Bringing up Chu-Chu, the pigeon

March 16th, 2008 - 9:35 am ICT by admin  

(First Person)
By Ranjana Narayan
She landed in our garden some time in mid-February, a trembling ball of dark grey. I saw her flapping her wings futilely, then trying to duck behind a flowerpot from my looming presence. Her pigeon parents were nowhere in sight, and leaving her there would have meant a good lunch for the big brown Toby cat in our neighbourhood. So, I took her in, to the excited and curious exclamations of my sons. She shivered nervously in my hands, trying to peck me, but all the while cheeping plaintively, maybe for her parents. Or maybe she was hungry. We tried giving her some bread, but she refused. A visit to the vet proved a boon.

“It is just a baby, it cannot eat bread at this stage. It eats food regurgitated by its parents,” said the vet, looking at the baby pigeon that was trying to squirm out of his gentle grasp. So what on earth was one to do? I tried to picture myself doing the same, but it was beyond me.

“You have to boil bajra or some whole grain, crush it and push it down the beak, like its parents would do,” said the vet helpfully, giving me a bottle of vitamins to add to the food that would, he added, make it stronger and able to fly away soon.

Boiling bajra and crushing it was easy enough, but how was one to push the food down a beak that stubbornly refused to open. I managed that after a few messy starts. One hand round the head, with the thumb and forefinger prising open the beak, and with the other hand I would push in the crushed bajra. Once she got the taste of it, she ate it readily enough. A large cardboard box was her home, with the flaps closed with a piece of cloth at night.

We christened her Chu-Chu from the constant cheeping she would keep up as soon as she saw us. I presumed Chu-Chu to be a ’she’, and referred to her accordingly, ignoring protests from the kids who insisted, “She could be a he, you never know”.

Being a pigeon, she was like her ilk, extremely messy. Every morning the newspaper at the bottom of her box would be liberally spattered with droppings and had to be changed. She soon got used to us handling her.

My elder son, who is 16, started keeping her on his shoulder or head, and Chu-Chu would sit taking in the sights as he went from room to room or stood near the open door.

Within a few days she got stronger, I could make out from the way she would vigorously push her wings, trying to squirm out of my hand because she knew I would be pushing in the vitamin drops down her throat. She was now pecking the boiled bajra (millet) on her own too, which was a relief, I guess, for both of us.

She would flap out of her dabba, as we called the box, every morning and go exploring, hiding behind the cupboard or under the table till we found her. After some time, she started flying and sitting on the clothesline in the enclosed lobby where her box was kept. Her wings were getting stronger too.

Though she would swoop around the house, she never showed an inclination to fly away. My son would take her outside to the garden and keep her on his hand, she would sit quietly, moving her head from side to side as she looked around, but making no move to fly. And while he studied, he kept her on his shoulder. She sat willingly, dozing off most times. My younger son, who just turned 11, and was initially scared of handling her, had by now picked up the courage to hold her. His favourite pastime when back from school was to put Chu-Chu on his shoulder. He had got a pet, which he always wanted and was elated.

After about two weeks I tried giving her bajra without boiling, and she ate it with relish. She was growing up. Her eyes too had started becoming lighter from the dark grey it was when we found her. We could see a faint orange inside her irises. Adult birds have red eyes.

Soon, Chu-Chu started preening, like all birds do, but pigeons in particular spend a lot of time at it. She would sit on the clothesline and preen, elongating her neck and turning it into a U as she pecked at the fluff in her neck, stomach, wings and then turn her tail into a fan as she cleaned each feather. She took to preening herself while sitting on my son’s shoulder and once in a while tried to companionably peck gently at his sideburns and ears.

It was now early March, and the weather was warm. We needed to put the fans on but with a bird flapping around, it was the last thing we could afford to do.

“Be prepared to spend a lot on air conditioners this summer,” my elder son told me gleefully one afternoon. “Why on earth?” I asked.

“Well, you know Chu-Chu is there and we cannot have her getting killed with the fans whirring,” he explained.

Chu-Chu was by now getting increasingly frisky. She would fly wherever she wanted. The kitchen exhaust fan was her especially favourite spot and I had stopped putting it on for fear of her getting killed.

One day she started sitting on a ceiling fan, and that got me thinking. What if she got killed by us accidentally? Maybe it was time we let her out.

“Are you sure?” my elder son asked, “Isn’t she too small?” “She has to go some day, why not now,” I said.

We took her out, but she just looked around and made no move to fly. A gentle shake of the hand got her fluttering to the neighbour’s boundary wall and, after a second, she flew upwards where there were more pigeons. She merged with the crowd of pigeons, joining them as they circled around in the sky. Soon she was part of that big grey crowd of birds and we couldn’t spot her.

The downcast faces of my children gave away how upset they were to have lost a pet. But maybe Chu-Chu is happier among her own kind.

(Ranjana Narayan is a journalist with IANS. She can be contacted at

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