For the love of birds

A young pigeon flying into our sliding door unwittingly led me to rediscover the wonderful work staff at Cape Town’s World of Birds are doing 365 days a year.

Photo of parrots at the World of Birds taken by Philip MilneThe World of Birds (near Hout Bay) is not only Africa’s largest bird park with an amazing collection of over 3 000 indigenous and exotic birds (plus small animals such as deer, porcupines and monkeys), it also serves as a hospital, orphanage and breeding centre, caring for thousands of injured birds and animals every year.

It was, unfortunately, not the first time a pigeon crashed into our sliding door. The previous time it happened, the bird broke its neck and died soon after. My husband and I will never forget that moment – we could see the life disappearing from its eyes; it was very upsetting.

Scarlet ibis photographed by Philip Milne at the World of Birds in Cape Town.Anyway, on this occasion, our young pigeon survived the accident. At first, it sat stunned under the table on our stoep, not moving at all. We watched it anxiously through the sliding door, waiting for a sign of life. (Our dogs were blissfully unaware of all the action, taking a well-earned nap in our front garden after a lovely but strenuous mountain hike.)

Finally the pigeon started to move itself around but was unable to fly. It had injured its wing.

After a mini freak-out with my hubby on the other side of the sliding door (“it’s so hot outside”, “poor birdie”, “what are we going to do”, “how is it going to survive”, “it’s our duty to help”, “it’s a fighter”, “pick up the bird”, “no, you do it”, “put it in the shade”, “it needs water”, “what if”, “don’t wake up the dogs”, “the bricks must be so hot under its feet”, “please do something”), I went outside and guided the pigeon to a shady part of our garden where I also left some water.  (The nervous pigeon moved as fast as its little legs could carry it; I was unable to catch it!)

Young pigeonFeeling very pleased to have guided our little feathered friend to a shady spot in our garden, we had no idea what to do next. We can’t just leave her there? She only has an injured wing, surely someone can help her? (By this time, my husband had decided it’s a girl.)

I tried the SPCA’s number but the offices were closed, and I had no after-hours number. Enter Facebook. After posting a brief message on Facebook, asking for advice, my lovely friend, Carolyn (who has many feathered friends herself) suggested the World of Birds. Of course! Now WHY didn’t I think of that?

I phoned them immediately, and they kindly offered to help – all I needed to do, was bring the patient to them. It was 3pm in the afternoon, and they were closing at 5pm – still enough time to drive there from our home in Crawford, near Rondebosch.

I found an old shoebox, poked some holes in the lid and lined the bottom with a newspaper sheet (funnily enough, it was a Green Cross shoebox – very appropriate for this important mission).

Close-up of pigeon (Public Domain)

“Now you just have to catch her,” my hubby said. Easier said than done! Even though she couldn’t fly, she was very fast on her feet – a very spirited bird, this one! If it hadn’t had a heart attack of fear by this time, it would surely make it, I thought to myself.

After numerous attempts, I finally managed to fold my hands around her small body – I was so afraid of accidentally hurting her; she felt so light. I put her in the box and closed the lid. We were finally ready to go. (If we only had a siren on our car!)

We took the shortest route to Hout Bay (our new little friend and us enjoying air con all the way) and reached our destination 30 minutes later.

Owl photographed by Philip Milne at the World of Birds in Cape Town.After almost dropping the precious cargo at reception (how clumsy can one be!), I opened the box – holding my breath: please let the bird still be alive; I couldn’t cope otherwise. And, yes, our beautiful friend made it. After all the excitement and stress, she was now in good hands.

I had to fill out some hospital admission forms (yes, even birds need those), and marvelled at the receptionist’s account of all the other injured birds and small animals they’d already received that day: two baby birds, another pigeon, an injured porcupine, a tortoise, the list goes on. And all of this work is done so lovingly with very limited funding and no support whatsoever from any official or corporate structure.  Over the last 32 years, these unsung heroes have cared for over 30 – 40 000 birds and animals!

Please help the World of Birds to continue their amazing work by paying them a visit (the park makes for a great family outing), making a donation or becoming a member. They desperately need funding to keep the sanctuary and hospital open and running! Cape Town simply would not be the same without a World of Birds, and the thousands of birds and animals would have nowhere to go.

Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” We can be so very proud of the heroes at the World of Birds. Let’s keep this proud tradition going.

The World of Birds is situated in Valley Road, Hout Bay and open every day of the year. Contact World of Birds for more info.

(Pics of parrots, scarlet ibis and owl at World of Birds by Philip Milne, young pigeon by Kipciaan, Cape turtle-dove by Brian Ralphs and beautiful close-up of pigeon unknown/public domain.)

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