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White Bird

Lead Summary

By Christine Tailer
HCP columnist

I know that I have said it before, and I know that I will say it again. The animals seem to be collecting around us. We now have eight pigeons.

It seems like a lot, but I could not possibly begin to count the numbers of pigeons that I saw when I lived in the city. As a child, I remember climbing up through a manhole cover onto our brownstone's tar-papered flat roof and following my father several buildings over to visit the pigeon man.

The pigeon man seems almost mythical, but I know he was quite real.

He was old and weathered to my child's eye, and I still imagine that he simply lived on the roof top among his many birds. Brown, white, slate gray, and iridescent green, they were all housed in various crates of assorted sizes, each crate with a small door that the pigeon man could latch open or shut.

I would stand back in awe, holding my father's hand, as the pigeon man opened the many doors, and his birds flew out and up into the city's evening sky.

I remember watching as they would group into a single flock, flying a giant circle over the roof top on which we stood, and then, as the pigeon man climbed up onto the highest part of the roof, they would dip down toward him.

I watched as he held a broken broom stick, high over his head, and waved it in figure eights. The birds would follow his stick commands and fly a giant figure eight formation far above his head. I remember that he could vary their flight patterns into tight circles, or huge ovals, simply with a wave of his stick.

Eventually, the pigeon man would climb down and stand back beside by the many crates. The birds would swoop down and alight on the roof top around us, and one by one they would each return to their designated crate.

I can still clearly see the pigeon man's rough hands as he scattered bread crumbs and peas across the crate floors, and then latched shut the crate doors.

So I have always had a fondness for pigeons. As a city dwelling adult, I can recall their cooing calls as I would walk across the downtown parks and the birds would gently scatter around me. I tried, time and time again, to walk all the way through their midst, without a single one taking to flight, but I never did make it. As soon as one bird would startle and take off, they would all flutter into flight, leaving me alone on the cement sidewalk.

And then, when the opportunity recently came along to adopt two gray pigeons, I eagerly said yes. Then, the two became three, and three grew into six, and finally with the addition of the last two, truly beautiful birds, our flock number rounded out at eight.

We now have two iridescent green birds, two solid gray ones, two beautiful pure white birds, and two that are a mottled gray and white. The birds all happily reside in the pigeon palace, a former people gazebo that Greg has turned into the perfect pigeon abode, complete with perches, nest boxes, and deep bedding on the floor, through which they can peck and scavenge for pigeon delectables.

So the other day, when we noticed that one of the white birds had a watery eye, we were concerned. We separated him from the others and put him in an unused rabbit cage. We washed off his eye each morning, when we found it crusted over so that he could not get it open.

Finally, I decided to call our country vet. I was disheartened to learn that she did not handle birds, but her office suggested that we contact an "exotic animal vet" close to the city. I made the appointment.

We loaded our bird into a carrier and drove past farm fields toward the city. We encountered traffic, and traffic lights, but we arrived safely, bird in hand. I approached the front desk and explained who we were and why we were there.

The young lady typed our relevant information into the computer system and then asked for our pet's name. I paused. I had not imagined that the bird was a pet. He was our yellow banded, white, male pigeon, one of our eight birds. I looked at Greg. He looked back at me. I thought, and then said "White Bird."

The young lady smiled. "What a creative name," she exclaimed, as she typed in White Bird's name.

We sat in the waiting area with dogs and cats, and their various owners, until another young lady came to take us back to the vet's examining room. "White Bird, what a wonderful name for your beautiful white bird," she told us.

I held White Bird, cradled in my arm, with one hand over his back, as the vet examined him. The vet quickly diagnosed the problem, prescribed an antibiotic ointment for our bird's eyes, and a hypodermic shot for the whole flock. The needle on the end of the syringe was miniature, but I kept careful note of just where to inject, and after payment of a healthy bill, we returned to the farm.

All the birds have now been inoculated, and I am pleased to report that all have survived.

It seems as though I successfully missed injecting their miniature hearts. And yes ... White Bird's eyes are getting better, no longer crusting over at night. He has happily returned to the pigeon palace, cooing with contentment as only a male pigeon can.

And as for me? Well yes, I am glad that I learned how to care for my bird. It had occurred to me to simply chop off his head, but now I am thankful that I did not. The bill was well worth the learning, and as for next time ... I now know how to order the medications on line and administer them myself. It looks as though my other pigeons shall remain nameless, after all.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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