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ia_hdr Newsletter                                                       June 2009


The Story of Percy the Orphaned Wood Pigeon

woodpigeon1This lovely story was sent in by Anne, one of our readers.

In September of 2008 a tree was felled locally and it was only when the tree was on the ground that the discovery was made of two pigeon chicks and a nest; the chicks and the nest having parted company as the tree went down. The people whose tree it was placed the chicks back in the nest and placed it under a hedge - needless to say the parents did not return, but happily neither did the neighbourhood cats! (I'm sure the do's and don'ts are self-explanatory).
The chicks were then fed with bread and milk, one was still alive the next day but the other had expired. They were probably ten days old at this time.  We were then asked if we could take on and care for the remaining chick, following which a lot of learning had to be quickly gathered.  Thinking how an adult bird (or in the case of wood pigeons, both parents) care for their young, is a good place to start.  The warmth of the parent bird had to be simulated with a heat lamp but dimmed by night with a dark towel (none of us like to sleep in light as it creates stress).
woodpigeon2We learned that, in the case of pigeons, both parents feed their young.  A natural milk is created by the adults in the crop and the food is first ingested and then fed with the milk to the young - nature is so clever! The little pigeon was very hungry and most inpatient of our clumsy attempts to get food into his beak - we used high quality chick crumbs softened with warm water and a small amount of natural yoghurt. (Chick crumbs are used when rearing young poultry and are high in nutrients and minerals). The bird soon taught us that he wanted the food placed into his crop and would "open wide" to allow this to happen. We used a small plastic dropper to begin with but after a few days Percy was happy for us to use a finger and drop the food in!  Between beak fulls, warm water was also given in a dropper to help the food go down.  Feeds were given every two hours during the day and we relief on the little fellow letting us know when he had had enough because the enthusiasm would wane.  Like babies, they eat and then sleep.
woodpigeon3Percy grew by the day - the feathers (those yellow stringy things in the first few pics), became fine plumage very quickly.  As the wing feathers developed, he would practice with his wings, flapping them at great speed whilst perching on the side of his box. After a few weeks he had graduated naturally from being fed to pecking his own food from a bowl and we also supplemented the diet with small pieces of hardboiled egg  Also, as the feathers grew we reduced the frequency and temperature of the heat lamp
This little bird was unafraid of us from the outset, perhaps that is why  pigeons been domesticated down the centuries. As the ritual of feeding and cleaning became such a part of our daily routine it was understandable that we became very fond of the little fellow, but recognised from the outset that he was a wild bird and needed to be rehabilitated at the right time, and in the right way.
woodpigeon4The advice was that pigeons are very accepting of their fellow species out of mating season, by this time we were in October and the mating season was over.

Such was Percy's tameness that we began taking him out in the garden and allowing him to fly as and when  he wished, but never 'made' him fly as - remember a wild bird would know before we would if there was a predator around in the form of a bird of prey or even a cat.  Each day he would have time out of doors with one of us around, short flights to the shed roof and back on to land on a head was a regular routine.  By Percy's choice the time out became longer.  We often saw a very large wood pigeon in the garden over a few years and guessed it to be the same bird, always alone.  One day Percy saw the pigeon too and - more to the point - the pigeon saw Percy.  They would look curiously at each other in the garden, Percy from his safe vantage point of the shed roof, but then Percy simply too off and circled the garden before disappearing into the tree where the wild pigeon seemed to live.
woodpigeon5We were delighted, we were worried, and the weather was getting cold.  Would he make it?
This Spring we have two pigeons in the garden and one is less wary of us than the other.  Was Percy a female?! We had no way of knowing as the tell-tale signs emerge when the bird is more mature.
A lot of learning and a lot of love went into that little character, but he was a wild bird and had to have the chance to live that way.  It was a great shame that the pigeon's chances were do disrupted by the felling of a tree at a time when birds can still be rearing young.