Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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MARCH 4, 2012 9:47AM

Possible Pigeon Problem

Rate: 24 Flag

A few hours ago, the boyfriend came in from the kitchen and said, "There's a pigeon dying on our windowsill."

Now, as some of you might know, I kind of have a thing for pigeons. I know they're not the cleanest of animals, but I love watching them, and I think birds in general are fascinating.

Above and beyond all that, though, is the fact that this is, after all, a living being, just like me, and the boyfriend, and our cat Ali (who hadn't been on the kitchen counter in a while and thus hadn't noticed the pigeon).   I went to have a look. The pigeon was frail-looking, with an overlong beak, and greasy feathers.  His long-toed feet were caked in pigeon shit.  Not an appealing sight. He squatted, quite still, on the wide windowsill. 

When you live in a city, if you look closely, you will from time to time see dying or dead pigeons. I've always admired the way I've seen pigeons die, settled down on the margins of a busy sidewalk or square, quiet, observing, still.  They die in the midst of what their life was, not closed up in a hospital or nursing home, isolated from what they knew.

This pigeon was definitely in that position, but something was strange.  He was blinking frequently, and his eyes didn't look like those of any pigeon I'd seen before: they seemed to have a sort of cat's second eyelid, a membrane that closed over the black, bulging orbs. 

The eyes and his thinness made me think he had some sort of sickness, maybe a cancer laying waste to his body.  

The fact that he might be sitting there, incredible pain running through him, made me start to cry.  I'm notoriously clumsy, but the boyfriend isn't.  I asked him to put some crumbs out, and a little disposable plastic container full of water.  At least if the pigeon needed to drink or wanted to eat in his last moments, we could give him that.

The pigeon didn't react much when the boyfriend put out the crumbs and water bowl, which convinced us more than ever that he was going to die.  After a few minutes, I couldn't help myself; the boyfriend had put the water a bit far from the pigeon, and I wanted it to be closer to him, in case he was too weak to move much.  I gently opened the window and slowly scooted the bowl towards him.

To my utter shock, the pigeon flew away. 

I moved back inside, smiling.  I had hoped this would happen.  A part of me had seen all of those seemingly bad signs, but I'd also noticed that, unlike many pigeons here, this one had all of its toes.  (Thanks to a recent post by Myriad, I've finally learned that pigeons lose their toes due to a painful disease.)   

In addition, like bright sparks of hope, I'd seen that he had a few traces of yellow feathers on his head. A few years ago, a baby pigeon hatched quite unexpectedly in a flowerpot outside our window.  The chick had been very ugly, as well, with those same yellow feathers all over it, and an overlong-seeming beak.

 Could this just be a young pigeon, I wondered?

I did some research and think he might be a young-ISH pigeon, recently out of the nest.  I was surprised and relieved to learn that his black eyes were probably a sign of his youthfulness, since adult pigeons have orange eyes.  

I don't think this is a baby pigeon who's helpless and been left to die; I think it's a young adult trying to make his way in the world.  He's now found a shelter in a little bricked-off corner of our building's courtyard.  I just went down there and put out the water container and crumbs. He didn't fly away when he saw me, but he did seem afraid.  He is moving and seems alert.

This little pigeon is in a bad place, because the rest of the pigeon population here are fat, somewhat mean and very spoiled birds, regularly fed by our building's inhabitants (including me -I like pigeons and Ali likes to watch them, so everyone wins!).  When I'd put out crumbs for the pigeon when he was on our windowsill, two bossy birds had swooped in seemingly from nowhere and I'd had to shoo them away. 

I can't help but worry a little about the guy.  Maybe I relate, I guess. Sometimes life feels like that, no matter how old you are: there you are, the weakest one among forces you're powerless against.  

I guess what I want to know is, if you know a thing or two about birds,

1. Does this one's behavior seem normal?

2. Is there anything I can do  - or, rather, need to do - to help him? 

Here's a picture I just took of him in the courtyard.  The shit seems to have disappeared from his feet, and he now has a feather (one of his own, I think - a few flew off him when he fluttered off our windowsill) stuck to his beak.  Really quite a hapless fellow:


pigeon 1 




I know some of you guys might think I'm a little bird-brained to be making such a big deal about this pigeon, but I just think any being that might be in trouble should be something to care about. 

...Okay, maybe I'm a liiiitle crazy..... 


UPDATE: I posted this about four hours ago.  Since then, I've regularly checked from our window if the pigeon was still in the spot he'd chosen in the courtyard.  He was for a while. Then, it started to get dark - and to rain, and when I checked just a few minutes ago, he wasn't there anymore.  There aren't any predators in the area, so I assume he took flight, and hopefully found shelter from the rain.  

 Thank you all so much for your comments and advice and support. I'm so relieved that my impression that this might be a young bird seems to be right, and that many of you seem to think he looks healthy.  I'll let you know if he comes back - but I hope he's fine and is now a free bird enjoying an exciting pigeon's life in Paris. 

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Alysa, sounds like what you have done so far is the same thing I would do. I have a pigeon that my wife found one day when bicycling and it was clearly someone's pet as it had a small collar with a number around one leg. I contacted the U.S. registry of pigeons I found on the web but the number from the collar on pigeon's leg came up as not registered to anyone, but I was told it was a rolling pigeon by the person I contacted.

Here's a video someone posted of rolling pigeons as seen on YouTube from a Discovery network show:

In the case of our pigeon it was missing tail feathers so we guessed it had been attacked in the air by one of the hawks in our neighborhood. Anyway, more than four years later it is still in good health and living in a large birdcage in one of my barns. Bird seed and water have kept it in good shape and happy all of these years. His/her name is "Homey."

To sum up, if the pigeon stays around I would try bird seed as one of the food types you give and best of luck!
I concur with the des.

Try a pound of *Hart's Mountain Urban Seed*.
Bless your dear heart, Alysa! I don't know anything about pigeons, so I'm afraid I can't help, but I thank you for showing me the beauty in a creature so often overlooked. Best of luck to your little friend. He's quite endearing!
You are a kind and gentle soul. Loved reading this. I don't know anything about birds, but good luck.
At first you brought tears to my rheumy eyes, Alysa, in admiration of your tenderhearted openness. Now I'm smiling with joy. That sure does look like a baby. You done well, girl. I'll be he'll hang around, too.
I would have done the same thing and all we can do is hope he is okay..

I've finally learned that pigeons lose their toes due to a painful disease.)

I had no idea.. now I know..
I would have done the same thing and all we can do is hope he is okay..

I've finally learned that pigeons lose their toes due to a painful disease.)

I had no idea.. now I know..
He looks good in the picture- glossy feathers and bright eyes, alert. Maybe when you put food out for him, you could put a larger pile of food elsewhere for the others. I used to have to do that when I fed horses. The mare at the bottom of the herd wouldn't have gotten any oats, otherwise.
I love a little crazy. It is a wonderful trait when the craziness is inspired by compassion. I have no advice, other than follow your instincts and heart.
Oh, Alysa. And you were worried about motherhood a while back. If you ever decide to go that route, there will be no problems. You've got the gene.
How sweet. I don't know anything beyond the toe problem, but the bird looks reasonably with-it. Hope he makes it.
Crazy definitely NOT. Only you could turn a pigeon into an essay on empathy and kindness. He does look young, but he is lucky in life so far to have you, such sympathetic stardust, to shine for him. How many can boast that?
No one looks healthy with pigeon shit on their feet.
Thanks so much for all of your advice and kindness and support, guys! I've just posted an update, in the post.

phyllis - Whew, I'm happy to say that's what we ended up doing, to get the other pigeons away - we put crumbs on our other windowsill.
I know nothing about pigeons or any birds but I do love them. Would like to become a 'birder" someday. Compassion for all living things is the best trait of all to have, I think.
No idea how to treat a pigeon. My advice is to just make sure you don't step on him/her.
Grateful for the update. "but I hope he's fine and is now a free bird enjoying an exciting pigeon's life in Paris" I would say that now he can live la vida loca but that would mean he's a Spanish pigeon RATH-HERR than a French pigeon. You tried your best with this critter. That's the best you could do!
I don't think of you as' bird brained'at all. I am humbled by your kindness. You might find the following link helpful starting point:
He looks healthy in the photos. And compassion is never something for which you should apologize.
Birdbrained? You? Never!
I would have done the same damn thing, only w/o weeping
cuz i am manly and repress my emotions.
I WOULD "tear up" maybe.

This phrase struck me, and I shall remember it forever.
Which means, i will steal it.
"They die in the midst of what their life was..."

If you see him again, it will be time to name him, yknow...
surprised you didnt, already...

Goshdamned fat spoiled bully pigeons!!
I saw James M. Emmerling Rated you.
I worry if I don't see J.M.E. We bumped.
A neighbor raises rabbits and pigeons.

I don't know him. I always glance over.
He has caged pens. Maybe he sends email.
Maybe the birds are his carrier pigeons.

I've been observing birds seeking nest.
I saw a mountain bluebird and others.
The birdhouses I have get occupied.
This is one of my favorite seasons.
Our 'core' being gets in tune `gin.
Some Force animates within us.
I hope James M. E. will come to.
I swear . . . I think I saw him too.
He a Big Blue Bird who sit down.
He sit on people's shoulder. Sing.
For the boyfriend:

"Pigeon, oiseau à la grise robe / Dans l'enfer des villes / À mon regard tu te dérobes / Tu es vraiment le plus agile"
Thanks again for your comments, everyone.

sfredric - Thanks for the link!

James - I was too surprised to name him, I think, but if he comes back, I will...but I hope he'll be out living his life and won't come back.

Art - I agree, James is very much a beautiful bird.
What a sweetheart, Alysa.
I do think he's a young only thought is to make sure the crumbs are the kind that are good for a pigeon, if you want him healthy, although in the city, with others who feed the birds, you might be fighting the tide there. I'd go so far as to nail a little box for refuge on the sill if you dare...a little flannel at the bottom...
Yes, I'm a softy too : )
I saw Arthur James …
“I worry if I don't see J.M.E. We bumped.”says he.
Oh don't waste yer worry on me! I am securely safely
in my "niche" in timespace.......
Also, regarding this season, the upcoming one,
Spring, I think he means, yes, I will be delighted to be in it.
I need core work badly. My core has been snoozing.
Big blue bird is way up in his Tree.
Nested safely away from trouble.
The birds were following me today.
I was listening to van Morrison, and I swear
I had a spiritual experience, cuz he was singin
About “sweet bird of my soul”…and my eyes went to the birds, and damn, there were a lot of them. Every where I went. I suppose there always are. So many birds! So few dead birds…hm..are they immortal, the birds?
He looks a little pigeon-toed.
Ohhh! What a sweet story. I love the pictures of him. I have a feeling he is just fine. ~r
"I was a free bird in Paris, I felt unfettered and alive..." to paraphrase Joni Mitchell. :)
I sure enough have my share of woe.
James M. E. I've a bunch on my mind.
I got to go travel down the road now.
I just hope on the way South . . .
ambivalent fly
hovering above
wintry street corner . . .
a pretty woman hold a sign
'Homeless & Hungry'
I hope the hospitality id great . . .
the comic's home . . .
bright yellow rubber chickens
as door knockers
If caught speeding and a gin drunk . . .
Tell a white people lie (Joan Walsh's nice)
James M. Emmerling can just say . . .

"I am Officer Wright." (lil' fib)
Officer Wright's
gone into the city
to date Miranda
The Open Salon
Server gets broke
That's another old
Worry for Core Folk
Poor Folk Seem Nice
ART, ditto re.
“I sure enough have my share of woe.”
Hope the
“ bunch on my mind”
will be shared with us gentle idiot os folks.
“I got to go travel down the road now...”?!
Good Gawd that sounds serious…

(ha. Oh, hi, Alysa. Two birdies, me & art, perching in yer window)


“ the hospitality id great . . .”? it was always
& always will be…indeed, a charming demeanour and slight subdued wordplay
Will win the day…..

Core folk are recognized wheresoever they goeth.
Like mz. Alysa, trudging off everyday with troubled tummy to do good.

`Like deluty!!!
Alysa, birds are rather fascinating creatures, able to go far in ways that we can only see, not understanding why. We had some awful bird disease a few years back -- like there were few birds seen in our town. People quietly freaked out, perhaps wondering if this is how the terrorists would take us down, in charges of pandemics in major cities. But they came back. We crawled out of family rooms, finally.
But like your little pigeon, we push on. I remember in St. Mark's Square, they stopped selling people feed for the pigeons -- they'd do a number on the churches and statues in Venice. As bad as it would seem, the church would not be able to stop themselves from banning the birth control chemical, put in the feed, to abate the daily storm. These guys are consistent, however misguided. But the place would not be the same: every day, the bells toll at 2 pm, and from far to near, the hordes of pigeons would descend, hungry, full of expectation and alert for the most reluctant tourist to be photographed with pigeons on their shoulders, arms, hands and, you guessed it .... their very head. They have no fear, like buzzed up college kids on spring break.
Poor little creature. You are so sweet to love the "hapless" pigeon. Hope he gets better and better and flies away.
I'm always impressed by your compassion. And that's one smart pigeon. He knew exactly whose window he should land near.
Pigeons do have a way into ones heart and I have had a number of them as friends ? over the years. You have a good heart and more.
.........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Thanx, Smiles (ツ) & ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
⋆───★•❥ ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥
Embrace the maternal instinct of your soul. Rated for the LOVE. :-)
Thanks again for your kind words, guys. I haven't seen the pigeon today yet - again, I hope he's out making his way in the world.
I'll bet your pigeon is presently conspiring with the rabbits in my yard to see what they can destroy and consequently piss me off. You nearly made me sympathetic to the plight of a pigeon, nearly. R and R