Stanley Comes to Visit

Early one morning, I walked into one of the sheds and there he was, sitting on the ground. His small dark eyes glancing up at me as he turned his head to assess danger. Unlike other birds that quickly fly away, this one remained quietly on the ground before giving a little shake of his feathers as if to settle into position. I passed gently, carrying on with my morning routine and trying not to startle the bird. Of course, my faithful hound and shadow Sam was not far behind me and as he came trotting into the shed, there was a quick flapping of feathers and the pigeon was soon perched on high. Sam, who could not care less about birds, remained oblivious.

Why did this pigeon appear in our shed in the first place? We don’t see many pigeons at Crockern, and certainly if we do, they don’t hang out in our shed. Was he blown off course?   Dehydrated? Injured? Sick? Roger and I opted to provide some bird food and a deep bowl of water on the ledge where he was perched. I left the shed, returning at regular intervals to monitor his progress.

With each visit to the shed that first day, I thought I would either find a dead bird, or one who had taken some rest and carried on with his trip. Instead, I was met with blinking bright eyes, which observed me with care before turning to eat, drink, and rest some more. This bird is healthy and unusually tame, clearly used to people. We have not wanted to cause any stress, so have not approached too closely, but a look at his legs reveals both have been ringed. We think he must be part of a racing club.

By the second day of his visit, the little guy was taking short flights to the top of the barn, then the top of the house, and into one of the Sycamore trees before returning to the shed. It was watching one of his flights that we realized why he was hanging out at Crockern. He’s not sick, but instead, missing half of his tail feathers and needed to recover some before flying any distance. To do so, he opted to make a safe haven in our shed. That’s when we decided to name him Stanley.

Racing Pigeon

Racing Pigeon

Once you turn your heart to the well being of another, there are choices to make and questions emerge. How did he loose those tail feathers? Was he shot or did a bird of prey attack him? Either scenario, Stanley managed his escape. Will those tail feathers grow back? When our chickens molt and loose tail feathers, they grow back in time. Provided there is no damage to the follicles, those feathers should grow back.

Each day we freshen his water, provide more bird food, and check to make certain he is okay. We watch him fly to higher and further points before gliding back after a few hours to his safe perch in the shed. We’ve introduced him to our friends and neighbours. We talk to him each day and encourage him to grow tail feathers and return home, or make a new home here. His choice.

Does he understand? Do birds make choices? I haven’t a clue, but I rather like the idea that Stanley is considering his options while he convalesces.

Visiting racing pigeon web sites, we learn more about these lovely creatures. There are blogs, tweets, and detailed information sheets on the care, feeding and handling of the birds. There are photo galleries, awards, and upcoming meetings! It is, in fact, a whole new world of which I knew little until Stanley flew into our shed and prompted our curiosity. On every pigeon racing website there is a section addressing what to do if you find a lost pigeon. I read with interest and then stumbled upon the following: “Before we can notify the owner, the pigeon must be contained and held for collection.”

Catch the bird? Read and report its ring tags? Put Stanley into a box and keep him there? These all seem like good citizen things to do yet, I can’t help but think Stanley’s racing days are over, and thus his value to his owner. Some wildlife pages caution reporting injured racing pigeons, as they are likely to be dispatched. Others assure there is a kind and worried owner waiting for their bird to return. How are we to know? Like Elsa in Born Free, hasn’t Stanley had a taste of something bigger (our shed) than his cage? Could he manage to live a life in the wild? Or, in our shed? Roger and I have moved house before, is it okay to let Stanley do a similar thing? Or, are we obligated to contact an unknown owner? What will happen to Stanley if we do? What’s his fate if we don’t?

By day three and then day four, Stanley’s flights were getting longer and more acrobatic. He’d circle the valley, visiting the colony of herons roosting in the stand of pines across the river. Our racing fly-boy would swoop and dive and soar out of sight only to return to the shed a few hours later. We suspected he was readying himself for a return to his home.

I know he’s a pigeon and many might say, “Hey he’s just a pigeon, what’s the big deal?” But somehow, Stanley found his way into our shed and thus our hearts. We feel responsible. For the time he may be with us, we will keep an eye on him; provide food, water and shelter. When Stanley is ready to make a choice, he’ll do what he needs to do to return to a life he wants. Staying here as a formerly “domestic” bird may put him at risk from any of our local birds of prey. But, flying back to a racing life may do the same.

At the start of each day, we find him in the shed and say, “Good morning Stanley.” At night we wish him, “Sweet dreams old fellow.” Yesterday, after he picked at seed in the grass and took a little dust bath, he took to the skies once more and we watched him fly expertly at top speed above the treetops. This morning, the shed was empty, Stanley had made his choice.


39 comments on “Stanley Comes to Visit

  1. Such a beautiful story Catherine. I’m so glad you were there to nurse Stanley back to fitness. Incredible animals, do you know about the War pigeons?

  2. Paul says:

    Lucky old bird! The pigeon was fortunate too….

  3. Annette says:

    I have just read ‘Corvus’ by Esther Woolfson. Although it is about very different birds to Stanley, I recommend is. It addresses much of what concerns you, and is a loving and careful account of the world of rooks, crows, jackdaws etc.

  4. dartwalker says:

    We had a similar encounter with a worn out racing pigeon when we lived in Gloucestershire. It was during a very hot spell and I think it got dehydrated. We were advised to feed it up and then take it somewhere at least a mile away and release it so we took it to our parish church, which was a mile and a half away, courtesy of the Black Death.We released the pigeon, drove home.. and it had arrived back before us! In the end we had to get a local pigeon fancier to come and collect it.

  5. Joe says:

    Ah country life. Great story Catherine with a, presumably, happy ending.

  6. Polly says:

    What an amazing story. Made my day. Miss you!!!!!!

  7. Lindy Spearing says:

    This story made me cry !

    Sent from my iPad


  8. Good to hear Stanley flew away. We had a more awful experience as this pigeon wandered around our legs at a party in the garden. It became quite a talking point after the sudden crime and criminal leapt with the poor bird over the wall in less than seconds. Cats who would ave em?

  9. Rachel says:

    Awww, Stanley is lovely, and he was blessed to be able to hang out at your place while he recovered. Hope he’s happy back in Pigeonville!

  10. jllevitan says:

    What a lovely story. What made you choose the name Stanley? It’s a name near and dear to my heart. The first book I was able to read all by myself was called Stanley. it was by Syd Hoff and it was about the first “civilized” caveman. He built a house with windows instead of living in a cave and said “Please” and “Thank you” and “Lovey day today, isn’t it?”.

    • It was Roger who chose the name, and when he suggested it he was smiling ear to ear, so the name just made us happy. I like your book reference, seems all the more fitting a name now.

  11. Dana Crowe says:

    I recognize that pigeon! He used to live on my windowsill when I was growing up in Brooklyn! Dana

    Sent from my iPhone


  12. Dana Crowe says:

    I recognize that pigeon! He used to live
    on my windowsill when I was growing up in Brooklyn.

  13. Gwen says:

    This is one of my favorite pieces of yours. Godspeed Stanley.

  14. tntdreaming says:

    He’s a very handsome Stanley!

  15. Jim Charlton says:

    Nice piece. Maybe Stanley will come back on the weekends.

    Sent from my iPhone


  16. RobP says:

    That’s a moving story with both a happy and sad ending.

  17. hilary says:

    Oh Catherine, what a bitter sweet story! Bless you and thank you for sharing it with us:)

  18. Hannah Banana says:

    This is a lovely story. We have a similar story – a lovely lace-neck dove flew right into our garage door, knocked herself out. We thought she may have just been a little stunned, but after 30 mins or so she still couldn’t get up. So we put her in a cardboard box with a towel & some water, kept her quiet & safe overnight. The next day she could walk a little, but was wobbly & still couldn’t fly. Vet checked her over & said nothing broken. She convalesced in our garage for a few weeks – we provided food, water & a nice warm box for her to perch in, and she gradually got stronger. A year later she’s still a frequent visitor 🙂

  19. […] or perhaps, a rippling of waves as the wind whips up the valley.   Already, our new pond is attracting wildlife.  We have had the arrival of a pair of ducks swimming daily, and periodically making camp on the […]

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