For the Birds Radio Program: Pigeon Number 53

Original Air Date: June 17, 1992

When a lost pigeon from Thunder Bay found its way to Laura, she thought of another little pigeon from long ago. Date confirmed.

Audio missing


Last week I received a call from a Lakewood Township woman who found a pigeon on her back porch. The bird was wearing three leg bands. One of them had a Thunder Bay phone number, but she didn’t get an answer when she called it, so she brought it over to me so I could see what was wrong with it.

Number 53 was a handsome male pigeon who had obviously become lost and exhausted on a racing flight. I offered him some glucose and electrolyte solution first, which he drank greedily. I had some pigeon seed left over from Bernice, the pigeon we took care of last summer, and he scarfed quite a bit down. His breastbone was razor sharp—that meant his body had burned up all the breast muscle, which explained why he couldn’t fly. His droppings were bright green—that was further proof that he was starving. A bird’s liver secretes bile just like a person’s. When the green bile isn’t used for digesting food, it comes out as evidence of starvation. I sat him out in our tool shed with food and water, and he seemed quite happy.

I got hold of the owner by phone later in the day. He said he’d released Number 53 not far from International Falls in a flock of 90 of his birds several days ago. The weather must have been bad, because 9 of his birds haven’t returned yet. He asked if I could hang onto this one, feeding him until he got restless and ready to go. Then I could just take him somewhere and let him go. This was a good bird and would find his way home when he was stronger. He said the best thing to feed him, beside pigeon feed, was peas and corn. And he said to put sugar in the water for a few days. So now I have a pigeon–a fancy, well-bred one to boot.

My big brother Jim had racing pigeons when we were kids in a little suburb of Chicago. He picked up his first one at a railroad yard. You’d think a pigeon stupid enough to let a fifth grade boy catch him in a paper bag wouldn’t be much of a bird, but Rocky turned into the best homer Jimmy ever had. Actually, he was too good of a homer to suit my brother. Once Jimmy got really into the idea of racing pigeons, he ordered several pairs of expensive birds specially bred for racing, and planned to breed his own little flock. But Rocky, having no one to call his own, kept making uninvited visits to the females in Jimmy’s coop and contaminating his fancy blood lines. Jimmy tried hard to keep Rocky separated from his females, but with love’s light wings did Rocky conquer those walls, so Jimmy finally reluctantly decided he had to get rid of Rocky. We were going on vacation to Florida that summer, so we brought Rocky along for the ride and bid him a tearful farewell in Miami. We were down there for four days, and then drove home. As we pulled into the driveway, there was Rocky, sitting on the roof, looking at us expectantly.

In early fall, my uncle went up near Hudson Bay on a fishing expedition, and brought Rocky with him. It took Rocky close to two weeks but he made it home from there, too. I don’t know which emotion was stronger in my brother–exasperation or admiration–when Rocky wheeled into view in the sky above us. But after that day, Jimmy never did try to get rid of Rocky again. Rocky beat Jimmy’s fancy, well-bred pigeons for years, and continued to contaminate Jimmy’s fancy blood lines until reaching a ripe old age. Of course, if Jimmy had only given Rocky his very own mate from the start, everyone would have been happy, but then, I’d have been out a perfectly good bird story.