When Pigeons Break the Pact

By Keith Kloor | July 11, 2014 4:07 pm

Birds lead hazardous lives. They are preyed on by cats. They fly into tall buildings, glass windows, airplanes, cell towers, and wind turbines. All of this happens mostly out of our sight. In New York City, where I live, people go about their business while pigeons flutter all around us, sometimes annoyingly, but largely ignored.

One of the great urban mysteries is how all these pigeons dodge cars at the last second. Except when they break the pact.

Last night, while playing with my 7 year-old son in our local school yard, the pigeons seemed unusually active. It was around 7pm. I watched several chase after each other. Maybe they were playing, too.

I went back to pitching the soccer ball to my son, who wanted to practice his kick ball game. He kicked a line drive to my left that I almost snared. I broke the ball’s momentum and it dribbled a few feet from me. I casually strolled over to snag it. As I bent down, a baseball ripped into the back of my right calf. At least that’s what I thought it was. But when I looked around the only other kids in the school yard were way over on the other side, playing soccer, oblivious to my pain.

I could barely stand up. I looked all around for the perp who I was sure whizzed a rock in my direction. Again, nobody in sight.

Then I saw the gray, brownish lump pick itself up off the ground a few feet from me, before flitting away.

A few hours later, I had to explain this to emergency room doctors, who looked at me with quizzical amusement. “Never heard that before,” one told me. She diagnosed my injury as a partially torn tendon. I got fitted with a splint and temporary cast, was handed a pair of crutches and sent home.

My pigeon-induced injury has elicited many chuckles from friends and family today. Meanwhile, I saw an orthopedic specialist who said my tendon is fine. But the bird that collided with my calf at high speed (it must have!) left a deep, debilitating bruise in the muscle, perhaps a tear, the orthopedist said. The MRI on Monday will say for sure, he thinks. Meanwhile, I can barely move. I have an oversized walking boot for when I leave the couch.

I feel bad that I won’t be playing kickball with my son for at least  a few weeks, likely more. I’ll also try not to feel stupid as I explain the injury to everyone who looks at my walking boot. But I’ll suck it up and maybe embrace the quirkiness of the injury.

As the Rolling Stones said,

To live in this town you must be tough, tough, tough, tough, tough!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: birds
  • JH

    The pigeon probably has a concussion and a broken bill. It probably can’t see straight enough to find food, but if it could find food, it probably can’t eat because of it’s broken bill. It will die of starvation, leaving it’s little pigeonlets to learn how to play pigeon kick ball from some other pigeon dad. Just proves humans are a blight on the face of the planet – that’s why we need to eat organic food and stop keystone.

  • J M

    That pigeon probably felt like this moose here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GY8YBF8dHQo

  • mem_somerville

    No, I’m not giggling. Really.

    But if I were you, I’d change the word “pigeon” to “peregrine” in all future versions of this story.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      My wife doesn’t think it was a pigeon, but rather another deadly avian creature. Maybe one of those “songbirdy types,” she said.

      Giggle all you want. That’s why I wrote about it. Nobody hears this story without laughing.

  • Steve Crook

    A few years back we had a series of birds fly into an office window because at dusk the sun was shone through to it from the other side of the building.

    Over a couple of days there were various victims including an owl and a couple of pigeons. No fatalities, but each bird left an imprint of itself on the glass. Pigeons must be particularly greasy or fly particularly fast because their imprints were super high res including feather, eye and beak detail with what I can only describe as a ‘surprised’ expression on their faces.

  • Matt B

    I was hiking in the Grand Canyon and as my group trudged up to the South Rim we saw the mules coming by carting folks to the bottom, and when the idea of taking one up was floated one wag said “Nah knowing my luck I would get a suicidal mule”….

    So who knows? A kamikaze pigeon from the East Village?

  • First Officer

    In NYC? They’re not pigeons! But boids ! Doity, filthy, disgustin’ boids !

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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