I ate dinner with some friends recently. After dinner, we launched into prayer and a short Bible study. Toward the end, Joe told us a story.
Joe works as an equipment tech at a local health club. After working a full day, he left the club to head home. As he approached his van, a group of pigeons scattered. He reached into the van to put his bag in on the passenger side when he felt a soft tapping at his foot and ankle. He looked down and saw a pigeon, apparently one of the group that had scattered as he approached. But this one had stayed put and was pecking at Joe’s shoe. Joe stepped back, and the pigeon came out from underneath the van, looking up at him. As bizarre as it seemed, Joe was sure the bird was asking for his help. It stayed right underfoot with its mouth open, looking up at him. Joe took a closer look and saw a gold thumb tack in its mouth. The point of the tack had gone into the creature’s tongue, evidently when the bird was foraging for food in the parking lot. Now here it was, pecking at his ankle.
The whole thing almost didn’t happen. Joe’s first thought had been to shoo the bird away. It was, after all, a wild animal. The bird’s request for help didn’t compute. It only made sense because it didn’t make sense: here was a bird that not only wasn’t afraid of him (Joe is a big guy), it was behaving oddly. When is the last time a bird came up uninvited and pecked your shoe?
Joe grabbed a pair of needle-nosed pliers from his van, then gathered up the pigeon (which fussed a bit, but not much) and tucked it under his arm. Once under his arm, the bird looked up at him with its mouth open. Joe worked the pliers underneath the tack, then began to wiggle the tack back and forth as he pulled in an upward motion. A bird’s tongue isn’t soft and moist like a human’s. There was a good deal of resistance, and the pigeon fussed as he wiggled the pliers. The procedure had to have caused the bird a great deal of pain, but it stayed put. Soon the tack loosened enough so he could pull it clear out.
Joe set the bird on the ground, whereupon it shook its head a few times, as though making sure the tack was completely gone. Then it just walked away. Joe turned to watch where it went and saw the rest of the pigeons gathered together under a tree. They seemed to have been watching the whole thing.
Joe left then, but the next day he showed up for work and saw the pigeons again. Among them was the bird he had helped. It came to within a few feet of him and more or less stayed in his orbit while he locked up his van to go into the health club. It might have been wishful thinking, but the bird seemed to be saying “thank you.”
This photo (above) is the one Joe took immediately after taking the tack out of the bird’s mouth. He consulted the photo when the creature came back, wanting to make sure it was the same bird. It was identical, and it wasn’t much of a stretch to think it was acknowledging what he had done for it.
The story is a reminder of God’s created order, which made humans caretakers of the animals:
God blessed [Mankind] and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” -Genesis 1:28
People living in this fallen age are apt to think of “rule” as a harsh, domineering word. But authority is about responsibility, not power. God, being pure, intended that we use our authority to bless and care for the planet, including the animals. In spite of all the ways things have gotten turned upside down, animals have a trace remembrance of how things are supposed to be. It just takes extreme circumstances to bring it out. Like having a tack in your tongue that you can’t get rid of.
Thank you, Joe, for sharing your story. After hearing it, I’m thinking of taking a trip to the zoo. Maybe you and the Null clan would like to come. We can pack a lunch and make a day of it.