Monday, December 10, 2012
Eugene rolls up a desk chair and sets a roll of toilet paper on the glass-topped coffee table. You never know when or where Troy, Nini and Lucky are going to let one fly.
Pigeon poop, Eugene explains, isn't the squishy stuff you see smeared on car windshields. No, if you feed the birds the proper food, pigeon seed, the poop pops out like plump raisins.
There's always a lot of it. "It's easy to pick up," Eugene says.
This is important shit to know because Eugene and Kaori are housing two dozen rescue pigeons in their one-bedroom apartment. Troy, Nini and Lucky, who are their pets, are the only ones allowed free flight. The others are in cages or carrying cases and will be released once they are well enough to wing it.
"People think pigeons are rats with wings, but they are charming creatures," says Eugene in all seriousness. "Each one has its own character."
It's people, not pigeons, who have given the birds a bad rap, Kaori adds. "The birds are the innocent ones," she says. "People treat them badly and harm them without even knowing it."
Something as insignificant as a piece of string or a strand of hair can cripple pigeons when it gets tangled in their webbed feet.
Troy, a blue bar, has a crushed right wing so he can't fly long distances; Nini, a grizzle, has been with them since she was a baby and doesn't know how to survive in the wild; and Lucky, a checker, has neurological problems -- watch her long enough and she'll start twisting her head like a corkscrew for no reason. That's why Eugene and Kaori are keeping them.
Something stirs the trio, and they take a swift swoop, fluttering with all their might. If anyone ever films a sequel to Hitchcock's The Birds, these guys should get starring roles.
Eugene, thin and tall, and Kaori, petite and pretty, remain unflappable during this spontaneous flight.
The 36-year-old Eugene, who was born in Chicago to Japanese parents, has lived all over the world.
Kaori, 37, is a native of Japan. They met at Boston University, where they earned degrees in international relations. After they married, they moved to Astoria, where they make their living as stay-at-home freelance translators.
They never paid much attention to pigeons until a couple set up housekeeping in their neighbor's air conditioner.
"It looked so beautiful," Eugene says. "The male brought the branches, and the female made the nest."
They met their first injured pigeon three years ago. It had taken refuge under a food-vendor's cart, and they decided to take it home. For care instructions, they sought help from the Wild Bird Fund, but the bird didn't make it.
"It was very sad," Kaori says. "We buried it in Astoria Park under a small tree." Soon, they were picking up other pigeons.
"It started as a hobby," Eugene says, adding that they recently became New York State licensed wildlife rehabilitators. "But it became a mission for us." Of course, there were adjustments that had to be made. The apartment had to be pigeon-proofed. They removed the sharp objects, books, decorative items and even the ceiling lights and their bulbs.
The sick birds are quarantined in the bedroom, so Eugene and Kaori sleep on a futon in the living room. It doesn't seem to bother them. And they had to change their schedules. They get up to the sound of coos at 5:30 a.m. By the time they feed the flock, change the newspaper carpets in the cages, dole out medications and do rehab on little limbs and wings, it's close to 8. "Some of the birds can't eat on their own," Kaori says. "And the babies need food every three to four hours."
In between work projects, they pick up poop and clean the apartment, which is kept operating-room clean. By 10 p.m., they are more than ready to head to their futon.
"We don't go out much, and we have no regrets," Eugene says, adding that they've never added up the costs of the care. "This is our only entertainment and pleasure."
Eugene and Kaori usually keep 10 pigeons, so with 24, it's getting a little crowded. They dream of the day when they can give the birds more wing room. They'd like to build a bird sanctuary in Astoria.
"We're going to keep going," Eugene says. "We want to save as many as possible."
Troy, Nini and Lucky stare at him approvingly from their living room perches.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Featuring Colonel Clifford A. Poutre, Chief Pigeoneer, U. S. Army Signal Corps Pigeon Service
"The Pigeoneers" is an homage to the bravery of homing pigeons who saved thousands of lives in combat in the Great World Wars. Their achievements embodied the attributes of service, endurance, loyalty and supreme courage. Here, their memory is evoked by Colonel Clifford A. Poutre, Chief Pigeoneer, U. S. Army Signal Corps Pigeon Service, 1936-1943. Poutre enlisted as a Private in 1929, soon after, became a Pigeoneer stationed at the 11th Signal Company, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii until 1936In this debut film, director Alessandro Croseri delivers a stunningly beautiful ode to combat pigeons and their pigeoneers. The documentary follows Col. Clifford Poutre at age 103 during the final year of his life and examines his innovations in the training of homing pigeons for combat missions during World War II.
Drawing on a rich array of archival footage, the film tells the story of Poutre's thirty-one years of military service as former Chief Pigeoneer of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, his successful rejection of "starvation" methods of training in favor of a system defined by kindness and care, his pigeons' remarkable feats both in combat and in civilian races, and his notable friendships with the likes of Nikola Tesla, himself an impassioned pigeon handler in the later years of his life.
Through a collection of intimate interviews and black and white photography set to the nostalgic tunes of Glenn Miller, The Pigeoneers serves up a one-of-a-kind tribute and heartfelt exploration of the complex, interdependent relationships between humans and the birds we so often overlook.
The Pigeoneers film premier will be at Cinema Village.
Opening on Friday, June 8, 2012
Ending on Thursday, June 14, 2012.
Cinema Village Box Office
22 East 12th Street (between University Place and Fifth Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 924 3362