I found out I was getting downsized on Friday, January 25th. My next volunteer shift at ACC was on Wednesday the 30th. When I went in, there was a king pigeon there (there usually is). She was 'upright and feathered' as my vet says. She seemed to be eating. There were a lot of rabbits that needed visits and the king wasn't eager for one so that was it.
Saturday evening, I went in to ACC to pick up three kings- the one I'd met on Wednesday and a pair that came in together, and bring them home to join my foster flock. One of the pair had really, really long nails- so long that I went upstairs and got the clippers and clipped them before I even released her. She did a little shuffling, fancy footwork dance when I let her go and I named her Dancer. The other one of the pair was a big, feisty bird that had seriously resisted the staff boxing him up. The name Sanchez popped into my head and so he became Sanchez. I named the one I'd seen on Wednesday Pearl.
Often I box up the birds I'm taking myself but this time staff did it so the first time I handled Pearl was when I got her home and took her out of the travel box. I was shocked at how thin she was. She weighed nothing and was all keel which is the breastbone of a bird. The skinnier they are, the sharper and more pronounced it is. I'd never felt a bird so skinny. I set her down and she swayed on weak legs. I didn't think she'd survive the night. She weighed only 190 grams. She should have weighed at least 400, more depending on her age. I put her back in the box and went back upstairs to make a wet paste of food that I could syringe feed her. We got a little down (about 2 CCs) and since it was already past dusk, bed time for the birds, I figured I'd leave her be in the general population for the night, but a young bird I had named Baby (now known as Tony Baby) immediately began to hassle her so I decided to segregate her into a crate which would also offer the benefit of a heating pad.
I was surprised to find Pearl still alive on Sunday morning. I made a fresh batch of food to hand feed her with (crushed Harrison's and creamed baby food carrots and warm water) and fed her a couple of CCs at a time every 2 hours or so throughout the day. We got better at it as we got some practice but I still made a mess of her beautiful white self by getting food all over her. She was still feeble and napped a lot but she was alive and had gained 7 grams and that made me hopeful.
Normally, I would have called my bird vet at For the Birds but they're closed on Sunday and the news of my lay-off was tinging anything that had to do with money so I didn't. I did decide I'd take Pearl with me to work to continue the hand feeding on Monday.
Pearl seemed very tame but really she was just very weak. I had set up a travel cage for her but I drove into work and back with her riding on my lap. When we first got in the car in the morning, she looked around at all the sky in all the windows and I got the feeling she enjoyed the sun and wind and weather. She rode to work on my lap with me steadying her with one hand when I wasn't shifting with it.
At work, she napped in the cage on her heating pad between hand feedings. Several colleagues met her and commented on how beautiful she was, despite the food stains I'd somehow gotten all over her face, head and neck. I kept explaining that they hadn't seen anything- that she (and pretty much all king pigeons) are gorgeous and usually immaculate, snowy white.
It was very easy to have Pearl at work because she was so calm and quiet. When I was at my desk, I left the top of her cage open and, if I went to a meeting, closed it. She was so quiet and still that few in the office even knew there was a bird in the building. I continued feeding her throughout the day. Some people did meet Pearl and really took a liking to her. People asked if she was a dove (people don't expect pigeons to be white) and were surprised to learn what a king pigeon was and that she was one. It occurred to me that I could probably place a lot more king pigeons in homes if I advertised them as doves. Pigeons have such bad reputations. It's hard for me to relate because I personally know a lot of really cool pigeons but the bias against them is amazingly strong and completely undeserved. They're very smart (studies have shown), incredible athletes (they can fly really fast, really well and for really long distances), devoted parents, they don't spread disease and are just peaceful innocents but people hear the word pigeon and think bad thoughts. I got the feeling, though, that no one who met Pearl would ever look at a pigeon in quite the same way again, and a couple of people were really touched by her.
The first night we drove home from work it seemed like she was a little annoyed with being up and out in the dark and to have the dark interrupted with bright flashes of car headlights but by the next night she seemed quite content to sit on my lap and watch the lights and doze. At home, she recognized and stepped contentedly into her deluxe, private, heated crate, with her home seed bowl and home water bowl from which she ate and drank. I weighed her that night and she had gained 12 grams.
In the morning, I would hold her and we'd look in on the 'regular' pigeons. And she put up with my syringe feedings very sweetly. I felt pretty good about how she was doing but was hoping I could meet up with my busy pigeon expert, Dan, to see what he thought. After work on Tuesday, I brought Pearl to see him. Before touching her, he looked at her carefully for a long time. He liked her balance, her posture and her focus. Her poops looked good and he thought the rate of weight gain was nice. He said he saw pain in her eyes which was something I didn't see. I felt like she had gotten stranded out in the streets and, as a naive king, couldn't find anything to eat and so got herself starved past the point that she could recover from without support. I thought her poor condition was a result of being starved. It hadn't yet occurred to me that her being starved could be a symptom of her poor condition. And now she was warm and safe and getting yummy food baby-fed to her and going to work and making friends and I didn't think she was hurting.
The following day she seemed to show more progress. One of her new friends at work was able to coax her to eat a little from his hand and she didn't nap quite as much, instead spending more quality time with her new friends. I continued with the syringe feeding and was definitely starting to feel more optimistic except that night, after we got home, she was too tired for the final 5 CC feeding so I only gave her 3 or 4. I figured she had just had a big day.
When I went downstairs to take care of the pigeons on Thursday morning, Pearl was sleeping in. I cleaned up for and fed the others first but she was still sleeping and not interested in her syringe breakfast. I fed her a little bit anyways and e-mailed my pigeon expert that she had taken a downturn. I took her to work and, as always, she rode in my lap but needed a little more steadying on the curves it seemed. I was worried. I started thinking that laid-off or not, I needed to take her to the vet.
She didn't improve and I only fed her a little bit that morning. Shortly after noon she started to show signs of discomfort and her breathing got fast. I whispered to her and pet her and at 5 minutes to 1 she shuddered and I encouraged her to hang in there and not to give up and she shuddered again and she died.
My vet, Dr. Fern Van Sant, did a necropsy on Pearl and said that she had had a massive internal injury, probably from being kicked or hit by a car, that it went septic and that it had killed her. When I asked, she said she didn't think my bringing her in right away would have made any difference in our ability to save her but she may just have been being kind to say that. Either way, I wish I had. While facing lay-off and a finite number of future paychecks had me counting pennies in a new way, I wasn't (yet) broke. Pearl taught me that starvation is sometimes a result of the problem rather than the problem itself; to always handle and look over the kings carefully as soon as I first get the chance and that I'd rather take an animal to the vet than wish I had.