January 27, 2014

The Tale of an Injured Pigeon in a Polar Vortex

Well, hello there! It's been a while. Today I'm going to tell you a story about Norman the pigeon.

Before I get into the story of how Norman came into my life, I wanted to mention a few bits of vegan news. Firstly, some of you may have heard that the vegan world lost Rynn Berry, a very compassionate, enthusiastic, and downright amazing human being a couple weeks ago. I had the good fortune of meeting him in November when he taught the History of Veganism class at Main Street Vegan Academy and was blown away by his immense knowledge and intelligence. He will be sorely missed.

My second piece of news is that the Main Street Vegan blog has relaunched! Every week, a new post will go up from either Victoria Moran or an alum of the Main Street Vegan Academy, and yours truly will be contributing as well. The posts so far have been fantastic. You can catch up here, here, and here and make sure to check back weekly for posts on all aspects of living a compassionate vegan life!

What Tucker does all day during a polar vortex
J and I talk about taking a trip to Alaska someday. Though it's more of his thing, any trip is worth it if the northern lights are visible there. I've never seen, always wanted to. The polar vortex, a chilling phrase in more way than one, put a damper on that idea for a while. I mean, 15-20 degrees is something that I don't really enjoy but can totally deal with. On the worst day in Pittsburgh there was a windchill of -35F! Add to that the fact that we rarely see the sun in this city, the cold and sunless combo can cause a serious case of the blues. I thought those couple days were bad, but to my dismay, the negative temperatures have returned. My dreams of moving closer to the equator might just become a reality (sooner that I expected) if this keeps up.

"Feels like -35F". I kept staring at the weather widget on my phone. Is that real? Why did people ever leave the tropics? Since my (mold related) breathing issues made it somewhat difficult to breathe outside and I felt like I was catching a cold, I hibernated for the few days that it plummeted below zero. Even though I was sick and my kitchen was literally freezing over, I still felt privileged to have a place to wait out the polar vortex. I thought about all of the people and the animals without homes and wished for all of them to find warm shelter. This was no ordinary winter cold. This was instant-icicles-in-your-beard cold. No, I don't know from experience, but J couldn't help but talk about it every time he stepped outside.

The Animal Rescue League stayed open throughout the night to take in animals in need. The city warned residents that any companion animals that were left outside unattended would be taken by Animal Control (to Animal Rescue League). I know that in times like this, people go into crisis mode and are much more cooperative with each other in working for the common good. I hoped with all my heart that animals in need would find help.

When J came home, he looked worried. He said there was a pigeon outside that looked sick or injured. The bird was huddled behind a staircase that protected him from the wind. J couldn't confirm that something was wrong, but he had a hunch that the pigeon wasn't only trying to stay warm. Before he intervened with the bird, he asked my opinion on the situation. I wish I knew more about wild birds or pigeons specifically, but I didn't know what to tell him. We learn through experience, and with birds I had none. I thought he should go with his intuition on this one.

J brought a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel out to the bird, who shuffled over to the bottle and pressed his body to the side of it. Clearly, he enjoyed the radiating heat, but he didn't perk up. With a hungry hawk always circling the skies and the multitude of stray cats in the neighborhood, it wasn't safe for the little guy to stay out there.

With the two of us out there, one could catch the bird and one could block the path to the road. Because of his obvious lethargy, we were fairly sure that he wasn't going to have the energy to fly away. I didn't want him to get frightened and hobble over to the road and get hit by a car. J draped the towel over him and lifted him into the box as I blocked the path to the road.

day 3. Right before we took him to the Wildlife Center.
 I named him Norman, and for the next two days we kept him in a cat carrier in our bathroom. For the first day, he just slept nestled against the water bottle and covered in a towel. He barely moved. I'd walk in and coo to him sweetly. He'd open his eyes and look right at me. There was a peace in his eyes, and he seemed to enjoy my voice. I was tempted to check in on him more, but I knew he needed to rest. Being the plant loving vegan that I am, I have many dried seeds in my pantry that made for the perfect d.i.y. bird seed. I gave him seeds and water, but he neither drank nor ate.

At this point we weren't sure if he was sick, injured, or just cold. He was so puffed up and unmoving that it was really hard to determine which it was. J would be gone for the entire next day, so it was up to me to determine Norman's next steps.

The next day (Wednesday), Norman had perked up and we could tell he was eating some of the seeds. I was worried that he wasn't drinking any of the water, so I gave him diced apples and soaked some of Tucker's dog treats in water to get more fluids into him. He was crazy for the treats, and I was happy that he was feeling well enough to eat. He was also moving around and cocking his head when I'd talk to him. His puffing went down significantly, and I could see now that his wings didn't look even. I thought perhaps it was because he was in a strange position in the cage, but I was getting concerned that the wing was hurt in some way. Despite the reservations about his wing, he was otherwise looking great. Because of his apparent upswing in health and the fact that temperatures had risen well above zero, I thought it was worth a shot at releasing him. If his wing was hurt, he wouldn't be able to fly away anyway.

day 3. A good look at how he carried his injured wing.

I brought the carrier into our backyard and set it in the grass. I sat on our back stoop and opened the carrier doors (one on the top and one on the side). One thing I noticed was that as soon as we stepped outside, the air seemed to sweep the life back into him. He cheered up immediately and started devouring his bird seed. Though the doors were open, he felt no urgency to escape. He sat in the carrier for about 10 minutes before he decided to saunter into the enclosed yard. For the next 20 minutes, I watched him weave through the grass, walk behind staircases, and graze for food. He stuck close to me, and when he wasn't near me, he found safe corners to hide in.

At this point, I decided to "chase" him a little bit to see if his wing was ok or if it was indeed injured. I walked behind him at a close range, hoping it would encourage him to fly away. It wasn't working too well at first as I didn't want to scare him by being too aggressive, but eventually he did try to fly away. He didn't get too far off the ground. I thought, yes, his wing is definitely injured.

I knew he couldn't get very far and he'd been so happy to be outside again, so I let him walk around in the grass for a few more minutes. I gave him space to do what he pleased. I didn't want him to feel cornered. To my surprise, he walked over to the carrier and hopped back in. I thought maybe he was going for the food, but no, he just sat in there!

When we got back inside, I called the Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center to ask them if they could take him in. It went to voice mail. They closed at 4, and can you believe that it was 4:15! It looked like Norman would spend another night with us. I was growing quite fond of him, and was looking forward to the extra time to get to know him better.

The next day, J and I drove him out to the wildlife center, dropped him off, and were instructed to call back in a few days for an update on him. We got to see some of the other animals being rehabilitated like a horned owl and a couple of hawks. I don't think I've ever seen an owl and was smitten with the guarded curiosity of this beautiful animal.

When I called for an update on Norman, they told me that he was doing great and would soon be released. Thankfully, his wing wasn't broken. It was injured and required a wrap on it though. I also found out that he had suffered from frostbite, but it had resolved. Knowing that alone, I nearly cried for joy that we had brought him in. That poor little guy was suffering, and I'm so happy that J found him that day.

Most of us who live in the city encounter pigeons on a daily basis. They're so intimately connected to our way of life, and yet most of us know so little about them. While I still know very little, I can say that my encounter with Norman gave me a profound respect and love for these birds not-so-affectionately deemed as winged rats (as an aside, I also possess a great love for the oft misunderstood rat and have cared for many rescued rats in the past). I've heard that rehabilitated pigeons can return to the ones who cared for them. I don't know if he knew us well enough or if that will happen. That's ok. That he has another chance at life is good enough for me. Every time I see the pigeons gathering on the power lines in the neighborhood, I'll wonder if Norman is up there in the crowd, enjoying the sun, fresh air, and all that life has to offer a gentle pigeon like him.

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