Pooperoni Peter

It was early June 2001 when Pooperoni Peter's life intersected with ours and in that brief encounter left us feeling enriched but saddened.

It all started on the morning of Tuesday 5th. We were still living in Manhattan's lower east side and Sherri was graciously going to drive me to work. As we crossed the car park Sherri was accosted by this nondescript little vagrant, chirping insistently, demanding to be fed. Since neither of us is at all equipped to service the demands of a fledgeling, we decided to leave him alone in the hope that his parents were still around somewhere and would fulfil their responsibilities.

Of course I was bothered by the incident all day and eventually left work early. Sure enough, when I got home, there was the bedraggled little bird badgering every human in the vicinity but getting nothing more than a few stares for his trouble.

I went upstairs to try to find something which might be attractive and nutritious to a small, orphaned bird. I figured he was probably an insect eater because having uninspiring brown plumage with a hint of green, it seemed likely he was a ground feeder. Pretty thin reasoning but then I know little enough about birds in general and nothing at all about North American birds. There was some cooked chicken in the 'fridge. It probably had some seasoning on it so I shredded a small quantity and teased it apart in a dish of water. Taking my improvised food tray downstairs again, it was easy enough to locate the hungry little mite; he was hopping around the car park uttering short high-pitched chirps about one second apart whenever a human came within sight. I offered my finger and he hopped onto it. I carried him to a park bench whereupon I was able to get him to eat wet, shredded chicken from a pair of tweezers. He made little gurgling noises as he swallowed and after a while became quiet. A few minutes later he began making "hungry chirps" again and after a second feeding hopped up onto my shoulder where he proceeded to investigate my ear. He stayed on my shoulder while I went upstairs and thought about how to manage looking after a small bird while having to go to work each day.

To me putting a bird in a cage is a bit like keeping a dog in an apartment - it may be cute for the human but is cruel and unnatural for the animal so I was prepared to do quite a bit of cleaning around the apartment. Fortunately PP was content to stay in the living room near the window so his deposits were confined to a small area, devoid of carpet. Nevertheless, the idea was not to keep him permanently; he should be returned to the wild as soon as possible.

Pooperoni Peter and friends

Pictures taken in Brooklyn, first weekend. No, I am not naked.

At the time of our encounter with Pooperoni Peter we were busy with the final stages of work on our new apartment in Brooklyn and our weekends were spent there. There was no difficulty in taking Peter with us; he would sit on my shoulder for the entire journey. One day he did flutter off into a hedge as we were getting out of the car but a couple of hours later he was pestering some other humans for food so he was easily enticed back to us.

Resting? Nesting?

Although Peter always sat on my shoulder, he
perferred a different perch on Sherri.

Over the next two weeks his ability to fly improved dramatically. One evening I had taken him downstairs and outside for feeding and after taking his fill, he flew off into a tree, out of sight. About an hour later I went downstairs again and sat on a bench. Just a few minutes later a small brown bird flew directly at me and settled on my shoulder again.

My biggest concern about releasing Peter was that he had not learned to fossick for food on his own. I would expect that to be a standard part of growing up with bird parents. I had been feeding Peter with some stuff that Sherri had bought from a Brooklyn pet shop; it had to be mixed with warm water and then left for a while. The end result was a thick, yellow paste that I would feed to Peter with a pair of tweezers. While this goo was undoubtedly more nutritious than wet, shredded chicken, the method of delivery hardly contributed to Peter's training in the art of survival in the wild. I tried getting up at dawn when his kin were out on the grass searching for breakfast but I could not induce Peter to join them.

One Sunday, after his second weekend in Brooklyn, I fed Peter his last meal of yellow goo. As soon as he had his fill, he flew off and we never saw him again. We were left with fond memories and an emptiness inside.

Lunch time

First weekend in Brooklyn, first feed of yellow goo.

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