Bill and Cheri Buchbinder don’t have cats or dogs or rabbits.
They have Donald.
The gray- and brown-speckled rock pigeon became a fan of the couple’s birdbath and feeder last May, and that fondness quickly spread to the Leelanau couple themselves.
It may have been that birdseed that led to Donald’s first meeting with Bill.
The Michigan native found Donald, green feathers glinting, perched on the railing of his deck one spring afternoon.
“I’ve never seen a pigeon on my back deck before,” said Bill, owner of Blue Water Sail & Canvas. “So I say, ‘Hey, pigeon.’ And he looked at me and started cooing, like pigeons do, and following me around.”
Bill, intrigued, ventured into the garage for some loose sunflower seeds the couple kept for their birdfeeders.
“I come out and he flew over and landed on my head,” he said. “So he’s there, eating sunflower seeds, and he walks onto my shoulder and down my arm.”
Donald, named after Bill’s pigeon-raising father, found a home in the couple’s garage rafters and the Buchbinders’ days were brightened by their odd houseguest’s shenanigans.
“He’s like a dog — follows us everywhere we go,” Cheri said. “When I garden in the summer, I’d bend down to pull weeds and he’d land on my back. Then he’d sit on my hat.”
And Donald stuck around, even as the days grew shorter and reds and yellows overtook their tree-dotted neighborhood like wildfire. Bill asked around the neighborhood, but found no one missing an incredibly friendly pigeon.
“We’d leave the back door open and he’d come and go as he pleased,” Bill said.
The pigeon enjoyed, too, the birdseed and sunflower seeds left in the garage for him daily.
Donald likes to “wrestle” with Bill, Cheri says, pecking at his fingers.
He’s sweet to her, though.
“He’s real friendly to me, he lets me pet him. He talks a lot, coos,” she said. “But he absolutely adores my husband — he gets really excited if he hears his voice or footsteps.”
The couple grew accustomed to their feathered friend’s greetings. Until one October afternoon, when Donald didn’t provide his usual hello.
Instead, Cheri returned from work to find her dear friend limping and cooing in the driveway.
She scooped him up and rushed Donald to the Grand Traverse Veterinary Hospital and Dr. Marianne Jossens.
It earned a few odd looks.
“Most people just shoot ‘em, use them for target practice. That’s what they said at the vet,” Cheri said. “I said, ‘He’s not a regular pigeon. He’s a pet pigeon.’”
Donald survived his encounter with another animal — Cheri and Bill suspect it was a hawk or owl attack — with an injured wing, a broken leg and some missing tail feathers.
The family left the vet, Donald with a carefully wrapped white cast. He’s recovered well in the weeks since, Cheri said, and she expects he’ll be cast-free within the next month.
“And he’s able to fly now — he wasn’t able to (at first),” Bill said.
“He learned to perch with one foot,” Cheri added.
Rock pigeons, or rock doves, are the most common species of the bird, and have a history of use as homing pigeons.
They’re found throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, and were introduced to the Americas centuries ago, where they’ve also become commonplace.
The Buchbinders don’t think Donald is a lost homing pigeon because, well, showing up at their home wouldn’t make him a very good one.
Donald instead proves to be a loving, if a bit odd, pet.
He returned to his old personality a few days after the ordeal, and lets the Buchbinders pet and handle him just like before.
He’s even back to wrestling with Bill.
“I’ll stick my hand in his cage and he just loves to peck my hand, so I let him do that and I’ll ruffle the feathers on his head,” Bill said. “I don’t think he and I are at odds. But that’s why I think he’s a male.”
“It’s more of a playtime,” Cheri added. “I think that’s the only reason he survived the hawk attack at all — he’s in good shape from his exercise with my husband.”
For now, Donald’s new home is a straw-floored cage in the Buchbinders’ basement — Cheri said he’ll remain safely indoors until spring. The couple let Donald out for a few hours each night, and he’s happy to again follow them around and test his wings.
The Buchbinders aren’t interested in risking another attack.
“I don’t know how to protect him from hawks — we’ll have to think about that in the spring,” Cheri said.
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