The girls were sad… especially the little one. In the twenty minutes or so since they’d met (and named) Guster they’d grown quite attached to him.
When we found him Guster was in pretty bad shape. He was flapping about in the shallows of an inlet just off the path at Rineen Woods near Unionhall. He’d been attacked by a predator, probably a fox, and had feathers missing from his back and shoulders to reveal bare skin and some nasty looking puncture wounds. Floundering helplessly in the water, struggling to keep his head above the surface, he was a forlorn sight.
I sized up the situation as the girls pleaded with me to save him.
By the look of him I could tell this was a bird on borrowed time regardless of what I did. But the girls can be pretty persuasive, and he looked so pitiful in his struggling that I figured the least I could save him from drowning. Gingerly I climbed down the almost vertical bank to the waterfront. Grabbing a dislodged branch I made my way out onto a narrow rocky outcrop as the bird continued to flap, it’s struggles taking it further away from me.
After much faffing about, a wet foot, and a couple of hair-raising moments when I almost joined the pigeon in the drink, I finally managed to fish him out. He was still surprisingly perky, all things considered, and there were no broken bones, but a close up look at his wounds confirmed my worst fears. He wasn’t going to make it.
I climbed back up the vertical bank. "Hello Guster," chorused three little voices as I reached the top, and in that moment Guster the wood pigeon became more than a soon-to-expire wildlife casualty; he became one of the family. I knew what was coming.
I was advocating a swift end to Guster’s suffering, but as usual I was outnumbered. In the face of tears, much vocal protestation and ludicrous ultimatums (like "if you kill him Daddy I think I might throw myself in the water, and I’ll never speak to you again!"), I ended up carrying Guster back towards the car and a trip to the nearest wildlife rescue centre. As I’d predicted Guster never made it. His valiant fight for life ended about twenty minutes later on the walk back to the car. The girls were gutted; I was relieved for the poor thing. "It’s better that he died by nature," proclaimed the little one earnestly between tears.
They insisted on bringing Guster home and giving him a proper burial… so an hour or so later we were ushered into the back garden. I dug a hole, placed Guster’s body, wrapped in newspaper, into it, and the girls said their goodbyes and pushed the earth over him. Guster the pigeon RIP. I was the only one who’d held Guster while he was alive, so nobody noticed that the newspaper-wrapped remains were considerably lighter than the living bird had been.
Later that evening, as I tucked into a delicious pigeon breast supper, I pondered the events of the day. Guster’s death hadn’t been in vain: it had reinforced a valuable lesson for the girls on nature, the circle of life, and the fact that Dad’s original option was, in fact, the best. It also provided me with a free meal. Well done Guster… I think that counts as a win-win!