Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My Ecelctus Parrots, Vincent and Aki

         Aki and Vincent                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015


          This is an unanticipated blog entry about my two eclectus parrots. Vincent and Aki.  You will understand why as you read.  From the time I was a child I loved birds and had a wonderful powder blue parrot named Money.  (Though a present, I knew he and his cage and accessories were expensive items.)

       Two years ago I bought a beautiful female eclectus from a man who decided to give her up because he was away at work from five thirty in the morning until seven in the evening.  I decided upon this species of parrot because they are known to be relatively quiet, unlike Amazons and Cockatoos, whose dawn and dusk celebrations of life are enough to make you quickly don your pair of noise reduction ear muffs.  This "freedom of screech" allows them to communicate with other distant flocks.

      Those thinking of getting a parrot should learn what's involved in taking care of one.  Whether they are hand-reared or not parrots retain their wild characteristics. They generally bond with only one person viewing others as interlopers often the recipient of a bite meant to send them packing. Often it is the bird who is sent packing.  Because of their noise, ability to inflict painful bites, and reluctance to bond with more than one person, the average parrot has lived in five different homes before he dies, often unwanted, sometimes living in the dark in a cage semi-permanently covered with a towel or blanket.  After the research consider getting your bird from a rescue.  Parrots are the third most discarded pet in the U.S. 

      Aki's home was reeking of cigarette smoke and had a beak so deformed she could not close it.  Her breast was completely bare from plucking.  There was no way I was not going to take her home with me.

      Next day it was straight to the vet who set to work on her beak with his clippers and dremel.  When Dr. Sager stretched out her wings we both smelled cigarette smoke.  

     I ordered special eclectus food which is high in vitamin A.  They also need lots of fruits and vegetables.  Her previous owner gave me the remainder of the food he's been feeding her, but it was not really what she needed.

     Aki adjusted well to life in Acton, spent time outside in the sun, and had full spectrum light over her cage.  She ate well and seemed to enjoy the variety of food I offered her. Aki was happy to be out of her cage and happy to be in it.  When she wanted to be picked up she would lower her body and vibrate her wings.  Here she is on our deck munching on some petunias:

       This is where she spent many hours with me while I was at the computer or reading in bed.  That swing was a favorite :


       A few weeks later I was contacted by a woman I talked to earlier about her eclectus.  She asked if was still be looking for a bird and wanted to know if I was still interested in her male eclectus.  She was an excellent caring owner and simply did not have time for Vincent due to changes in her work schedule.  He, too, had begun to pluck.  I decided to take him, as well.  The more I learned about parrots the more I thought Aki would be happier with a companion.  And so Vincent arrived with his own cage which I put next to Aki's.

       I expected an exciting time when they first met but the pair seemed only mildly interested in each other.  When parrots are but a few days old, they are removed from their parents by their breeders.  They are then fed by humans, and become imprinted, essentially thinking they are human, while still having the same needs and behaviors as any wild eclectus living in its native Solomon Islands   Vincent was more interested in regurgitating and sharing his food with me than with Aki.  However, in time they bonded, and Aki happily moved into Vincent's cage.  

       After several trips to the vet, Aki was finally able to close her beak.  She no longer smelled of tobacco smoke, enjoyed baths several times a week, as did Vincent.  

       Yesterday, was another routine trip to the vet for beak and toenail trimming.  Everything seemed normal.  Aki only objected when the vet started using the Dremmel, but she'd always behaved like that, as did Vincent.

       All of a sudden, Dr. Sager rushed out of the room saying that Aki had gone into cardiac arrest.  Despite his best efforts Aki could not be resuscitated.  I was stunned.  Dr. Sager explained that cardiac arrest occasionally occurs with smaller birds, canaries, parakeets, and finches.  This was the first time in his career as an exotic animal vet that a bird Aki's size had died of cardiac arrest. Dr. Sager suggested that there might be some underlying medical  condition that had compromised her health. 

      I will never know whether that was the case,  but certainly, Aki's health had been compromised before I had gotten her.  Her food was not the best and she was exposed 24/7 to second hand smoke.  She didn't receive routine vet care and had been unable to close her beak for God knows how many years.


       Vincent                                                                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

        Now Vincent is without his mate.  In the wild, of course, he could draw support from his flock.  Sadly, his only flock is me.  Dr. Sager advised that I not get another parrot because there was no guarantee they would bond.  I had just been lucky, it seems with Aki and Vincent.  I decided that I would get a parakeet so Vincent would at least have the company of another bird.  Dr. Sager advised me to wait a week or two.  Vincent would need to mourn for that length of time, and he might view the arrival of a new bird as that of an interloper.  They can't be together, of course, Vincent could do terrible damage to such a little tyke.

       I understand much more about parrots than I did when I was a little girl with a parakeet.  They are highly intelligent and emotionally supersensitive.  Each flock has its own dialect and each baby has been named by its parent.  But why do they talk like us? Deprived of the language of the flock, they learn the language of humans.  Do they understand the English they have learned?  Well, I think it depends on what they have learned.  When my husband is in a rush Vincent will say with a measure of concern in his voice, "What's the matter?" When he caught me wiping away the regurgitated food he'd given me with a paper towel, he said "S_ _ t!!," as he marched over clearly intending to give me a bite for rejecting his nourishing, albeit rather disgusting gift.   Trying to mount Aki when she was not in the mood he kept repeating, "Stop it!  What are you doing?  Stop it?!"

       Vincent was observing Aki getting her beak trimmed from his carrier, and when the vet rushed out of the room with her in his hands, Vincent said, "What's the matter? What are you doing? What's the matter?"  Did Vincent understand the questions he was asking?   I'm certain he did.  

       Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly--




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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Wyoming Mustang Comes To Windflower Part 2

                                                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

        Those of you who have read my blog entries from last winter already know it was the snowiest and coldest on record in Massachusetts, not the optimal time for taking care of five horses. (Missing in the above action is our little ten-hand Shetland Kip.  She had wisely parked herself in the deepest reaches of the run-in shed.)  And it certainly was not the optimal time for me to receive this e-mail from Juliane, my friend, former student, and now fellow trainer whom I've known since she was eight years old:

Hi all:
This would be completely crazy.
But totally a dream come true! I didn't know they were coming to MA but applications are due VERY soon.
What do you all think?
I would need a place to keep the horse from April-Aug and therefore need to come up with a couple months' board . . .  but what a good investment for my career!

An attachment explained why this would be "completely crazy." The "Extreme Mustang Makeover" was coming to Massachusetts. Any announcement that has the words "Extreme" and "Mustang" in its heading certainly gets my immediate attention.

      The Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF), 
in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), supports and facilitates the adoption of mustangs.  The BLM is the federal agency that manages our public lands and the wildlife on it. Every year, in locations throughout the United States, the MHF runs "Mustang Makeovers" so Americans can see up close and personal this symbol of the American West and understand what versatile riding horses they can make.  The "Mustang Makeover" in our area was to be in August at the Topsfield Fairgrounds, less than an hour northeast of my farm.

       If Juliane's application was approved, she and other participants would pick up their unhandled mustangs in April, at a town just under an hour away, this time to the northwest.  The mustangs are randomly assigned, and trainers have no idea what they are getting until they arrive to pick up a horse.  They then have one hundred days to ready their animal for the September competition.  The top ten trainers, those who have done well in their divisions, move on to the final competition, the freestyle.  A freestyle is an original performance designed by the rider and set to music of the rider's choice.  After the freestyle all mustangs are put up for auction, giving the public an opportunity to bid on a gentled mustang.  Cash prizes of $7,000 dollars for the youth division and $20,000 for the adult divisions is awarded.

       I thought it was terrific idea.  Very few people who ride horses have had the experience of training a horse from the start, much less a wild mustang.  It would be a true test of Natural Horsemanship.  I told Juliane that the mustang could stay at Windflower during its training, if she could come up with all expenses concerned, and did all of the training.  We've been doing Natural Horsemanship for over twenty years, and Juliane, though just twenty, was certainly more than qualified to take this on.  She would graduate from college in just two months and then could devote even more time to this extraordinary project.  If things got tight during her exam period I could fill in.

       Her application was approved, and we headed off to Orange, MA, one cold and bleak April morning.  Our party was made up of Juliane, her friend Jon and fellow horse trainer, and two of our students, Zoe and Katie.  While Juliane went off to an office to pick up her paperwork, we went to check out the mustangs in an indoor arena.  
This is what we saw upon entering (I'm sorry the picture quality is poor, but it was cloudy and I didn't dare use my flash): 

  Mustangs   Orange, MA                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015


          The arena was divided into approximately twelve corrals with an aisle devoted to loading that ran through the middle.  There were a total of eighty equids, about seventy horses and ten donkeys.  At first glance they were not an inspiring lot.  Most were dirty and covered with manure stains, all manes and tails hopelessly tangled.  None had ever been handled save being put in a squeeze box to be freeze branded, get their vaccinations, have their feet trimmed, and, if a stallion, be gelded.  These horses had just been shipped across the US, and all they knew was that they were no longer free, no longer in sunshine, and that slowly but surely, one by one, their herd mates were disappearing. Approximately half these horses were going to "Mustang Makeover" trainers while the rest had either been bought during an on line auction or would be auctioned off that day. 

       Here's a sweet picture of Zoe with one of the burros being offered for adoption.  It had obviously been handled some and enjoyed being scratched:

    Wild Burro  Orange, MA
       Juliane returned with the tag number of her mustang and was told it was one of the three pintos in the competition.  This one matched her number.  Meet Rocio ("Dewdrop" in Spanish): 

  Rocio and friend                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

      A tobiano (brown and white pinto) with mostly white, she stood somewhere around fourteen hands.  She is also visible, barely, in the the first photo of the mustangs in pens.  I watched her behavior with the eight or so other horses in the pen.  She seemed to be the lowest on the totem pole, always yielding to the slightest aggressive posturing by the others.  That could indicate she was timid, possibly spooky, and it might be quite difficult to earn her trust.  I would soon learn my assessment was incorrect.

       We arrived at the farm early, so there was only one mustang to load before us.  We found out all mustangs present for the competition were mares, which made sense.  Having  the competitors train only mares (or only geldings, as is the case with some other mustang venues) would level the playing field.  As many of you know, mares tend to be a little more opinionated and a little more concerned about their environment than are geldings.

      The lady wrangler somehow managed to separate her from her herd mates and get her into the long aisle.  Within seconds the wrangler got directly behind the horse then waved a whip.  The mustang got the message and shot down the aisle like a bullet. With the young woman running and waving her whip behind him, the terrified mustang jumped into the stock trailer.  Two gentlemen wranglers immediately slammed the door shut and the mare was off to her new hundred-day home.

     Juliane's pinto was next.  Because she seemed so timid in the corral I thought loading her would be as easy as the one we'd just seen.  Wrong!  

Here's Rocio now in the aisle.  Everything seems to be going according to plan:

  Rocio    Orange, MA                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

      Halfway down the aisle, Rocio, however, did one of the tightest and quickest about faces I have ever seen.  Rocio galloped by the young lady and her whip.

Sorry about the blur, but that is exactly what she was:

  Rocio       Orange, MA                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

Once again:
    Rocio       Orange, MA                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

Heading back:
  Rocio   Orange, MA                                    Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       Another try, and Rocio whipped around and headed back to her paddock friends.  The third time, however, was the charm:

   Third attempt                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

She was in!

  Rocio in trailer                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       It was difficult to watch this.  Rocio was terrified but, really, there was no other way.  I just wished she could have understood that her life was about to change for the better.  She was a former member of the 50,000 mustangs held in holding pens and corrals in ten western states.  The BLM has determined that, with a lack of predators, the herds of wild mustangs must be culled.  They believe that in four years the wild mustang population, estimated at 45,000, will double. 

       As I mentioned in my previous blog, the ratio of cattle to mustangs on BLM leased land is approximately thirty to one. There is no end to complaints about the mustangs drinking the cattles' water and eating their grass.  The anti-mustang groups complain that the mustangs are not truly wild but feral.  Well, the cows eating the grass on BLM land aren't exactly wild either, not even feral.

        This appetite for red meat is not only hurting our hearts but hurting our poor planet.  It has been six years of unprecedented drought in the west, with California the hardest hit.  Were some herds not captured by the BLM, they would die of starvation. Scientists are convinced that climate disruption in the form of greenhouse gases increased the severity of the California drought by twenty percent.  Mother Nature knows best, we do not!  We need to listen to her.  She is screaming at us! 

     A scared Rocio:

  Rocio in Trailer                                                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

     In the foreground, Juliane, Rocio's trainer, is the cowboy booted blonde, Katie is manning the video camera, and then Zoe on the right:

   About To Leave                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       One hour later we arrived at Windflower.  Juliane's friend Jon managed to back the trailer into the round pen that we'd set up.  I wished it had been drier.  The mud was the result of our hideous winter and its record-breaking snowfalls.

  Rocio arrives at Windflower                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       On the way home Juliane was able to decipher what her papers said about Rocio.  She hailed from Adobe Town, Wyoming, was five years old, and stood in a holding pen for (we think) four and a half years.  She was probably still nursing when her herd was captured.  That was good news.  She wasn't going to be really wild.  She's been people around most her life.  She was just unhandled.  It was the same for the other mares.  All had spent the majority of their lives in holding pens.

       Once in the round pen, Rocio wandered about and had a meet and greet with some of our horses.  Juliane and Jon stood by watching:

              Juliane and John                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

      Here she meets Elementa and Dolly:

   Rocio's Meet and Greet                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 20115    

       Then Tica:

          Rocio Meeting Tica                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

      On to the humans:  Here she is with Zoe:

    Rocio and Zoe                                                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015


      And finally with the young, talented trainer who would make this all happen for her:

         Rocio and Juliane                                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       Stay tuned for Part 3 of  "A Mustang Comes To Windflower" when Juliane starts her training in the round pen.

       See you soon, and thanks for reading "The Windflower Weekly."




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Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Wyoming Mustang Comes To Windflower!

  Part One

        Some sixty years ago, with no money for riding lessons and parents who had little interest in my passion, the only way I could connect with my equine heroes was through books, and, of course, the miracle of modern television.  My favorite programs ran on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  Fortunately, my five brothers liked to sleep in.  Here's a short YouTube from the series My Friend Flicka, starring Johnny Washbrook as Ken, and Wahana, a fifteen-hand Arabian Hollywood called Flicka.  


       These programs introduced me to Hollywood's version of the Wild West, and horses had the starring role.   Each episode, whether it was The Roy Rogers Show, My Friend Flicka, or Fury, was an episode in morality.  Life at my house was confusing, often psychically and physically dangerous, but these programs offered me a temporary if only partial emotional escape.  I could begin to believe that the evil I had to endure might not be my fault.  If your parent was an outlaw, or even murderer,  it didn't mean that you were, too.  I remember how Roy had to convince a gun-wielding boy to turn his bank robber father in.  He counseled the boy that he had a choice and that he needn't follow his father's example.  In an earlier blog I mentioned that I carried a yellow plastic ruler in the back pocket of my jeans.  Roy Rogers taught me the Golden Rule--that little six-inch measuring stick was my personal golden rule and traveled with me wherever I went, a constant reminder that I had to treat others as I wished to be treated.  
       Off screen, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans lived their on-screen values.  They adopted six children and worked tirelessly on behalf of children at risk through their Happy Trails Foundation.  
       So, what does all this have to do with mustangs?  Quite a bit. Through the late eighteenth century mustangs lived on the peripheries of the vast tracks of land so much of which would end up being checker-boarded by thousands of miles of barbed wire. And, similarly, the mustangs were often on the periphery of these weekend westerns.  In one, a mustang herd might be in need of protection from "the killers," men who seek to trap and sell the horses to slaughter.  This is how I learned the term "box canyon."   The killers would herd mustangs into a box canyon with three sides of sheer rock and then quickly set up a fence across the one open side.  In certain episodes a mustang stallion might come onto a ranch and steal some of its mares.  These things happened in real life.  In fact, they continue to this day though on a much smaller scale.

       Flicka, as the story line goes, is a mare from an untamable line of mustangs.  She is considered to be loco!  But Ken saves her life and an inseparable bond is created.  One series carried the name of its equine hero: Fury, King of the Wild Stallions was a mustang. In the opening few episodes we learn that he gave his heart to a boy named Joey Newton when Joey saved his life from an evil ranch hand.  That man had lashed Fury terribly with a bullwhip; Fury jumped out of the corral, knocked Joey unconscious in the action, and headed back out to the plains.  In the end Joey runs after Fury and saves his life.  Of course, in future episodes, Fury returns the favor multiple times.  Here's the YouTube of the introduction that I saw before each episode:

        How I longed to have a horse who could transport me to this kind of freedom and to these adventures.  I was sure that if I lived on a ranch out west then I, too, would be able to have such a bond with a wild horse.  If only my father was a rancher instead of a philosophy professor at a college in New York City.  (What was philosophy, anyway?)  Even as I came to understand that these humans and horses were actors, I still envied them.  Not only did they act in open western spaces and go to school right on the set, they were famous!

       Of course, no child viewer of these programs could fail to notice that the lead stars were never girls but always boys.  Dale Evans may have been called the "Queen of the West," but she was clearly Roy Rogers' backup.  Roy's golden stallion was named Trigger but Dale's horse, a buckskin, was Buttermilk.  Trigger did numerous tricks, but Buttermilk's repertoire was scant. Buttermilk was only able to untie Dale partially when she was being held by stagecoach robbers.  Roy's German Shepherd Bullet had to finish to job.

       The dialogue was often dismissively sexist.  I frequently heard, "Aw, you're just a girl"; "Girls can't do that"; "Go 'way, this ain't no job for a girl."  When a woman was trying to get a cowboy to do something for her, she would often lower her head and coyly state, "Of course, I'm just a poor, weak woman."  I coped with these limiting societal barbs by declaring myself a tomboy.  Every once in a while a series would have a rebellious, strong-minded girl determined to have her way, and sometimes--and it was just sometimes--she did.  Okay, better a tomboy than one of those girly girls evolving on my block.  Incredibly athletic, my good friend, eleven-year-old Sharon, suddenly, and inexplicably to me, started intentionally missing ground balls and striking out during the baseball games we held in a nearby vacant lot.  

      I have remained interested in mustangs.  Most people know these equines as the descendants of the Spanish conquistadores who ruled much of the western hemisphere.  The blood of the Lusitano, the Andalusian, Spanish barb and Jennet run through their veins. But most herds are not only derived from those breeds.  When farming became mechanized, many horses were simply turned out on the range.  And when the cavalry turned to tanks, their mounts were either turned loose or shot.  Percentages vary.  Some mustang herds have much more Spanish than others, while one herd in  Oregon--the Stinking Water Horse Management Area (!)--has more draft horse than anything else.  

       There is an ongoing debate regarding whether the American mustang is a wild animal or feral (a normally domesticated animal that has become wild).  If it is a wild animal it legally is deserving of more protection.  The subtext of all this is public land usage and the conflict between environmentalists who want cattle--they outnumber the mustang at least thirty to one--off the  open range. It is true that cattle are inherently more destructive to our public lands than mustangs.  First, as I mentioned, there are many more of them. Second, horses have upper and lower teeth and graze much a like a lawn mower.  They crop the grass in a way that permits it to continue growing.  Cattle, however, have no upper teeth.  They graze by wrapping their long tongues around grasses that, if they are growing in damp or wet soil, or are young and have an immature root system, the cattle can uproot entirely.  Additionally, cattle are ruminants, so plants and their seeds must go through three stomachs before their remains become a patty.  A horse has only one stomach, so many seeds remain viable as they move through, and finally out of, a horse's digestive tract.   A horse herd is simultaneously fertilizing and reseeding an area as it travels about.
Finally, horses range much farther from water sources than do cattle.  Cattle tend to camp out in a comparatively more confined area, often causing significant bank erosion and fouling the water.   Horses nibble and move on.  

       It is interesting to note that mustangs are more adept than cattle at handling harsh winter conditions.  They instinctively know to dig deep in the snow to uncover grasses, but cattle do not.  Often the cattle that survive a tough winter are the ones who have learned to follow mustangs and to consume the uncovered provisions the horses have left behind.  Sadly, climate disruption has led to even harsher winters and summer droughts.  In the past, mustangs managed to cope with inhospitable seasons but now they can't, not on this scale.  Additionally, while mustangs are adroit at finding food, shelter, and water, herds and family groups are often prevented in their efforts by stockade fencing, barbed wire, and the increased introduction of extraction industries like coal and natural gas and their accompanying road development.  It's common in some areas to see a family group of mustangs grazing on lawns or wandering between backyard pools and swing sets.  Some herds have begun to starve.  The Bureau of Land Management has been trying its best to capture the horses most in need and to ship them to facilities where they are fed, wormed, and vaccinated.

       The following is a beautiful clip of mustangs.  But notice how fences prevent them from going where they wish:

        I hope this entry has helped you to learn and understand more about the complex world the American mustang must navigate to survive.  Next week I will introduce you to the Extreme Mustang Makeover and how a little paint mustang mare named Rocio arrived here at Windflower Farm.

              Rocio                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015 

       I conclude this blog entry with Roy Rogers and Clint Black singing "Hold On Partner."  I couldn't find out who wrote the lyrics, but what I can say is that its message was frequently articulated and advanced by Roy, not only in this Saturday morning series, but in the live interviews and magazines I read for many years.  

       Thank you for reading the Windflower Weekly. 

        See you soon---- Ainslie



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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Save It Forward

     I started writing this blog entry just before the great winter of our discontent landed on Boston and its environs.  In order to keep up with snowstorm after snowstorm, I delayed finishing this entry until now.  It takes place in a city that is special to me for many reasons.

      The above photo I took late December from the Top of the Hub, the wonderful restaurant at the top of the Prudential Center on Boylston Street.   My daughter Marleny had just been declared free of Hepatitis C  thanks to a recently FDA approved drug.  At the time of writing this, Marleny is one of one hundred in the US to be cured of this dreadful virus that affects over one hundred and fifty million worldwide.  She likely contracted Hep C either from her birth mother in Colombia while in utero or in early childhood.  Finally, her heroic struggle, coupled with yet another wonder of modern medicine has paid off.  That miserable virus is now gone, banished from her system!  My husband Jim, son Alec, his girlfriend Kez, myself, and, of course, Marleny were there to celebrate.

   As you can see, the view from the Top of the Hub of this glorious city is amazing.  At the bottom of the image is the Public Garden, the first public garden in the U.S.  At the bottom of the image, partially obscured by a hotel, is the pond, referred to as the "Lagoon," where in lovely weather the swan boats give leisurely rides to tourists and people like me.  

      Almost all public gardens have flocks of pigeons, and so it is in Boston.  This brings us to another part of our celebration:  Meet "Midgeon," short for Midge the Pidge, the Garden's newest resident pigeon.  How do I know she's the newest? I know because because we brought her there.


      Now why would I do that?  Aren't there enough pigeons flying around Boston defacing its buildings.  Yes.  Aren't there enough pigeons in Boston cadging handouts from visitors and citizens sitting on the city's benches.  Yes.  Don't they so dominate the public parks that we are bored by their beautiful iridescent gray plumage? Yes.

       Answer:  I find it next to impossible to walk away from any creature that appears injured or failing.  And when I first saw Midge in mid-December in Alewife, a subway and bus station in Cambridge, she was definitely failing.  Squatting on the floor, apparently too weak or sick to take notice, much less get out of the way of the many people rushing to catch their subways.   When I scooped her up and placed her under my coat she offered no resistance and expressed no fear, though she certainly must have felt it. 

       As soon as I got home I placed her in a pet carrier.  Then, following the advice Dr. Jay Merriam, my wonderful equine vet of over thirty years, I first warmed her with a heat lamp, then gently pried open her beak, and gave her some Gatorade.  After an hour she still wasn't moving, but her eyes were alert and open.

       By morning she busied herself eating crumbled crackers and scrambled egg that I'd placed in a dish.  She now had enough strength and awareness to view me with caution and move to the back of the carrier when I came near.

       A few days later I placed her on a perch in a large pen in our basement that I used to keep our young chickens until they were old enough, and the weather was warm enough, for them to go outside.  Over the next several days she regained her health, strengthened her wings, and started flying about.

       Now what?  Well, I certainly couldn't keep her.  She needed a flock, preferably her flock at Alewife.  However, and perhaps one of the reasons she got into to trouble in the first place, was the construction of the station.  Largely made of glass and with places of open access, it was easy for birds to find their way in but not so easy for them to find their way out.  Midge was not the only pigeon in trouble that day.  Walking up the stairs to the elevator, I saw another pigeon--dead. Pigeons mate for life, and I wondered if this poor fellow had been Midge's partner.  

       Here let me add a few words about pigeons.  They really should be called rock doves, that is their proper name.  As is usual with critters that we find in excess, they are not native to the United States, they were brought here by us.  Like the invasive starling, they weren't meant to be here.
Rock doves generally roost on cliffs and other flat stone formations.  What are cities but inviting, albeit man-made, stone formations?  

       So, owing to the construction of the station and, perhaps, the loss of a mate, I decided to keep Midge until we went into Boston to celebrate Marleny's recovery.  Almost every child in this country knows the book Make Way For Ducklings, which takes place in Boston.  And, actually, Boston still does this.  Nearly every year there is a local news story of a potential duckling catastrophe or two averted by intervening Bostonians.   

       Of course, real ducks live on the Boston Garden's Lagoon and there are flocks of pigeons who roost under the foot bridge at night.  We also have two swans, Romeo and Juliet, who winter at the Franklin Park Zoo but at the end of April the pair head up a parade celebrating their return, which is followed by their actual release onto the lagoon.  In addition to being gorgeous, they are testament to Boston's celebration of diversity. Romeo and Juliet are both female!  They are amorous, one or both lay eggs, infertile of course. 

       Here's a photo of one of the Boston swans' predecessors I took over twenty years ago:

      Boston Swan                                                                                            Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015
      The Boston swan boats, an icon of the city, have been operated by the Paget family since 1877.  Originally Inspired by the gallant rescue of a heroine on the back of a swan in the opera Lohengrin, and the growing popularity of the bicycle, these dual-pontooned boats, ferry tourists about the Lagoon in leisurely fashion.

       Here is a  picture of my son Alec at age nine (he is now thirty) at the Garden with the arched neck of a swan belonging to one of dual pontooned swan boats in the background.   

      With its ducks, pigeons, and swans, the Public Garden in Boston seemed the perfect place to release Midge.  Here we are, just a few feet from the Lagoon.  From left to right: Kezia, opening the pet carrier, Jim, Marleny, and Alec:

She didn't fly off as we expected but felt secure enough to grab a little piece of bread:

She walked about a little before thinking of taking flight:


       She soared high and low. . . 

. .  . and then she returned and landed almost at our feet:

   Midgeon                                                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       We stayed for a few more take-offs and landings but then were on our way, Alec and Kez to have a night on the town while Jim, Marleny, and I returned to Acton.


                                                                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

                                                                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       Boston Garden pigeons seem to have good company and I hope Midge is able to overcome her natural homing instincts and elects to remain there for the rest of her days.

       Here are some interesting facts about rock doves that might cause some pause among those who refer to these birds as flying rats:

       Pigeons are considered one of the most intelligent birds on the planet.  For example, they can recognize their own reflection in a mirror. Only six other animals can do that, all primates.

       They can recognize all twenty-six letters of the alphabet.

         They contributed greatly to the Allied cause in both world wars.  They have terrific vision and were carried on airborne search and rescue missions over the oceans.  When they spotted an orange lifejacket, they would alert the crew with a series of pecks.  Thousands were saved.

       Troops who parachuted behind or near enemy lines often carried pigeons with them in order to return valuable information about troop location and strength.  The brave patriots jumped out of a variety of air transports carrying their birds in slings designed by an American brassiere company.

        Rock dove 'GI Joe' was awarded the Dickin Medal For Gallantry by the Lord Mayor of London.  It is Britain highest medal of honor for a service animal.  What did little Joe do to merit this?  It seems the Americans were about to bombard a bit of Italian land occupied by the Germans.  Suddenly, however, the Germans retreated and British 5th Infantry moved in filling the void.  Radio transmissions to halt the bombing failed to get through.  GI Joe was dispatched with a message and flew twenty miles in twenty minutes.  Had he arrived five minutes later it is likely that the entire British unit would have been wiped out.

       French rock dove 'Cher Ami' transported critical information to the French, dodging artillery fire and poison gas.  Despite his efforts, one of his legs was shot off and he suffered a terrible chest wound. Happily, his surgery was a success, and he was able to attend the ceremony in which he awarded France's highest medal, "Le Croix de Guerre."

      In 1944, carrier pigeon Lucia di Lammermoor was apprehended by the Germans returning several days late with the following message:

       "To the American troops, Herewith we return a pigeon to you.  We have enough to eat. -- The German Troops." 

       No medal for Lucia, but I still think she deserves an 'A' for effort.

      Because of Midgeon, the common Rock Dove, I was able to have the joy and satisfaction of having helped a creature in need, as well as learning about the great impact these often despised birds have had on history.  Some of us would not have been born had it not been for these courageous creatures.

       My next entry will be about my encounter with the homing instincts of a totally different type of bird.  

       See you soon, and thank you for reading "The Windflower Weekly"  --


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