When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the United States, I lost my career in New Orleans as a musician. I was fortunate enough to have work at my café job in the French Quarter, although business slowed to a trickle due to the lack of tourism.
Among my local regular customers was the small flock of pigeons which I had been feeding for the last seven years during my time living in the city. The pigeons were used to LOTS of food on a regular basis due to the high volume of tourism and locals living and working in the French Quarter, so when tourism stopped and bars and most restaurants closed down, the main food source for the pigeons vanished. No bars. No music. No workers. No tourists. No food for the poor pigeons.
I can’t count the number of days where I would not see a soul for hours at a time, which is a sharp change from the incredibly high volume of customers to which I am accustomed. My regular days at the café were a blur because I was so busy from clock in to clock out. After the pandemic hit, I was counting minutes like hours, bored and lonely, and full of anxiety with wonder of what was coming next and when I could go back to my career.
The pigeons were the one consistent thing. Every day, at nearly the exact time intervals, they would return, and the flock grew to a massive number. Pigeons are excellent at communicating with each other and they care for each other when one is injured. They also possess the second highest human facial recognition ability of any avian species, surpassed only by ravens and crows. The small flock I had known for years had signaled other hungry pigeons (and sparrows and crows, eventually), all around the city, where food was. I recognized old familiar friends among the flock and many new ones, with the new members becoming regulars as well.
I have been a certified wildlife rescuer for about fifteen years. I specialize in parrots and reptiles (private rescue- clearly not classified as wildlife) and wild birds of every variety. This year, I have gotten inundated with songbirds and shorebirds, the usual mammals, and SO MANY PIGEONS. I believe this is due to the fact that people are home more, being out of work, and noticing animals in need more often. Aside from the obvious duties associated with rescue work, I got to realize how much these animals are overlooked when humans go about our busy lives. With normal life on hold, people are able to stop and notice animals in need and realize what we don’t see when we are rushing around.
So many people have commented this year that they didn’t realize how sweet and smart pigeons are, as most people don’t interact with them. Finding injured pigeons has opened the eyes of many, so in that sense, the pandemic seems to have helped wildlife rescue. Not many people know that pigeons have a homing instinct of up to 600 miles, or that the most medal-decorated animal of all time serving in a war was a pigeon. Rescue work is indeed hard but extremely rewarding. Nursing animals back to health and releasing them is incredibly satisfying. Some can’t be released and become sanctuary wards, and some don’t make it out alive at all.
When I saw nobody for hours and days turned to months, I had my reliable local pigeons. I like to think I helped them by feeding them, but I think the reality is that they rescued me from complete sadness and gave my purpose which I felt I had lost when my career was halted due to the pandemic. They really were my company.