17 March 2012

The Pigeons of Papago Park

I probably brought at least 20 floppy, featherless baby birds home to my mother as a kid, weak, un-nested foundlings which I'd gathered up gently and with great hope in both hands from beneath the dozens of trees in our yard.  Sparrows, robins, and finches mostly, and she gave tender, deliberate care to each one, in an always-futile effort to revive them.

They all died.  Their tiny, flightless, bony wings splayed out dramatically and their little yellow beaks agape on the floor of the makeshift shoebox nests we'd fashioned for them.

But for two.

Who lived.

And then invaded.

I found them both together one Saturday afternoon while wandering in the alley that ran behind our house, hidden beneath the overhanging bows of the neighbor's oleander bushes, two immature pigeons, still baby-feathered, but noisy and demanding to be let out of the tattered Castrol motor oil box someone had placed them in. The neighbors had recently had their tall palm trees trimmed and, I suspect, these two castaways had been found nested high up in one of them, obviously very much in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Some partially-sympathetic tree-trimmer, unable to simply euthanize them on the spot, there and then, as I suspect most tree-trimmers do, instead sought out a box from the nearby trashcans and placed them both into it, to die instead by degrees in a somewhat more bloodless, but certainly no-less terrible manner.

But, by the sound of their peeping, they were not giving up too easily.

I quickly gathered up the box and, as always, took these two, who were easily the noisiest and most charismatic foundling-birds I'd ever recovered, home to my mother.

She cared for them.  And they lived.  They outgrew their shoebox-nest and moved into a larger nest-box on the shaded back-patio. And they stayed there and grew some more. Soon they became large, fully-fledged pigeons who greeted us each morning as we awoke and went out to feed the dog, and welcomed us home, perched atop the fence near the carport, every afternoon after school.

So tame you could pet them, yet indistinguishable from one another, we named them: Bert and Ernie.

Everyone knows: pigeons are messy.  And eventually my parents came to dislike the bold streaks of acid-white bird-poo which began to adorn their cars with greater regularity as Bert and Ernie's range expanded and their abode shifted from the back-patio to the carport.  Despite their flightedness, they seemed to prefer to stay-put much of the time... and usually atop my father's fancy, new company-car.

So a plan was hatched.  Our gregarious, sibling-birds would be returned "to the wild" near the ponds at Papago Park and the Phoenix Zoo where they would live out their days among their kindred folk as well as migrations of ducks, geese, zoo day-trippers, and picnickers.

I was there this week, at Papago Park, and, as I watched my daughter and her cousins climb on the rocks and feed the ducks scraps of stale bread, I found myself wondering if any of the pigeons I observed wandering in and out of the nearby ramadas were still the multi-generational offspring of my two gentle, messy foundling-birds.  No way of knowing, I know.  But it was a pleasant, unexpected memory some 35 years after their release.  I hope they became the progenitors of many of the pigeons of Papago Park.