Lucky would do. She just stood there, perched on the railing post, watching me. When I reached the pond I turned and raised my arm in the air and called out to her. At that very instant, Lucky opened her wings, lifted off the porch post, into the air and began to fly. At first she seemed rather hesitant, flying in my direction, then turning and flying in another. I called to her loudly. The distance she had to travel to reach me was at least 200 yards. She suddenly banked to the left and headed straight for me. Traveling very fast, she turned her wings to break, stopped abruptly, and fluttered downward, landing softly on my shoulder. It was a perfect landing. Wow! Lucky can fly! I got real excited and she looked so proud of herself. Later, as we approached the house, she lifted off my shoulder and flew directly back to the same railing post. There she waited for me to catch up with her. Lucky’s first flight day was very special. To this day she flies like an angel, high into the sky, but always returns to my shoulder.
At 12 weeks of age Lucky was an adult bird. Except for a few black feathers, located on her neck and tail, she was completely snow white. Her eyes were now a bright orange, with a large black iris. Her beak was black and very pointed. Her feet were pink, with short white feathers covering the legs and three toes. She was a beautiful bird.
As days went by I learned that she was not only a beautiful bird, but also a beautiful companion. Lucky expressed what I call pigeon love toward me. Pigeon love is almost complete surrender to my wishes (with some exceptions, which I will go into later). Our relationship was special right from the beginning, but as time went by, our bond became deeper.
Lucky also had certain expectations of me. Her priority list started with togetherness. Whatever I might have planned for the day was fine with her, as long as we did it together. When I took my morning shower, she was there too. She would sit atop the shower door. While shaving, she would strut back and forth across the vanity top. While brushing my teeth, she always had to get a sip of water from my cup. Her favorite bathroom activity was to crouch inside the towel cupboard, twitching her wings and emitting a soft cooing sound. When I noticed her activity, I would know that her expectation would be for me to give her some love petting. I would reach in and place my hand over her head and neck, giving her a back and forth tussle. At this point Lucky would begin a very rapid and loud cooing. She was obviously very pleased. She would have accepted this kind of affection for as long as I wanted to stand there and give it to her.
Pooping, everywhere and often was another expectation Lucky harbored. I have raised hand fed parrots, training them to deposit their droppings only in certain (OK) places. They were quite easy to train.
Pigeons are another story. I think pigeons are almost impossible to potty train, but I will continue to try. Lucky does have her special places. Places I call normal poop drops. The unfortunate thing is that her poop drops are seldom where my choice would be. I’ve tried many techniques to train Luck in proper bathroom behavior, without success. So currently, I have a pigeon philosophy that says: “Pigeons and their poop come as a package”. If you love pigeons, as I do, you will make an allowance for the whole package. You will keep a roll of tissue paper handy at all times, and table knife for use on the carpet. Fortunately, normal pigeon poop is rather hard, somewhat like soft clay, so it can be cleaned up quite easily. It is also odorless. So much for pigeon poop…
Life with Lucky
I cannot begin to imagine losing Lucky. Some pigeons will live to over 20 years. I hope this will be the case for Lucky. She is a gift from God, and somehow more special than any other pet I have owned, including dogs and cats. I have many other birds including doves, pigeons, parrots and lovebirds. I enjoy them all and they all have a place in my life. But only Lucky holds that soft place, near my heart.
What makes a tame pigeon like Lucky so special? It could be the way she bows her head in greeting when I enter the room. Or, when she makes direct eye contact to tell me something, without making a sound. Maybe it’s the way she flys across a field to land softly on my shoulder. Lucky doesn’t talk like my parrots do. She won’t chase sticks like the dog. But Lucky does impact my life. She is a “mirror reflecting all the life and love around me”. A continual reminder that “life is good”.
By Carl Gulledge
Vashon Island, Washington
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