While walking down Columbus Avenue by the Planetarium one day I saw a man on his hands and knees, pulling weeds under a big tree in Theodore Roosevelt Park. He looked like he might have the lowdown on the area—and whether it was pigeon-friendly.
“Why do you ask?” he asked.
I told him that my friend and I have rehabilitated a pigeon. And that he’s ready to be released.
“Well, you can’t release it in Central Park,” he said. “Too many Pit Bulls.”
“And we can’t release it in Rupert Park because of the netters,” I said, and told him the story about the two men who were spotted scattering food. Once the pigeons came to eat, they threw a net over them and put them in their van. Heaven knows what happened to them.
“Well, then, this is the place,” he said. “There’s lots of food: peanut butter and bologna from the schoolchildren. No beak goes hungry. And I’m the only garden volunteer: I’m here all the time and I can guarantee no one hurts the pigeons.”
You’re the only volunteer for this big park?” I asked.
“There’s one other. A woman. She’s 87 years old.”
“Where is she now?”
“She pulled the weeds all along the 81st Street fence. She’s still in recovery.”
Ray explained the lay of the land, and told me to come back to the park on Tuesday, at 1:00 o’clock. Provided it was okay with the horticulturist, he would let us onto one of the grassy areas where the pigeons were.
“By the way, what’s its name?”
“Prince Perihelios Wing. My friend named it after an astronomical formation. It seems we are closest to Mars than we have ever been in 60,000 years. It’s Perihelios time according to the planets. See you Tuesday!”
I came across Perihelios three weeks before while walking my two pups, Rufus and Rosco. He was huddled against the side of a nearby building. A demolition truck was destroying materials. Workmen, detritus, hazardous material, heavy machinery—any healthy, winged creature would have flown away but Perihelios sat next to the wall, black oil oozing around him.
I asked Ritchie the porter to put a shirt of mine over the bird and put him in a box I had taken from my closet. I was afraid Perihelios would run under the truck, but Ritchie got him into the box and I took him to Symphony Veterinarians, under one Dr. Campbell’s care. Perihelios, she said, had no disease that she could discern without giving him a blood test. He did not appear to have any broken wings or legs; he was just young and weak. And, I later learned, nervous at the care center because of the barking dogs. Which is why I took him home myself.
I put him in my one room with an actual door and set him in the closet. He spent a quiet, peaceful night. The next day he wouldn’t eat. I tried feeding him from my hand, and I put a bowls of cat food recommended by Dr. Campbell. I even cut cherries cut in delicate quarters . . . gave him tea cups of water, seeds that my Cockatiels love, played classical music—nothing inspired him to eat. I grew worried.
I made numerous phone calls. Through the bird rescue network I came upon Margaret. She said to pick him up in a towel, hold him on my lap. Pry open his beak and place the food in his open mouth. Still no luck.
So Margaret made a house call.
Thin, graceful, melodic—like a bird herself—Margaret had no hesitation about picking up Perihelios and carrying him around the room while talking with me and mixing his formula. (She buys it downtown on Eldridge Street, just off of Houston.) Soon she had the “birdie” on her lap as she spooned the formula onto a small wooden spatula, and onto Perihelios’ pink tongue. She took his head and dipped it into some seeds—“to stimulate the pecking instinct”—and dipped its beak into some water. She checked the inside of its mouth to be sure it didn’t have canker. Pigeons get ulcers, I learned. They can choke a pigeon to death—all from drinking contaminated water.
Perihelios, Margaret determined, would live. Now all I had to do was call Naomi, next in line in New York’s pigeon-rescue network. While many of the pigeons in Naomi’s care are disabled—one of them, Moony, doesn’t even have legs—Perihelios held promise: he could fly. Naomi would take him for a couple weeks of TLC before finding him another, natural home. I suggested, and she agreed, that Theodore Roosevelt Park would be perfect.
Perihelios time had come at last.
Now, if you want to see how Perihelios is doing, go to 81st Street and Columbus and look for the slim, dark pigeon with a white spot in the back and a blue band around his leg. Ray is likely to be there, too, weeding or watering plants. As for the rest of the NYC pigeon volunteer squad: give our gaggle a Google. We’ll be here if you need us. . . .