Wood pigeon chimney rescue …

Monday 19 November 2012

I’ve written many times over the years about birds from the garden finding their way into the house, but only one incident involved the rescue of a bird from behind a fireplace. On that occasion it was a first floor fireplace, blocked only by a piece of board, and it was easy enough to remove the board and release the bird – a young starling, which then headed back out into the world via the already prepared exit of an open window.

Rather more complicated when I heard fluttering noises from a downstairs fireplace, on Saturday evening. The back room hasn’t been used much recently, and the fireplace there has an old gas fire – the wall-mounted kind – in front of it. Rather similar to this example I found on the web, which also involved a wood pigeon rescue.

Obviously I panicked a bit, and went off to tell Him Indoors that there was a bird trapped in the fireplace. Just the kind of thing you want to deal with on a Saturday evening, isn’t it. At first it looked like a ‘nothing can be done without vast expense’ situation. But I know it’s possible to turn off the gas to a property, and I also remembered that years ago a gas engineer who’d serviced our appliances had checked that fireplace opening, and taken the fire off without too much effort.

We also realised that the sound we’d heard last weekend, sounding like a bit of old mortar falling down the chimney, may be connected to this current situation, and that if it was, the bird had been down there for almost seven days. So we both felt a bit bad that we hadn’t realised earlier.

The gas fire isn’t used anymore and needs removing at some point by a qualified professional. The backing isn’t a fixed metal plate (as in the example on the link above), but a board sealed around the edges with some type of industrial-grade ‘gaffer tape’.

So all things considered, it seemed worth attempting the rescue. We turned off the gas. We double-checked the gas was turned off. Carefully the fire was pulled forward, as far as it would go, and the tape removed from one side of the board behind it. Not a big enough gap to get a bird through. I shone a torch in, saw a bright eye and the white neck feathers. A wood pigeon. A big bird. And not, apparently, at death’s door, but looking quite alert.

Him Indoors said he’d have to undo the screws attaching the fire’s metal pipe to the floor, and pull it out completely. With the gas off this seemed reasonably safe, but still a bit scary. It was done. The fire was moved out of the way. The tall wicker cat basket I have ready for bird rescue situations was standing nearby, with a cover to go over it. With the board ready to be lifted out, I put gloves on, and reached in, making sure I got a fairly firm grasp around the body so those big powerful wings couldn’t be raised and damaged. I thought it might be half-starved, and quiet, but it surprised me by fighting back, and I let go and had to chase it as it went around the room at floor level.

Got it in the basket, secured. Covered with a light-blocking blanket.

My partner would I think have immediately released it out of the window, if he’d not had soppy old me around. Or you could say ‘well-informed me’, depending on your perspective. If it had been released out of the window it would have fallen to the ground and stayed there overnight until a cat got it and mauled it to death. Which seems a bit unfair if the resilient thing had indeed managed to survive being stuck in a chimney for days.

And then of course we had to reconnect the fire’s gas pipe, and get it back into its previous position, and turn the gas back on. (If we were going to use the fire I think I would have got a professional in to check it first.)

Release attempt

So the next morning, finding it still alive, I opened the cat basket door by an open window, and off it went. Not soaring up into the sky as it would do had this been a scene from a film, but plummeting clumsily to the ground. My heart sank as it sank. I’ve looked after unwell pigeons a couple of times before, in the past, and there wasn’t a happy ending on either occasion.

The bird stayed in the garden all day, and so did I for much of it, doing various jobs, keeping an eye on it from the window when I was inside. I put bird seed in front of it, and water. I saw it eating, which seemed like a hopeful sign. But there were no other hopeful signs. In the end, because so many young bird-killing cats visit our garden, I had to recapture it and put it back in the cat basket.

Though it looks quite chubby, its breast bone is very prominent, I noticed when picking it up. So perhaps it is half-starved, perhaps it was in the fireplace for almost seven days – though I still can’t believe it could live that long without food and water. Anyway, it’s not well. In that it can’t fly, and that’s what birds do. And the pigeons are such strong fliers, when well.

They also suffer from debilitating and often fatal diseases, as I know from the previous pigeon occupant of that basket. (Yes, I did clean it thoroughly in between times.)

I don’t know how long to give this bird before I take it to the vet to be put to sleep. Pigeons are considered vermin and thought not worthy of treatment.

We all have different ideas on what creatures are ‘worth’ saving, on how much intervention is reasonable, on how much time and effort we’d put into rehabilitation of a particular creature.

I’m going to try to get some advice from the lovely people at Pigeon Talk (www.pigeons.biz), who helped so much last time. I might also see if there’s anyone better qualified locally who could do the rehab bit.

Here is the feisty but non-flying pigeon. Who I think I might call ‘Winehouse’, after the late great Amy. I thought about her song while chasing this one round the garden – it clearly didn’t want to go to ‘Rehab’ either.


There was a fairly positive end to this story, as far as I could tell. The woodpigeon tried to fly on the Wednesday, got a bit of lift but not enough to get to a high enough point in the garden, so I recaptured it and continued to house it in the cat basket and feed it for a couple more days. On Friday I put the basket, open, by an open window, and when it flew it gained enough height to end up safely on top of the ivy-covered garden wall. Where it sat for a while, and when I next looked it was gone. I checked in the garden and the street to see if it had ended up back on the ground, but no trace. I hope it flew strongly away and is still flying, after its many days down our chimney.

The old unused gas fire has since been removed by a professional, and the chimney is now open should another bird fall down it, though we also intend to get someone to put bird-deterrent caps on our chimney pots.

Wood pigeon amongst garden plants

Green leaf