Christopher Benson, pigeon whisperer
Christopher Benson is unlike many New Yorkers in one big way: he likes pigeons.
In fact, he finds other people’s distate for pigeons “really bizarre.”
“The idea is that pigeons are garbage, you know?” he said. “I don’t know, the whole ‘flying rat’ thing.”
But Benson said that perception couldn’t be more wrong.
“They’re not dumb, by any means,” he said. “They’re really inquisitive. They have personalities. They’re sweet, they’re affectionate.”
Since rescuing his first bird — who he named Boy George before discovering it needed to be euthanized after its wing was almost completely torn off — Benson and his girlfriend have saved a total of seven injured pigeons.
He has taken two of them home to his Bushwick apartment.
The first one he found huddled on a ledge in Union Square. Benson took her to the Wild Bird Fund Center on the Upper West Side, where they gave him medicine to treat her lead poisoning. But, ultimately, she was too sick and died. He went back to the center.
“I think they expected me to walk away,” he recalled.
But Benson didn’t — at least not empty-handed. He left the center that day with a baby pigeon named Lopez, named for the person who rescued him. Lopez, who had no “butt feathers,” needed foster care until he could be released into the wild.
Benson said he keeps the bird in a dog carrier in front of his open window “so he can acclimate to the winter, because he’s going to be released and it’s going to be cold.” Lopez gets to wander around in the large loft bathroom for exercise.
Benson and Lopez have grown very close.
Lopez sneezed one night and, concerned that life in front of the open window had gotten to the little guy, Benson decided to sit in the bathroom with the bird and watch for any other signs that he might be sick. Benson said he sat watching the bird for 20 minutes before starting to nod off. He put Lopez’ cage on the floor and Lopez hopped right in. When Benson went to give him food and water in as well, Lopez bobbed his head at Benson’s retreating hand. Benson put his hand back in the cage, and Lopez nuzzled between his fingers.
“He actually started to preen me,” Benson said. “It was really cute.”
But Benson is looking forward to Lopez’s release into the wild — he said he anticipates his winged buddy will be set free in Central Park.
He worries a little about Lopez growing up without important survival skills, like dodging cars and knowing not to perch on the third rail on outdoor subway tracks.
But Benson’s cat appears to be lending a hand, or a paw, in that department. Intrigued by the feathered thing wandering around the bathroom, the cat has been swiping his paw under the door. Lopez has seemed equally intrigued, scampering up to the paw, but so far has successfully darted just out of reach every time.
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