Suttons Bay couple adopt pigeon as their pet

Brooke Kansier
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Suttons Bay – Bill and Cheri Buchbinder don’t have cats or dogs or rabbits.

Donald is recovering from an injury, possibly from a hawk attack.

They have Donald.

The gray and brown-speckled rock pigeon became a fan of the Buchbinders’ birdbath and feeder last May, and that fondness quickly spread to the Leelanau County couple themselves.

It may have been that birdseed that led to Donald’s first meeting with Bill Buchbinder.

The Michigan native found Donald, green feathers glinting, perched on the railing of his deck one spring afternoon.

“I’ve never seen a pigeon on my back deck before,” said Bill Buchbinder, owner of Blue Water Sail & Canvas. “So I say, ‘Hey, pigeon.’ And he looked at me and started cooing, like pigeons do, and following me around.”

Bill and Cheri Buchbinder with their pet pigeon, Donald, in their home in Traverse City. Bill and Donald struck up a friendship last spring.

Bill Buchbinder, intrigued, ventured into the garage for some loose sunflower seeds the couple kept for their birdfeeders.

“I come out and he flew over and landed on my head,” he said. “So he’s there, eating sunflower seeds, and he walks onto my shoulder and down my arm.”

Donald, named after Bill Buchbinder’s pigeon-raising father, found a home in the couple’s garage rafters and the Buchbinders’ days were brightened by their odd houseguest’s shenanigans.

“He’s like a dog – follows us everywhere we go,” Cheri said. “When I garden in the summer, I’d bend down to pull weeds and he’d land on my back. Then he’d sit on my hat.”

And Donald stuck around, even as the days grew shorter and reds and yellows overtook their tree-dotted neighborhood like wildfire. Bill Buchbinder asked around the neighborhood, but found no one missing an incredibly friendly pigeon.

“We’d leave the back door open and he’d come and go as he pleased,” said Bill Buchbinder.

The pigeon enjoyed, too, the birdseed and sunflower seeds left in the garage for him daily.

Donald likes to “wrestle” with Bill Buchbinder, Cheri Buchbinder said, pecking at his fingers.

He’s sweet to her, though.

“He’s real friendly to me, he lets me pet him. He talks a lot, coos,” she said. “But he absolutely adores my husband – he gets really excited if he hears his voice or footsteps.”

The couple grew accustomed to their feathered friend’s greetings. Until one October afternoon, when Donald didn’t provide his usual hello.

Instead, Cheri returned from work to find her dear friend limping and cooing in the driveway.

She scooped him up and rushed Donald to the Grand Traverse Veterinary Hospital and Dr. Marianne Jossens.

It earned a few odd looks.

“Most people just shoot ’em, use them for target practice. That’s what they said at the vet,” Cheri Buchbinder said. “I said, ‘He’s not a regular pigeon. He’s a pet pigeon.’”

Donald survived his encounter with another animal – the Buchbinders suspect it was a hawk or owl attack – with an injured wing, a broken leg and some missing tail feathers.

The family and Donald left with the pigeon sporting a carefully wrapped white cast. He’s recovered well in the weeks since, Cheri Buchbinder said.

“And he’s able to fly now – he wasn’t able to (at first),” Bill Buchbinder said.

“He learned to perch with one foot,” Cheri Buchbinder added.

Rock pigeons, or rock doves, are the most common species of the bird, and have a history of use as homing pigeons.

They’re found throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, and were introduced to the Americas centuries ago, where they’ve also become commonplace.

The Buchbinders don’t think Donald is a lost homing pigeon because, well, showing up at their home wouldn’t make him a very good one.

Donald instead proves to be a loving, if a bit odd, pet.

He returned to his old personality a few days after the ordeal, and lets the Buchbinders pet and handle him just like before.

He’s even back to wrestling with Bill Buchbinder.

“I’ll stick my hand in his cage and he just loves to peck my hand, so I let him do that and I’ll ruffle the feathers on his head,” Bill said. “I don’t think he and I are at odds. But that’s why I think he’s a male.”

“It’s more of a playtime,” Cheri Buchbinder added. “I think that’s the only reason he survived the hawk attack at all – he’s in good shape from his exercise with my husband.”

For now, Donald’s new home is a straw-floored cage in the Buchbinders’ basement – Cheri Buchbinder said he’ll remain safely indoors until spring. The couple let Donald out for a few hours each night, and he’s happy to again follow them around and test his wings.

The Buchbinders aren’t interested in risking another attack.

“I don’t know how to protect him from hawks – we’ll have to think about that in the spring,” Cheri Buchbinder said.