How a tiny pigeon taught me a grand lesson
I've recently come across a great article here on hubpages about pigeons, which made me want to share this story about a moving encounter I recently had with these beautiful animals. Maybe it didn't change my life, but it definetely left its imprint on my heart and taught me a grand lesson.
I recently have moved to one of the world's megacities - Bombay. Being used to space, greenery, clean air and water I often feel stifled in this overcrowded, polluted place. Every squarecentimeter in this town, horizontal and vertical, seems to be inhabited by as many living beings as possible, humans and animals, each of them fighting an individual fight for space and survival. So is the facade of the 15 story appartment complex I used to live in. Every floor seems to have different inhabitans - bats, crows and like everywhere - pigeons.
For a few months I was having regular visitors on my window sill. It took me a while until I recognized that it was actually only one couple coming back on a daily basis.
At some point they started conquering my bedroom whenever I would step out of it. They were extremely determined to set up a nest on my magic cupboard, but everytime I would enter the room they would rush out of the window, flying dangerously close to the fan's blades on the ceiling. It looked like it would only be a matter of time until one of them would get injured.
I decided that something was to be done. They were desperate to find a home for themselves, so I set up an old cardboard box on the AC outside the bedroom window and waited...
...and really! Only two days later they had already built a nest out of twigs inside their new home - and thus stopped flying into the room.
It was so exciting! I had set up their new home in a way that I could spy on them with an old digi-cam, without being noticed and thus without disturbing them.
And see there! One day the magic happened....
And so the couple started with the hard work of breeding. It's amazing, in pigeons, both the male and the female pigeons share that work equally in shifts. In the pic below you see them - male, female, male, female! Pigeons are amazing! Both genders create so called pigeon milk to feed the newborns and usually they stay as a couple for a lifetime... The last few weeks of raising are mostly totally under the wing of Papa pigeon. Way to go Pidgis!
Then, one fine day, a fluffy squab was wobbling about in the happy home. I was so excited!
But the happiness wouldn't last long...
When I rechecked with my friends a few hours later the squab was dead and the nest swamped with aggressive red ants. The parents had been trying everything to get control over the ants, but there were just too many. They finally couldn't handle it and jumped out of the nest, watching the sad scene from outside. They tried to return and roled the second egg away from the ants, but finally the ants infestation was so bad that they couldn't continue the breeding and left the nest.
When they were gone for already a few hours I finally decided to try one last thing and exchanged the old box with a new one, killing the ants and placing the egg into the new home.
I kept on waiting, but there was no trace of the parents. Only the lonely sibling, slowly cooling down...
There it was, the unlucky one. The parents had totally given up on the nest and didn't return. We kept on waiting, hoping they would return at some point... also knowing that the cold of the night without the bird's warmth would most probably kill the unborn. I started my research on what to do with unattended eggs and was mostly confronted with a bad out-look. Raising a squab from day one by hand seemed to be real challenge and everyone was telling me to give up on it and let nature take its course.
But then, the next day, when we all had nearly given up on this little fellow after one of the coldest nights in Bombay...
...cracks started appearing on the egg shell from the inside. The little bugger was still alive! That was the moment when I decided to take this challenge on and take the egg inside, trying to rewarm it with hot-water bottles. Beautiful people from a very helpful pigeon forum from all over the world prepped me up in how and what to do/feed so that the little bird would have just the slightest chance of survival...
But then for the next 24 hours nothing happened and my heart started sinking - maybe he was already dying. Despite everything I kept reheating the hot water bottles during the night.
And then, the next morning....
..the loveliest surprise gift of my life - our little pigeon baby, which we named Pip, had hatched!
Then the struggle began: Feedings at very short intervals were keeping me up all night long. He needed to be kept warm, so we had to keep exchanging the hot water bottles under his blanket constantly. I skipped all other things I had to do that week, putting myself wholly into my self-assigned task of making this bird live.
I was tired most of the time, but I can hardly describe to you how happy I felt to see this little fellow growing. Suddenly my life seemed full of real purpose, rather than abstract, society-made aims such as career or material things. And for the first time I truly felt at home in this noisy, dirty city - which had gifted me this most beautiful of beings. I had struggled for a long while with the sense of not-belonging to this new world around me. But while taking care of this tiny pigeon baby I suddenly realised - we belong to everything we care for. A home is not defined by a place, but by a space of care. When we care, we belong. To ourselves and to anything we have chosen to relate with. Care is not only limited to living beings - repairing a broken object, cleaning a space, imrpoving an environment - are all expressions of care. When Pip came along I also started redoing a lot of things in our appartment, taking up long avoided tasks, emptying and cleaning up dark corners, reviving the whole place. It was as if I had made a subconscious decision to finally being at home again.
Opening myself to all this beauty around me I felt overwhelmed at how much love this little pigeon had brought into my life - so many people kept inquiring how the baby was doing and a wonderful person from Singapore even sent a survival kit for Pip all the way to Bombay!
I also learned that birds were such distinct characters right from the start. I had experienced it before in dogs, cats and horses, but now I know it is always there, in any living being. It is only a matter of our choices if we open ourselves up to the beings around us - their joy and their pain.
After a few days Pips digestion was slowing down and his crop wouldn't empty fast enough. He probably was lacking the enzymes baby pigeons receive through the crop milk by their parents. The whole pigeon community was at our side and we tried each and every possible thing. I would never be able to leave the house for much time in one stretch without constantly worrying about Pip. He was becoming weaker by the day. Then, one day he stopped squeaking. He would be sleepy most of the time and we were holding him close to us, keeping him warm and massaging his crop. But despite the sleepless nights, the advices from experts all over the place and all the love in the world, Pip died on his eighth day for forever unknown causes. We wailed for a long time, when he finally lay his little head down in my palm and stopped breathing.
For a long while we felt like a failure. There was this sudden gap in our lives. I wasn't prepared to tell this story without a happy ending. But here we go. Some stories just don't end the way we want, which makes it so much more difficult to accept that they were beautiful inspite of that.
I had never know that you could possibly feel that much love for a bird in only 8 days - but you can. Opening yourself towards loving brings the risk of pain along, but I believe that it is undiscriminatedly always, always worth it.
And maybe the next time you see one of these 'flying rats' you pause for a moment and remember Pip - these Pigeons aren't that bad after all...