The pigeon trembled as I removed it from my backpack. I held it firmly, feeling its heartbeat and panicked respiration pulse between my fingers. It kept its head tucked between the raised rims of its wings and I wondered for a moment how I was going to get to its neck. I carried it into my shower and stood gazing down at the brick sitting next to the drain, the cold steel of a long, plastic-handled carving knife resting upon it. Now or never.
Looking back it’s difficult to recall where the idea originated. We’d seen something about it on TV, and I learned somewhere long ago that pigeons were originally brought to the Americas as a food source. I’d even eaten one once while traveling in Vietnam, in a soup so inundated with chili it tasted of little else. So the subject had come up before in conservation, but never in the context of a serious pursuit. Until one afternoon, as we sat on the deck at El Chaman watching the pigeons, drinking beer, and eating pizza, Katie said something like “We should eat one of those fuckers.”
I’m sure she didn’t actually say that, or anything like that, but that’s how I remember it. I had a pretty good buzz going.
She probably said something more like “You know, they were brought here as a food bird.”
And I probably said something like “That’s true. They still eat ’em in France.”
“And they’re everywhere,” she said (maybe).
And I said “Yeah, they’re a bunch of mother fuckers,” (I was drunk remember.) And things progressed from there in an alcohol fueled downward spiral until we had hatched a plan to snare one in a sheet in a park somewhere and consume it. After that we couldn’t get off the subject.
Several months later things between Katie and I hit a few bumps and she was contemplating a return to school. It quickly became clear that our time together was coming to a close. We both wanted to share one last weird adventure, so we turned our eyes to the heavens and tuned our ears to the myriad flaps of filthy wings. Our fates, and the fate of one unlucky bird, seemed eerily pre-determined.
For our first attempt we traveled to El Tanque in Parque Union, where, during broad daylight, surrounded by dozens of witnesses, we attempted to catch a feral bird with a pillowcase.
It’s not quite as bad as it sounds.
We spread the pillowcase out on the grass and started hucking bread crumbs everywhere. The birds were wary, even timorous, but interested. I had rigged the two far corners of the pillowcase with long strings of bright-green, mint-flavored dental floss (floss being the strongest line immediately available to us at the time) and planned, when the opportunity presented itself, to pull the far side of the cloth over the bird and then pounce upon it and stuff the whole package into a waiting backpack.
Perhaps you’re thinking that I’m a moron, and perhaps you’re right, but that’s what we came up with.
Whether or not it would have worked I can’t say. When one of the cooing brood of feeding fowl did eventually wander into the sweet spot, I was unable to pull the trigger. I would like to say I was waiting for better looking quarry, or waiting for it to venture deeper into the fold, but the truth is I just froze up. Katie was taking pictures and laughing hysterically. “Now! Now!” she kept shouting. But I couldn’t do it. My arms kept twitching but then I would look up, see kids running nearby, or an old Mayan woman looking at me quizzically, and I wouldn’t be able to follow through. Eventually the bird wandered off. We sat for a while, Katie repeatedly asking me what the hell happened on THAT one, and tried to lure another meal into the trap. None dared.
Clearly, we needed a new plan.
The far more effective and embarrassingly obvious alternative was, is, and always shall be, a simple foot snare.
Katie somehow exhumed from the back of her mind the memory of a length of fishing line I had for some reason picked up in Belize almost a year before and stuffed into the pocket of a pair of shorts I hadn’t worn since. I dug out the shorts and there, still in the left pocket, found six feet of 10 pound test. Tomorrow things would end differently.
The following day a stroke of luck and a wrong turn led us to new and prosperous hunting grounds. Between Calle San Francisco and 2nd Avenida on 8th Calle there is a place were pigeons roost while not defiling various parks with their feces. Here we found ample prey and few, if any, witnesses. I had my snare, I had my bread crumbs, I had my back pack. I was ready.
Katie set up across the street with the camera so as not to spook any game. I sat near the roof and telephone line where the majority of the pigeons were clustered and slowly laid out the fishing line, an open slip knot at one end, the other tied securely to my finger. Then I tossed out the bait. At first only one pigeon took notice, but presently another arrived, and then, in a sudden chorus of flaps, several dozen descended upon the area made hazardous by my cunning.
I pulled the line once and caught nothing. The birds seemed unperturbed. I tossed the trap back out and waited. Another stepped in, a quick jerk… and nothing. Still they feasted unconcernedly on crumbs. I tossed the trap again. This time I merely waited. Suddenly there was a single panicked flap and the entire flock burst up from the ground; A persistent tugging on my finger signaled success. There, on the end of the line, struggled a flapping blur of black and white, trying repeatedly to drag itself aloft, unable to elude its tether. I quickly pulled it to me, folded in its wings and placed it in the bottom of the back pack. Then, moving carefully, I donned the pack and we started walking home.
So now we had a pigeon. Or more specifically, I had a pigeon, as Katie, who refused to participate in the slaughter, was standing outside with her fingers in her ears. I placed the bird on the floor of the shower, holding its body in one hand and gently stretching its neck out with the other. I pinned its neck to the brick and then reached for the knife, pressing it against the neck just forcefully enough to impede any movement. It didn’t do much, just looked at me with quick flickering eyes the color of traffic cones. I brought my free hand up, and with another glance into its pumpkin eye, drove the heel of my free hand against the back of the knife.
I felt the neck break and the wings began flapping wildly. I knew I had killed it, but I wanted to be sure. I brought my hand down once more and blood spurted out across the brick and onto the floor of the shower. One more hit, and head and body were forever divorced.
I held the still flapping body upside down in one hand to let the blood drain and watched as the pupil on the one eye still visible to me swiveled back and forth between my face and its own struggling corpse. This went on for some time. When all movement had ceased I kneeled for a few seconds and surveyed the scene. I could feel the masculine pride of antiquity rising up within me to commingle with my 21st century candy-assed guilt. Then I hung the body up by the line still conveniently looped around its ankle, and went down to the tienda for a beer.
Katie boiled some water and we took it up onto the roof. There we dunked the bird to loosen the feathers and I plucked while she held a garbage bag open. Then we had another beer. Then I cut out the neck and the ass and hollowed the thing out. I thought I was almost done but the lungs (I think) really snuck up on me. I scraped them out with a spoon handle, then we had another beer.
Katie stuffed it with herbs (it was a little bigger than a baseball at this point) covered it with bacon and tossed it in the oven. When it came out it looked like food. The meat was very dark and kind of gamey, but not at all bad. It was a little dry, due mostly to our hypothesis that street pigeon is very likely swimming with disease and we should probably cook the shit out of it.
Overall I would give it a five.
Kevin Petrie lives and works in Antigua. He loves animals, particularly birds, and he thanks the Great Spirit for giving him the strength of the Pigeon Heart, though he does wish it came along with the ability to fly.