For Dave

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Our temps today will get into the early sixties, hopefully, with minimal winds. I’ll let my Cockatoo, Peaches, perch on my shoulder and we’ll go walking. It’s already warm enough to take Peaches outside, unless there are strong winds that blow against him. Oh for sure, Peaches’ long, flexible toes can hold on tightly. But to stay put, against high winds that shove and fluff his feathers, he must fight. For me, there’s an upside from his wind battles. On returning home, he’s tired and hungry, and doesn’t argue about entering his cage.

Peaches was domestically bred and hand-raised, imprinted on humans, friendly to handle. My other bird, Gilbert, is a rescued racing pigeon. Gilbert was domestically bred and hand-raised, but not as a shoulder-buddy. His one job was to fly faster than other pigeons. (A racing pigeon can fly for 1,000 miles, and over shorter distances reach speeds to 90 mph.) The racing of pigeons is an ancient sport that continues today. Well-bred racing pigeons can sell for millions of dollars.

It happens that my Gilbert is a failed racer. On his way home to California from Seattle, he got tired and landed to rest in a local barn that belonged to my friend, Dave. Upon finding Gilbert and the bird not dashing in fright, Dave could check leg bands identifying the bird as a racer. Dave tracked the band identifiers to a racing club. He then found the bird’s owner who didn’t want a failed racer. And so, Gilbert came to live with me.

He’s been a quiet fellow, an easy-care bird, doesn’t complain, isn’t frightened of handling but tries to avoid being cuddled. After all, a homing-type pigeon happily will fly away to its “real home”. So, Gilbert never freely gets to hang out with me, but the poor fellow does get cuddlings.

Seeds are the most common pigeon food, but a steady diet of them makes inactive birds fat. Until recently, Gilbert’s food has been a high-quality chicken feed mixed with a high-quality parrot food. He’s a good eater and has thrived. Recently though for Peaches, a small bird who tends to stay lightweight, I sought and purchased a high-quality seed mixture that excludes the very fattening sunflower seeds. I’ve begun to supplement the normal feeds for both birds with small amounts of seeds. Oh my gosh!

They love seeds and Gilbert astonishes me. The pigeon always has refused all supplemental foods. I’ve offered him everything Peaches loves: chopped fruit, raw and cooked veggies, pasta. Gilbert always rejects, and at least eats pellets and stays healthy.

These days, Gilbert waits eagerly inside his cage for a bowl containing a few seeds, raw oats, unsweetened natural wheat cereal, and a couple raw peanuts. Not enough to sway him from pellet foods, and he consumes that entire seed mix.

What I’m realizing is how smart Gilbert really is, and as any bird should be. Until recently, in our normal routine, he ate his pellets, tried to avoid being picked up, tolerated our moments together, and minded his own business. In contrast to Peaches, who’s always squawking for attention or for some of whatever I might be eating. I considered Gilbert boring until recognizing how quickly he zeroed-in on a change, with expectations and behaviors acknowledging our new routine.

My sleepy-eyed guy who seemingly always ignores my movements. I see now that he actually has recognized every one. I’m happily rediscovering Gilbert! Having managed to climb out of the shadow of Peaches, he himself, oh my, is a very cool bird.

Dear Friends: All birds, even the littlest- and dumbest-looking, are very smart! Diana

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