Red, the Pigeon Man, dies…

I met Red a year and a half ago when I rescued my first pigeon. She was the bird I rescued from the on-ramp of the 110 freeway. She was only a baby who had been attacked by a hawk. A friend gave me Red’s number and said he could show me how to care for the bird but she warned me not to give him the bird under any circumstance.  So, I did just that…I had him come to my house, show me how to tube feed and how to care for the baby pigeon. Each time Red came over he wanted to stay longer and longer…it was obvious he was a lonely person with no family and very few friends. One night Mark and I invited him for dinner. We sat on our deck and he told us over and over how happy he was we invited him and it had been years and years since he had had a meal with someone.  I guess you could say that we became his friends with the love of animals as our connection. During our time together, Red would tell me about how animal control went to his house in 2005 and killed all his birds. Each time he mentioned this situation he broke down in sobs and tears…it was heartbreaking. He truly loved those birds. He told me that he never returned to his house and it still sits empty. He was renting a 10  by 10 room from someone since it was too painful to return to the house where he lived with his bird family…very sad.

However, the more we spoke I realized that he had no problem keeping pigeons in cat carriers forever. He felt they were happy and safe from hawks. Of course I did not agree…all animals need a quality of life and if birds have wings they should be able to fly. When I made the decision to allow my little pigeon the chance of freedom, Red was furious with me. For many weeks he would call and yell at me. But, I knew I had made the best choice for that bird so I just let him rant and rave at me.

It was about 2 months later that  he showed up knocking on my door that he needed help rescuing 100 birds from a hoarder.  I helped arrange a place for the birds to go and once again Red and I were in contact. Out of that 100 birds who were rescued, 5 beautiful King pigeons were put in my garage. When Red asked to put them in my garage I made it very clear to him that they will not live in cages forever. I once again told him that I felt that birds should not live in cages. So, I took in those 5 King pigeons and learned more about pigeons than I ever thought there was to know! I watched the males bring gifts of straw to their mates, was greeted by a “hoo” when they saw me and was “wing slapped” by one I named Lady Bug when I tried to take her egg. They were amazing birds with so much personality. I made the decision to let these birds live in the HUGE aviary in Malibu. The aviary is about 3 stories high and about 60 ‘ by 50’. King pigeons really do not fly so all that ground space was ideal for them. My friend Beth and I put together nesting boxes for them, created sand boxes, little baths, etc. It became a paradise for these 5 birds. When I told Red that I was moving the birds to Malibu he lost it on me…yelling, screaming, calling me over and over and even threatening to sue me.  He kept saying “if caring for these birds is too much than I will take them”. I told him over and over that it was not about me it was about these birds having a quality of life.  I received letter after letter about court dates and that he was suing me for these birds but I just ignored the calls and letters. Several people said “why don’t you just give the birds to him so you do not have to deal with this?”. But, I held my ground for the happiness of the birds and moved them to Malibu.  I felt their happiness was worth anything that may happen in court…I would deal with being sued for these 5 sweet birds. What a great decision…the birds were THRILLED the moment we let them out of the cage in Malibu. They were exploring, flapping their wings, taking baths…pure happiness! To this day the birds are so happy…and still greet me with a “hoo” when they see me. That situation was the start of a new life for those birds and an end of an awkward friendship with Red.

 This past Monday morning I saw I missed a call from Red. I found that odd. I later learned that the missed call was from the hospital looking for any family members of Red’s (they went through is cell phone) because he had died.

I panicked about the birds that I knew he had at the room he rented in a house. He often spoke of different birds he had who he claimed could not be released for one reason or another. So I spent all morning trying to track down Red’s birds. Animal Control said they were called out to his house Monday morning but when they saw the place they called the Dept of Health. Dept of Health told me they went out and planned to come back in the eve (to “get” aka kill the birds) but when they arrived the birds were gone. They said Red’s landlord told them a landscaper came and took the birds. I was horrified thinking that maybe some person wanted to eat them (they eat pigeons in Mexico and other countries). Without knowing where Red lived, I went to the street that was mentioned in the newspaper article. It was very easy to figure out which house was his. It is your typical hoarders house. The door was wide open and there was trash everywhere. After calling for about 5 mins for someone I decided to leave. That is when I saw some guy in the house. I called to him and he came reluctantly came out. He was filthy dirty, had a hard time communicating, a bit confused…really, really sad. I explained to him that I wanted to save the birds and I needed to know where they were taken. He went in the house and came out with a business card and said “he came to get the birds”. Sure enough…it was a card for a landscaper.
I called the landscaper and learned that Red got him interested in birds many, many years ago but he had a falling out with Red  about not keeping birds in cat carriers (surprise, surprise) and had not spoken to him in years. He said when he heard Red died he went right over and took all the birds. He truly saved them right before they all would have been killed…
He said the room Red rented in that house was beyond anything you can imagine. About 110 birds in carriers (and a few loose) and about 4-5 inches of hard poop and feathers everywhere. Each carrier had 5 inches of hard poop inside. He said after seeing the room he realized that Red had more mental problems than anyone really knew.

I went to the landscapers BEAUTIFUL house and saw the birds… I wanted to see them with my own eyes. The first thing I saw were the empty carriers they had lived in for years…they were all piled up on the lawn waiting to be cleaned or thrown away. I could not believe what I was seeing…the carriers were so filthy that the birds actually only had about 1/2 of the space to stand. It broke my heart to think they had been living in those conditions for so long. Then…I saw where the birds are now…paradise! They were so happy to be able to socialize with other birds, take baths and leave the coop if they want to fly. It was beautiful…pure joy.
I am actually sad for one bird …he is a PMV (horrible pigeon disease) survivor who Red took with him everywhere. That bird really loved Red…I witnessed that bond myself.  Red would sit at Starbucks each evening with that bird on his lap. Everyone who knew Red also knew that bird. I think he was the only lucky bird of Red’s birds and he is probably now mourning the loss of his companion.

It is sad to say that Red’s passing was probably the best thing that happened to his birds. I look back and wish I could have helped this troubled man. He was very intelligent…an engineer and an attorney…but could not see right from wrong regarding the housing of birds. In his mind and heart he was protecting them by keeping them in small cages… sad, sad, sad. No one can deny that Red loved birds in fact someone said to me yesterday “Red would have jumped in front of a train to save a pigeon”. So true.

I learned a lot about pigeons from Red and for that I am thankful. I also saw a bond between a human and a pigeon that I had never seen before. I will use that memory as motivation to find that one bird a home where he can once again bond with a human.  Rest in peace Red…the birds you loved to a fault are now safe and happy…truly what you wanted deep down but mentally could not achieve.

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