Six weeks ago, Pearl, an oriental roller pigeon, arrived with three other birds from Michigan. She was the first bird I took out of the shipping box. I remember how she lay in my hand while I slid my other hand over her glossy black feathers. She wasn’t in a hurry to get away, and I was enchanted by her calm nature and by the pearlescent rims around her black eyes.
She quickly settled into the new loft and began setting “up house” with one of the cock birds. They were the first pair to make a nest in one of the 12” x 12” boxes I placed in the loft. The mate she chose I named Arundel after a small medieval town in England. I liked the way the name sounded — air-un-dell.
Arundel is an almond colored bird. In the pigeon world blue is the most common color. The mottled whitish or tortoiseshell coloring of almond is produced by a genetic mutation. A fancier doesn’t usually have many almonds in the loft, because when two almonds mate, the result is a blind bird that often dies shortly after hatching. But, to have a few of these striking colored birds in the loft is a treat.
I wanted to wait until Pearl had raised a few babies before letting her out to fly so that I would have progeny from her in case she became lost or was taken by a hawk. But this wasn’t to be, because today after I fed the birds and was walking out of the loft, she flew out the door with me.
She landed on the gravel outside, and my heart sank. Of all the birds in the loft, I would be most disappointed to lose her. I had become used to petting her while she lay on her eggs in the box. The other birds scattered as I scraped shelves, but when Pearl wasn’t on her eggs, she stayed nearby me, so, consequently, she was the bird I’d talk to while I worked around the loft.
And here she was outside her safe loft, and I wasn’t sure how to get her back inside, for I had not taught her or any of the other birds how to re-enter the loft from the outside.
She flew up onto the loft roof; she made one circle in the air around the loft and fluttered back to the roof. Then she landed on the platform near the trap door the birds would eventually use to re-enter the loft.
I went inside the loft and removed the board covering the trap door. The trap is a rectangular hole cut into the side of the loft. It has lightweight aluminum tines hanging down from the top of the rectangle. If a pigeon presses on the tines, they slip aside, and the bird can easily come inside the loft. But the birds need to be trained to know how they can strike the tines to give way so they can enter the loft. For thirty minutes Pearl walked around on the platform. And I went about my work hoping she would figure out how to come inside. But although Pearl approached the tines, she never pressed on them, so she didn’t realize she could get inside.
Although I could have lifted all the tines of the trap from inside the loft, this would have presented a gaping hole allowing the inside pigeons to fly outside. I needed a way to let her in and not let the other birds out.
I lifted one of the tines, and Pearl immediately noticed the gap. She pushed through the narrow space created from the lifted tine, and stood facing me inside the loft. We looked into each other’s eyes. My hands were still on the trap, so my arms were on either side of her. Pearl ran up and across my right shoulder and flew to her box. She jumped inside and joined Arundel, and they began to coo and nuzzle. I was so relieved she was back inside, but I was also amazed for I’ve never had a pigeon walk over me.
Pearl is an impulsive and friendly pigeon; I have mixed feelings about her lack of fear. I recognize her “tameness” as a possible problem when she begins to fly, spin, and roll in the open air. I’m not sure how it will play out, but she may be less wary of lurking birds of prey. This has happened to me before when I raised Portuguese Tumbling pigeons in Alaska. I remember a lovely and gentle red and cream bird named Francis who stepped up onto my hand and allowed me to pet her at any time. Unfortunately when a migrating hawk came through, she showed no fear as she flew, and the hawk came upon her from above and quietly grabbed her with its talons and took her away.
Oriental rollers are known for their unique abilities to evade hawks, but all the twirls, rolls, and nose dives won’t help save their lives if they don’t recognize danger. I can do several things to help, but I can’t change the nature of an individual bird. First I can teach the birds how to reenter the loft, and second I can make sure I fly the birds when they are hungry, so that they take short flights and come back into the loft quickly. These steps will help Pearl and the other birds survive. Only time will tell if Pearl’s trusting temperament gets her into trouble.