Giovanni Bucchi is a rare bird: a master furniture restorer whose clients, the Metropolitan Museum of Art among them, consider his dependable artistry to be peerless. But one morning at the end of February, Mr. Bucchi found himself transformed by a close encounter with the city’s most common bird species: the pigeon, of which there are an estimated 547,821,691 in New York City.
As he stepped off the elevator of the waterfront building in Red Hook, Brooklyn, that houses his studio and headed toward his second-floor atelier, Mr. Bucchi noticed a pigeon loitering in the hallway, near a 1950s-era couch. The bird had apparently flown in through an open window. “He was about three feet from me, then he proceeded straight toward me,” Mr. Bucchi recalls. At this point, many New Yorkers, put in mind of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, might turn away; not Mr. Bucchi, although he admits to being initially reluctant to offer help.
“It was a particular imposition that morning because I didn’t feel like dealing with anybody or anything – I was in a very foul mood,” recalls Mr. Bucchi, whose otherwise cheery disposition, charismatic Italian accent, and impressive decorative-arts scholarship are well-known to viewers of television’s Antiques Roadshow. “There I was, thinking about love and loss and… stuff,” he continues. “I was really inside my head, with no room to deal with anybody else.” Pretty soon, however, Mr. Bucchi’s mood shifted from foul to fowl. “This bird made eye contact, walked toward me, and sat down,” he marvels. “I’ve never seen a pigeon do that. That morning, I really was attuned to his suffering; I said, ‘You look worse than I do.’”
“I’m not a Lassie kind of guy,” confesses Mr. Bucchi, who, prior to taking this pigeon under his wing, had had only one childhood pet, a rat named Mousey; he had, however, rescued numerous fledgling sparrows that had fallen from their nests. “I talked to the pigeon and told him this was not a good day for me,” Mr. Bucchi says. “I didn’t know what to do with him, so I gave him some water and the sunflower seeds I use for my breakfast.”
An expert at locating imperfections in fine furniture, Mr. Bucchi was quick to observe that the pigeon appeared to be in ill health. “He was walking sideways – it was more like a crawl than a walk,” he says. Remembering that his client, the antiques dealer Carlton Hobbs, often helps rescue and foster birds in distress (his most recent charges were four ringneck doves found stranded in a Queens tree after being released, along with some 30 other birds, for a wedding ceremony), he called Mr. Hobbs for advice. After some coaching, Mr. Bucchi was able to secure the pigeon in a cardboard box until he could be safely transported to the non-profit Wild Bird Fund.
Gio the pigeon (Mr. Hobbs so named the bird in tribute to Mr. Bucchi) spent 18 days in the Wild Bird Fund’s care, during which time the bird submitted to a bath, to remove grease from his plumage, and the painstaking removal, with tweezers, of many strands of string that had wrapped around his feet with crippling tightness. At last, on a bright, balmy Sunday in late March, the bird was ready to be released in his old Red Hook haunt. “It’s phenomenal: He looks so sleek, like a playboy who’s had a shower after being in rehab,” Mr. Bucchi observed upon seeing his friend again. “He looks different from the other pigeons.”
Mr. Hobbs and Mr. Bucchi set the birdcage down by the pier, and no sooner was the latch off the door than Gio made a non-stop flight to a second-floor window. There, partially concealed by a black-painted shutter, could be witnessed vigorous evidence of a happy pigeon reunion, as two other birds welcomed Gio home. According to Rita McMahon of the Wild Bird Fund, this indicates that Gio was not a he but a she all along; had the bird been male, he would have swiftly evicted his competition. “The returning male is always the conqueror,” McMahon explains. What’s more, male pigeons can be polygamous: “If the male has enough seed, he can have two nests and two clutches, so this pigeon probably is a female whose mate had taken up with another female in her absence.”
Guest blogged by JULIA SZABO
P.S. Gio came in on the 1st of March. String had strangulated the tarsometatarsus of his left foot (think instep). Once the string and debris was removed there was no skin, just a broad bracelet of raw red tissue. Antibiotic cream was applied initially then successive courses of a hydrolysate collagen cream, that protects the wound while promoting granulation of new skin. The leg was cleaned every other day and new Collasate and bandages were applied. The bird was very healthy, and recovered quickly. He/she just had to wait until Carlton returned from his world travels to go back home. It is important to return them to where they were found because that is home base – where they have their mate or family and where they know how to find food. As you saw in the pictures it was a joyful family reunion. The repair/rehab took a little under two weeks and the bird was released on March 19th.