I'm a pigeon fancier . . . There, I said it.
I didn't start out that way. I more or less used to think of them as flying rats.
The guy who owns the business next to ours used to feed them, so there were always a few hanging around. One day my brother called to ask if I had any use for a bag of cracked corn. I said ''No,'' but then remembered the pigeons, so I took it.
Not long afterward, when I saw the birds sitting on the wires near our place, I took a big scoop of the corn and started to scatter it around our parking lot. I was amazed as I was almost immediately surrounded by a hundred cooing birds.
Before I go on with my story, I'd like to take a moment to dispel some pigeon myths. They are very clean and not ''dirty'' birds; they don't harbor disease, and they are not lice infested. Pigeons are one of the most intelligent birds on the planet being able to recognize all 26 letters in the alphabet, and one of only six species of animals able to recognize itself in a mirror.
The day after the corn ran out, I walked onto the lot and there they were, waiting. Having nothing to give them, I felt bad, and not wanting to have an ''Alfred Hitchcock'' moment I ran to the hardware store and bought a small bag of wild bird feed.
I became a regular at the hardware store, and it wasn't very long before I realized I had created my very own ''bird entitlement class.'' I couldn't stop. And, as is usual with these ''giveaway'' programs, it expanded, requiring me to buy food from the feed store in 50-pound bags, and not just any bird food, but genuine pigeon food.
Last year, while watching my pigeons eat, I noticed that one of them was dragging its wing. I saw that it couldn't fly and brought it indoors. It had a broken bone in one of its wings.
After a few weeks I brought him home with me and would leave him loose in the yard. I named him Kirby. He'd hop around and flap his wings on these outings, and eventually was able to fly a few feet. One day he made it to the roof of my garage, and from there, flew away. I was sad that he was gone, but happy to know that he was flying and free again.
This year, a Hawk has discovered my feeding program and decided he could eat as well, but not pigeon food . . . pigeons. Three times now he has helped himself to a pigeon meal. Once I saw him fly away with one in his talons, and once I discovered a pile of feathers where I scatter the feed.
When the pigeons are eating, they often leap into the air. Sometimes they lift themselves a few feet, and then settle back down. Often they'll seem to panic and fly off in formation (a hundred strong) and circle for a few minutes before gliding back to earth to eat.
On one of these flights their liftoff was particularly violent. Something didn't seem right, and then I noticed a big dark form amongst all the flapping wings. It was the Hawk, and he had one of my pigeons. He flew into the woods at the end of our property and was holding his prey on the ground and pecking it. I was able to scare it off and retrieve the pigeon who seemed to be uninjured but in shock.
I kept it for a few days and reluctantly took it outside to see if it could fly. It did of course, and I stood in awe that something that I was just holding in my hands was now circling hundreds of feet in the sky. I wish I could have somehow banded it so that I would know if it was returning to eat with the many other pigeons. Maybe next time.
Moadus is a Girard resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org