April 15, 2011

Putting the pigeon amongst the cats

Several years ago, while living in Prospect, one of our cats caught a young pigeon, a squab really, probably out for its first flight. The pigeon was in shock, instinctively lying limp, but undamaged apart from some lacerations. I rescued the bird and secured it in an old wire poultry basked and hung it from the studio rafters to see if it might recover. I kept an eye on the bird and provided water and some crushed grain. A few days passed and I realised it was paying close attention to my comings and goings. I thought it time to test the bird's flight within the studio space. It seemed well enough repaired and I decided on making its big release.

I took the bird to a clear piece of yard and attempted to throw it in the air. There was much flapping of wings but the feet clung fast to my fingers. I held the bird with my palms around the wing, and fingers fre,e threw again, but the flight lasted five seconds with the bird flying straight back to my body. I placed it on a tree branch, moved away, and it flew straight back to me. The pigeon wasn't leaving. I suddenly realised that I had become the parent. I had been imprinted on the bird's brain. I also realised that this pigeon had also been imprinted on me. There was a growing emotional tug, a little niggle of concern whenever I was not in the studio. As a parent I now had responsibilities towards this new dependent.

If this pigeon was not going to leave me, my first responsibility was to teach it how to coexist with cats for the cats had not given up a keen interest in retrieving what they saw as their bird. I also had to teach it to forage for food, where to roost and how to wash. Later I also became concerned that there was a lot of flapping but not much flight. There were intergrated lessons that involved broadcasting grain in the garden beds, watching until the cats began their pounce then leaping in to scare both predator and prey, then guiding the bird to a safe roost.

My children were envious of my relationship with the bird and annoyed that it would always choose to fly to me. The flights became longer between perch and hand or head or shoulder. Eventually I would leave the pigeon, now called Pidgey-didge, on a tree branch in the morning, go to work and be greeted at the end of the day with a flight from the perch to my hand. I would often have to fight off the urge to return home during the day as the emotional tug of parenthood exerted its pull. I even speculated it was the bird telepathically calling me....in the same way that budgies can let you know when they are hungry. You have the thought, you check the bowl and, sure enough, it's empty. I believe we totally underestimate the power of the bird brain.

This pattern went on for a couple of weeks. Progressively the whereabouts of the pigeon became less certain when I arrived home. Sometimes it was not there at all but would flap in when I called. One day, standing in the original release site, I was watching him do a fly over on a path that encountered another bird. He suddenly dropped into a tumble, pulled out and flew on in a criss-cross ascent. My heart leaped as I realised Pidgey-didge had finally got this thing he had been flapping away at. He was now enjoying flight.

Several weeks on and Pidge is now an adolescent. He was flying around most of the day, even away most of the day and sometimes overnight. Eventually a week would go by before he would return as if nothing was changed.

One day he was gone and didn't return....not until a year later. He was waiting when I came home from work. He flew down to me then flew back up to a roost on the verandah. He was not alone. He had returned with a mate. I was introduced and they hung around for a couple of days. I made a nesting box....but I missed the point. This was thanks and goodbye.

David Kerr

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