Lake Oswego pigeon isn't like your other garden-variety birds
Soon after George Cahill awoke on that Saturday morning on April 21, he went outside to see his pet pigeon Nit Noy.
In the recorded history of man and animals, there may no greater love story of a man and a pigeon than Cahill and Nit, and as usual Cahill was going to check on his fine-feathered friend and break out some breakfast birdseed.
'I heard some faint cooing,' Cahill said. 'I thought, 'She must be far away.''
She wasn't. Cahill soon found Nit Noy lying on the ground right outside the door of his home near Blue Heron Canal in Lake Oswego. Nit Noy was barely alive after suffering a devastating attack by a hawk, and only Cahill's entry onto the scene had unknowingly frightened the hawk away and saved the pigeon's life.
'She was on the ground, all tore up,' Cahill said.
Her breast had been ripped open, because hawks go straight for the heart, and her left eye had been severely injured. Cahill rushed the bird to Bob Groves Lake Oswego Veterinary Clinic.
'I really didn't think Nit would live,' said Molly Morrell, Cahill's wife. 'I thought we were taking her in to be put down.'
The Good Samaritan
Two years ago, Cahill had just missed his airplane flight and was walking down a street in San Francisco when he noticed some people clustered around something. It was a baby pigeon sitting on a candybar wrapper.
'It had just fallen from its nest at a construction site and it was going to die,' Cahill said.
The normal reaction, by somebody less tender hearted, would have been to shrug his shoulders and keep on walking.
Instead, Cahill placed the tiny bird in a bag and walked away. Someone noticed.
'It was this real handsome black guy who was a preacher,' Cahill said. 'He chased me down and asked, 'What are you going to do with that bird?' I told him, 'I'm going to take it home to Portland.' He said, 'I'm going to put you in my sermon on Sunday.''
It is highly likely that the preacher not only made Cahill his sermon topic, he must have sent up a big prayer on his behalf with the idea in mind that 'His eye is on the sparrow.' By some miracle the baby pigeon made it through airport security, and its journey didn't stop until Cahill handed the bag to a shocked Molly.
'I looked in the bag and there was this bird,' Morrell said.
The pigeon received a name: Nit Noy, which is Taiwanese for 'Little Bit,' because it was so tiny it could fit into the palm of your hand. The next step was to save Nit's life.
'She wouldn't eat anything,' Cahill said. 'We were afraid we would have to force-feed her. But then we found out she liked peanut butter. Then we found out she went ballistic over Triscuits, and then she started eating seeds like other birds.
But Nit wasn't pegged as a pet just yet. Instead, Cahill and Morrell contacted the Audobon Society, only to find that Nit was a victim of foot prejudice. The society wouldn't take pigeons with pink feet.
However, Audobon did tell the couple how to prepare Nit for the regular world of pigeons. Feed her, teach her to fly (which is simpler than it sounds, since it involved tossing her up in the air until she could fly laterally) and having her find a flock.
'We did two out of the three,' Morrell said.
Public Pigeon No. 1
On March 27, 2006, the following item appeared on the police blotter of the Lake Oswego Review:
n 3/27 1:25 p.m. A friendly, hand-fed show pigeon showed up at a home on Cardinal Drive and tried to get into the house.
The beginning of a pigeon crime wave? Was this the Maltese Pigeon? No, it was just Nit being friendly.
Unfortunately, Nit Noy's friendliness is sometimes misunderstood. As some people in the neighborhood are jogging, biking or working in their yards, Nit likes to say hello by lightly skimming them on the head. Sometimes Nit even gets in their cars, ready to be a passenger.
This can be quite disconcerting, especially to people who have seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds, even though that movie involved about 10,000 birds, not one.
But really Nit Noy is about as frightening as a welcome wagon, and the neighbors of Cahill and Morrell are well aware of this. In fact, Nit is sort of the glue that keeps the neighborhood together.
'She goes to Westridge Elementary to visit the kids,' Cahill said. 'One time a couple of bikers came along and Nit flew between them until they got to Waluga Junior High. She loves cars. She gets in people's cars. She plays with Dominica's children across the street.'
One time Nit Noy went missing for three days. Cahill and Morrell were thinking that was it for Nit when they got an e-mail from Lake Oswego Corporation Water Quality about a 'persistent pigeon' that had boarded a debris skimmer on the canal. Employees kept trying to shoo it away, but it kept flying back and even tried to get into their car when they were leaving work.
The mystery bird was, of course, Nit, and she was rewarded for her persistence with, according to the LOC newsletter, 'a couple of nights stay in the LOC luxury suite, a nutria trap (our largest one of course) complete with water, bird seed and a jury-rigged wood perch.'
It amounted to a luxury vacation for a bird, and after the e-mail went out, neighbor and Nit fan Denny Hagemen even went to bring the errant pigeon back home, back to Nit's favorite place in the world - George's shoulder.
Pigeons come and go. Mostly they are known for what they do to statues and unwary people. Yet Little Nit is different. Why?
'She was imprinted with George at a very young age,' Morrell said. 'She grew up with us, not with birds.
'Everybody knows her. At first they're a little bit nervous when Nit lands on their shoulder or gets in their car. But then they love her.'
Nit even established a cordial, if not warm, relationship with Baker the cat, the other pet of Morrell and Cahill.
'Nit is too big for Baker to eat,' Morrell noted.
There was just one dark cloud in this pigeon paradise: Hawks. Nit was often a target of these flying predators, yet she skillfully learned how to avoid them, zigging when a hawk zagged.
'She had some very close calls,' Cahill said. 'But she was always able to outmanuever them.'
Until one Saturday morning.
A happy ending for George, Molly and Nit Noy
It looked like Nit Noy's remarkable story, certainly worthy of a Disney movie, had come to an end. Cahill and Morrell had no hope when they rushed the bird to Bob Groves clinic. Nit was in bad, bad shape.
'The hawk had pulled off the entire skin of Nit's chest wall and the muscles were all exposed,' said Dr. Meg Frey. 'She had multiple wounds everywhere, including her wings. But none of the wounds were organ related.'
'Dr. Frey felt Nit had a better chance of living than dying,' Morrell said.
Still, the bird was in shock. So Dr. Frey provided fluids, antibiotics, anti-inflamatories, cleaned up the wounds, and put in a few stitches. Fortunately, Nit was an excellent patient.
'She was so used to being with people,' Frey said. 'She wasn't stressed by our handling her.'
Nit Noy was proving to be one lucky bird. Lake Oswego happens to be the location of Avian Medical Center, the lone veterinary facility in the Northwest that specializes in the treatment of birds.
'Nit was here for quite a while,' said Dr. Marli Lintner, director of the center. 'She had a huge, huge defect in her breast muscle, and she was also hit on the head. She had some very intensive care.
'But pigeons are among the toughest birds we deal with. They can overcome some very bad injuries.'
Altogether, it cost nearly $1,000 to patch up Nit Noy.
Now, after two months, Nit is on the mend. She can again sit on Cahill's shoulder for hours at a time, lightly and lovingly pecking him on the ear. Sometimes she puts her whole head in his ear.
Of the love between the two, Morrell said, 'It's just bizarre.'
So, if Nit Noy can avoid future hawk attacks, it looks like she will have a very happy home with George and Molly for a long, long time.
'We've read that pigeons can live in captivity for 15 to 30 years,' Morrell said. 'My God, we'll have to put her in our will!'