Her name was Stephanie and she was a mere ten-days old when she took her first flight; an unheard of feat even for a pigeon.
In the early eighties, I joined Wildlife Rescue, Inc. in Austin, Texas. The organization's goal was (and still is) to raise and rehabilitate orphaned and injured wildlife and return them to the wild. How exciting?! I'd get to bring in cottontails, raccoons, deer, and maybe even a coyote and care for them until they could survive on their own. It was the least I could do in this ever-changing world that was eating up their habitats in the blink of an eye. I know; I watched it happen everyday on my twenty-mile commute west of Austin into Hill Country and out to Lake Travis where I taught school. In a few short years, I watched the landscape change from rolling hills bisected by a winding two-lane road to a plethora of subdivisions connected by so much blacktop, you could see the heat waves rising off the surface.
My first year in the classroom, I remember a heated debate in the state's capital city about the new proposal planned on Lake Austin not far from school. The owner had decided to sell most of his 5,000 acres to a homesite developer. The area was home to two endangered species: the black-capped vireo and the golden cheek warbler.
Austin has a reputation as an environmental friendly, okay sometimes militant, city, but all the protests and petitions in the world couldn't keep the rancher from selling out. Precedent was set and now driving through the Hill Country west of Austin one sees side-by-side subdivisions.
Forgive me, I've digressed. But the point is; I wanted to make a difference. I couldn't stop the scalping of the Hill Country, but I could do a small part for those creatures who were in trouble because of disappearing natural habitats.
I took the rehab course and quickly realized that most of the orphaned and injured were birds, mainly baby birds, and although a naked baby bird is not as cute and cuddly as a baby rabbit, I decided to place myself on the bird team. Now I envisioned having a small avian infirmary filled with cardinals, red-tailed hawks, mockingbirds that had gotten into trouble fleeing their homes. When that first call came in, I was asked to take a baby pigeon that had fallen from it's nest from under the MoPac Bridge over Town Lake.
A pigeon? How romantic is that? Many of the local vets who volunteered their time and medical supplies to help the organization would not bother with pigeons. But I took her. Explaining to my nephew over the phone what I was doing, he asked if she could name her Stephanie. Sure, Stephanie it is. She was an ugly little thing. Grayish brown skin, a bobbly head on the end of scrawny neck, and a too-large beak that looked as if it belonged to a pterodactyl. I was told that birds this young don't often survive, but I gave it my best shot, keeping her warm, feeding her several times an hour, doing everything the manual said. She grew quickly over the next few days, which didn't help her appearance. Spiny black pen feathers began to poke out at the base of her wings, while yellow fuzz covered her head. Then a situation arose, which I hadn't anticipated. I had to make a quick flight to Houston; just an overnight trip, but I could not leave Stephanie alone for any length of time and I could not call my sister and tell her I couldn't make her only daughter's first birthday party because I was caring for a pigeon. So, I did the only thing possible. I packed Stephanie's supplies, emptied a small tissue box, stuffed it with comfy scraps of fabric, nestled her in the middle and stuck the box it in the bottom of my purse. Of course, this was before intimate security screening at airports. A security woman did peer into my purse, but my ward made not a peep. We boarded the plane and Stephanie took her first flight like a pro.
I often wondered how she is faired. When she took her first real flight, she fluttered up onto the branch of a pecan tree, stuck around a couple of days, and then left to rejoin her fellow pigeons. I felt she deserved her own personalized bright blue and orange leg band that said "Earned flight wings on Southwest flight 213 to Houston."
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