I present to you my photograph of my New Leaf Journal colleague, Victor V. Gurbo, holding a malcontent Brooklyn, New York City pigeon for a photo.
You might be wondering why Victor, a Brooklyn-based folk musician and front-man for Victor V. Gurbo & Co, a luthier, and a sometimes–writer is sitting on a Brooklyn park bench holding a pigeon. Moreover, you may also be wondering why Victor is holding a nail clipper in his other hand. Finally, some might ask why I was there to photograph all of this.
Fear not. An explanation is forthcoming. I present the story of the second time I witnessed Victor rescue a Brooklyn pigeon in distress (we will cover the first incident as well).
1. Victor V. Gurbo encounters a lost pigeon
I was meeting Victor around Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza on Thursday, January 26, 2023. Cadman Plaza, as I have previously documented in these pages, is a popular location for local pigeons. Before I could meet Victor, I received the following text message at 1:24 PM:
Pigeon needs help across from city bank.Victor V. Gurbo
That prompted me to send the following messages:
NAF (1:24): What happened?
NAF (1:27): Fate forced you through the wrong [subway] exit.
NAF (1:27): Save that pigeon!
I then offered a peculiar piece of advice.
NAF (1:28): I think throwing your hat will do it.
Why would someone throw a hat at a pigeon in distress. That too ties to a pigeon rescue story, but let us focus on the 2023 story first. Victor, who had been preoccupied, responded to my messages:
VVG (1:28): Has stuff stuck on its foot
VVG (1:28): I’m stalking it
This was clearly a serious situation, so I did what any gentleman would do:
NAF (1:28): Let me know if you need help.
Victor, who was preoccupied stalking the pigeon, took me up on the offer.
VVG (1:28): Could use your assistance if you’re up for an adventure, corner of Court and Montague
I set out from where I was at the time to meet Victor. While walking, Victor informed me that I was not moving fast enough for his liking:
VVG (1:36): I have a plan.
VVG (1:36): But you’re a part of this plan
VVG (1:37): SO SLOW
VVG (1:37): Aw darn I think I lost him
VVG (1:37): Walking toward the park
I missed the last message, which made locating Victor a bit difficult. But we found each other a few minutes later.
3. Victor fills me in on the situation
Victor had lost the pigeon by the time I met him. He was, by this time, wielding a brown paper bag with a croissant in it that he had purchased for $2.50 for the purpose of luring a single pigeon. Unfortunately for Victor, the pigeon had known better than to trust suspicious characters offering free food, and it successfully took the food while evading capture.
Victor explained to me that the pigeon was brown and it had what appeared to be a significant about of twine tied to one of its feet and looked very unhappy about the state of affairs. Although we did not have an ocular lock on the aggrieved rock dove, Victor had reason to believe that it had escaped to the nearby park that he had mentioned in his last text message. We proceeded in that direction.
I immediately saw a potential problem when we approached the park. To be sure, there were pigeons. Indeed, there were about 100 (if not more) pigeons in a very small area. Assuming arguendo that Victor’s mark was somewhere in the pigeon mob, how would we be able to find it? Even the fact that the pigeon was brown would not be especially helpful because there were a good number of brown and white pigeons in the flock to go with the more common gray and black varieties.
Victor and I stepped into the park and he put all of his bags down except for the one containing the croissant. We surveyed the land to try to spot Victor’s pigeon. It was our good fortune that Victor was not lying about the amount of twine tied to the poor pigeon’s foot. After about 30 seconds of assessing many pigeons, we identified one limping around while carrying about six inches of twine on one of its feet. I would have documented the twine but for the fact that Victor and I were more concerned with catching the bird than photographing it. I observed that the hobbled pigeon appeared to be compensating for its other foot as well as the one encumbered by twine. Victor agreed. Keep this in mind, for it will prove to be important.
Catching a pigeon is not easy. I have explained in these pages that these birds can fly great distances over oceans – pigeons are aware of their surroundings and quite speedy when they want to be. You need a lure. However, Victor’s previous attempts to close the gap on the entwined pigeon had been unsuccessful before. Would he succeed now with a pastry?
Victor began liberally throwing croissant pieces in the direction of the encumbered pigeon. However, one problem was that with about 100 pigeons, every croissant piece caused many pigeons to move. After the third or fourth piece, the wounded pigeon reacted, but it was understandably a bit slower than the other pigeons, some of whom quite literally clambered over the wounded pigeon to get to the food. Victor expressed hope that one of the other pigeons would step on the twine in just the right way to pull it off, but it became clear that the twine was tied to the pigeon fairly tightly. Victor the expressed concern that another pigeon would find itself tied to the twine. He was joking, but given the bad luck involved here – it may have been a valid concern.
After about 3 minutes of feeding pigeons, Victor finally had a straight line to the target – which was distracted by eating. I watched him sneak up on the pigeon slowly. Sure enough, the pigeon sensed a dangerous predator and took flight. However, the pigeon’s misfortune became Victor’s good fortune. He lunged when he saw the pigeon leave the ground and reached for something, anything.
Victor caught hold of the twine trailing off the pigeon’s foot.
I can only describe what ensued as invoking thoughts of a grizzled fisherman doing battle against a a swordfish. The pigeon, seeing its life flash before its eyes, flapped its wings as fast as it could. But Victor, who had worked long and hard (about 20-25 minutes) for this moment and invested greatly in it ($2.50 according to him) would not let go. While keeping hold of the twine, Victor used his other hand to grab the pigeon. He did not, however have a hold of its wings. This too would prove to be significant.
Victor brought the struggling pigeon to a nearby bench and sat down to examine it. He noted that the twine was actually tied around its legs and toes. After examining the situation closely while occasionally being “punched” in the face by the pigeon’s wing, he determined that it would have to be cut off.
(Fortunately, the twine not the the toes.)
Unfortunately, neither Victor nor I had scissors. But Victor was confident that there was a nail clipper in his bag. He asked me to retrieve it. I found the nail clipper in the fourth pocket I looked in.
Now it was my time to shine.
Victor decided that it would be best for me to cut the twine while he spent some time keeping the pigeon from flying away. I will note for the record that Victor’s fine motor skills are significantly better than mine. This is why he does stuff like play guitars, build guitars, and make umbrellas and I do none of those things. Moreover, missing the twine, which was tied to the pigeon’s foot, could have unfortunate consequences for the bird. However, I mustered my courage as Victor flipped the pigeon over so I had a good angle on its foot.
The twine was just thick enough to get a hold on without any inadvertent pigeon amputations, but not so thick as to resist being cut by a nail clipper. I was able to cut the twine in three places, and Victor fully removed the remnants of the twine from the pigeon.
Victor was initially prepared to release the pigeon and suggested that I ready my phone camera for a celebratory photo. However, he recalled that I had observed that the pigeon seemed to be troubled by its other foot while it was walking. Having undertaken a great effort to stalk and capture the pigeon, he figured that he may as well make sure that the pigeon had no other issues. Upon inspecting the other foot, Victor found, to his horror, that there was some sort of very fine string or organic matter tied around its toes that appeared to be cutting into the pigeon’s foot. Its toes looked a bit mangled, and Victor ventured that this could not be good for circulation.
Unable to release the pigeon in such a condition, Victor again flipped the bird over and began studying the situation.
Here, I will note that the pigeon had calmed down a little bit after we removed the twine. Sure, it still occasionally hit Victor in the face with its wing, but it was not flailing around like it had been when I was concerned that one of its sudden movements would cause me to remove one of its toes with the twine. Maybe the pigeon wore itself out. Maybe it determined that Victor was at least a little bit less dangerous than our local falcons. I know not the reason – but the pigeon’s increased cooperation was welcome.
Victor showed me the string around the pigeon’s foot and asked me if I could cut it. However, unlike the twine, there was nothing I could do with the nail clippers. The fine thread – or whatever it was – was digging into the pigeon’s skin. There was nothing for me to clip without stabbing the pigeon.
Victor agreed, but since he had the pigeon in his grasp, he was still determined to do something. He took the nail clipper and began working on loosening the thread with his hands.
Over the course of about 10 minutes, Victor, working with his hands and a few clips of the clipper, managed to relieve the pigeon of all of the thread on its foot. He noted with some excitement that the pigeon “wiggled its toes” after the last of the thread came off. We had a few false starts where Victor thought he had all of the thread but then found more, but after a good deal of hard work, it was clear that all of the thread was gone. See Victor performing the final inspection:
Having gone through this great ordeal, we decided to document it for posterity. I posted the color version of the photo near the top, so here is a black and white photo of the same photo of Victor holding the pigeon he saved for the camera like a trophy a few seconds after he performed the final check:
Having subjected the poor bird to enough trauma (albeit for its own good), Victor released it. Perhaps surprisingly, it flew about 20 feet before landing in the park. While it still had a bit of a limp, it was walking quite a bit better than it was when Victor caught it, moving at close to the same speed of the other pigeons instead of limping on one foot while dragging 6 inches of twine with the other. Shortly after the pigeon landed, it flew away from the park with all of the remaining pigeons (the crowd had already thinned a bit once Victor stopped feeding them).
All jokes aside, we hope that the surely scarred-for-life bird will be able to live out a happy pigeon life without being literally tied down by twine on one foot and a lack of circulation in the other.
I can say confidently that most people would not have undertaken the time and expense (about $2.50) to capture and rescue a wounded pigeon that Victor did on the 26th. But what if I told you that this is not the first time I witnessed Victor save a pigeon?
About 9-10 years ago, Victor and I walked through a park in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Two women alerted us to the fact that there was a pigeon hanging upside down from a tree. Sure enough, there was a pigeon hanging upside down from a tree branch. It was flapping, trying to remedy the situation, but we could see that there was some sort of string tied to both of its legs, and it was this string that suspended the pigeon from the branch.
As soon as Victor and I took an interest in the situation, the women left, leaving us to consider how to get the pigeon down from the tree. Just as Victor was seeking expert advice on who to call, the pigeon, through its flailing, fell from the branch, fortunately sticking the landing because its wings were unencumbered. Of course, since the pigeon’s legs were still tied together, it could do little more on the ground than hop around.
We decided to try to capture the pigeon. However, despite the fact that this pigeon was more encumbered than the one we found in January 2023, it proved to be quite elusive. At one point, Victor took of his hat and threw it at the pigeon. I think his idea in the moment was that if the hat landed on the pigeon, the bird would be confined to the head-wear. However, whatever one may say about the wisdom of the spontaneous idea, Victor missed the pigeon with his hat. After a couple minutes of the two of us trying and failing to corner the pigeon, another gentleman entered the scene and helped. Three people could do what two people had failed to – we managed to corner and catch the pigeon.
Victor told me he had a utility knife in his bag. I retrieved the knife while Victor and the gentleman held the pigeon down to keep it from escaping. Then, Victor left the pigeon holding to the gentleman and used the knife to cut the string from the pigeon’s feet. Fortunately, it was much less tightly tied to the pigeon than what we encountered more recently, and the string came off without difficulty. They then set the pigeon, which was very eager to be anywhere but there, free (we hope that the pigeon ultimately appreciated our efforts to help it against its will).
The New Leaf Journal is a pigeon-friendly publication. However, while I have published many photos of pigeons, it is rare that I am part of the pigeon story. In some stories, I play the hero. Here, I was happy to play a small role in helping Victor heroically rescue two pigeons. While it would have been neat to have more pictures to share, our priorities were understandably on saving the malcontent birds from their life threatening impediments. If anything, I hope these stories inspire readers to keep an eye out for feathered friends in need and, where applicable, to be prepared to render aid – even over the objections of said feathered friends.
I tip my hat (or throw my hat) to (or at) Victor for a job (twice) well-done.