Henry the Pigeon


Pigeons are a demonized bird. They are ubiquitous, messy, resistant to moving on, and noisy with their incessant cooing. Pigeons and farms go together. Places to roost and lay eggs are often widely available. They choose high spots, out of the reach of cats, rats, and people.

Lawn Griffiths, author of Batting Rocks over the Barn—An Iowa Farm Boy’s Odyssey, recalled how a pigeon came into his family’s life as a pet when Griffiths was a boy.

One fall day in the late 1950s, his first cousin, Butch Froning, discovered a baby pigeon, or squab, in a haymow of a barn on the Griffiths’ north farm. He reasoned it would die, so he took it to Griffiths’ mother, his Aunt Doris. The family decided to adopt it. They forced it to eat kernels of corn by putting them down his craw and probably some other things. At first, they used an eye dropper to get water down.

The named the squab Henry. It might have been because of the song, “Dance with Me, Henry,” because the bird swished around on the newspaper they lay down on the floor to catch any possible droppings.

Henry soon became a pet as his gray feathers emerged from pinfeathers. Totally trusting, Henry developed into a compliant pet. The family lovingly nicknamed him “Han-tee,” but they don’t remember why.

His home was a box on the back porch, until it got too cold in the fall and winter. Then, of all things, he was housed under the bottom drawer of their Hotpoint range. Henry quickly came to like that space and never fussed about being confined there. He crawled into it two or three times a day and settled in.

The family could put him outside on a railing where he did his bathroom duties. When he learned to fly, Henry would fly only to immediate posts, fences, or the top of the car. One time, he did not get his toes out in time, and several were sliced off when the car door was closed on them.

Henry was taught to sit on shoulders like a Captain Kidd parrot. Often, while patiently sitting outside on a railing, the pet would flit to the hat or onto the shoulder of a visitor—to his or her great surprise.

Cats that collected around the farmhouse door learned not to confront Henry, because he fiercely pecked at them and became a fixture on the scene. He was a homing pigeon in practice, though not one actually by breed.

One day, Henry laid an egg. To their astonishment, the Griffiths had a female pigeon. More eggs followed. She was very protective of her eggs, which, of course, were not fertilized.

The choice was made to not name the bird Henrietta.

Henry was a house pet for about three years. One day, she turned up missing while outside. Feathers and a carcass were found. Likely one of the cats got revenge.

Lawn Griffiths’s book, Batting Rocks over the Barn, details more of his experiences in his youth. Connect with him on his accounts on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

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