Steve Braunias found a pigeon on his lawn. He shares the story of what happened next.
On one of the few genuinely hot days this summer, I was minding my own business in the back yard when I saw a pigeon on the lawn. It didn't fly off when I walked past. They usually do and perch on the edge of the trampoline or on top of the climbing bars. But this one stayed where it was.
God, I hate pigeons. Who doesn't hate pigeons? Nasty, brutish, fat, they scatter throughout cities and towns like litter – as a bird, pigeons are rubbish. Obviously I don't mean the New Zealand pigeon, the kererū, also known commonly as the wood pigeon. It sticks close to bush and woodland. It's a beautiful thing to behold, large and white and green, capable of surprising speeds, whooshing from tree to tree with its heavy flap. The kererū is a class bird.
The bird on the summer lawn was a rock pigeon. It was introduced to New Zealand in the middle of the 19th century as a racing pigeon but vast numbers escaped into the wild and have since set up populations throughout the country. "In some districts," reported the authors of that first and best-written bird guidebook, A Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand (1966), "the rock pigeon has gone truly feral and reverted to its traditional habitat, breeding in caves on sea-cliffs and inland cliffs."
But the one on the lawn didn't look as though it could be bothered flying as high as any of the fruit trees in my back yard. I watered the vegetable garden and when I turned around there was the pigeon. I almost said, "Hello." But I hate pigeons - and I don't mean the pigeon known as the spotted dove. It's a soft, shy bird, with a gorgeous black-and-white checkerboard pattern around the nape of its neck. From the 1966 Field Guide: "A spectacular part of display is a steep upward flight and a downward glide with wings and tail stiffly spread."
Spotted doves were a regular and constant visitor to my back yard. It was the bird I loved most, and I was always happy to see it. I bought bags of wild bird seed primarily to attract the doves, along with sparrows, mynahs, thrushes, blackbirds and the occasional finch. But about two years ago the rock pigeon started coming around. It's since driven out the spotted doves and it's why I hate those pigeons, those brutes, those beggars. I shoo them away with tea towels and scream at them and throw fruit at them. But there they are every morning, in a circle on the edge of the trampoline. I hate them, every single one of them.
The one on the lawn was there the next morning when I walked past. I turned and walked towards it and it fell over. It fell on its face. It got back on its feet. Oh God, I thought, and fetched a towel and a cardboard box. I gently wrapped it and waited a while and then I lifted it into the cardboard box, beside some breadcrumbs and a shallow dish of water, and put it on a shelf in the garage.
The neighbourhood vet said no, they couldn't take it, it was the holidays. They recommended another vet who said the same thing and recommended I call bird rescue. A nice woman answered the phone. She said they'd take it but I would have to deliver it. I said I couldn't drive. She said I could put it in an Uber. I went into the garage and had a look at it. It looked up at me and blinked. "Hello," I said. The Uber cost $35.
I called that afternoon. The nice woman said its spinal cord was broken and there was only one thing they could do. I phoned my daughter to tell her the story. "His name," she said, "was Rodney."
Rock pigeons are alright. I bought a bag of wild bird seed the next day and the birds scattered across the lawn along with the sparrows and mynahs. Some of them probably knew poor old Rodney. All birds deserve a break.