Doves coo from inside the garage door and pigeons (or rock doves, Columba livia) slip in and out under the three-inch opening. The pigeons circling the roof are chaotic and mesmerizing. With a whoosh they simultaneously land on the gutter and peer over the edge. They seem at home.
Nancy Bingham began rescuing pigeons 20 years ago, and they’re her children. She’s says they’re free to leave but are spoiled by good food and a bath, so they stay. She has pigeons over 15 years old, even though they usually live only five years in the wild.
“If you look in their eyes, eyes being the window to the soul, you see unconditional love,” Nancy says. “They bring me inner calm I’ve never found through any person.”
Nancy acknowledges being known as “the bird lady” in Columbia. Her veterinarian refers people to her when they find an injured pigeon.
“I go in the garage every day and hold them and love them. I love doves and could never be without them. They are the most peaceful birds on the face of the earth,” Nancy says.
In order to support herself and her animals — over 10 types of parrots, finches, doves, two dogs, a pot-bellied pig and 25 chinchillas — Nancy runs a pet-sitting business called For the Love of All God’s Creatures. She also works as a bus driver for First Student. People ask her how she tolerates the noise of driving a bus full of schoolchildren. She says she doesn’t mind. She’s used to blocking out the noise of pigeons and parrots.
“The doves coo all night long. I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me a bit,” Nancy says. “That’s why a busload of kids for five hours a day doesn’t bother me.”
And parrots are loud.
“It’s hysterical to listen to the parrots talk,” Nancy says. “The blue and gold macaw talks like me and cusses a lot.”
A green parrot, Keanu, says ‘Hello’ and ‘Pretty Bird,’ sings along to opera and can get overly aggressive. Cuddles is a little quieter but loves to dance. Each bird has a distinct personality, and Nancy adores every one.
She says parrots are just like children. They need affection and good food and can alternately act out or be sweet. Nancy spends part of her day preparing food for the parrots. She says they really like pizza, but she makes sure they eat a balanced diet and says they often eat better than she does. In the evening the parrots sleep on Nancy as she watches TV.
People often bring Nancy pigeons the city poisoned. She says poisoning nuisance pigeons is standard policy for many cities and she accepts it as the way things are. But if she can, she nurses any sick bird back to health. One patient was a pigeon who reminded Nancy of a little old man. She cared for him and he lived another three years, tottering around.
“He never lost his instinct,” Nancy says. “He would still try to mate but would fall over in the process. He was a very funny bird.”
Nancy enjoys watching the male pigeon mating ritual and laughs as they puff up and strut about. And she likes watching pigeons circle above her house because, in the sunlight, their colors make swirling, magical patterns.
“I’ve got some beautiful birds,” Nancy says, “including vibrantly colored Chinese pheasants. The pheasants I rescued from an exotic animal farm. They are now 15 years old. The amazing thing about these pheasants is that they eat meat. They will beat a mouse and eat it — it’s amazing to watch them fit it in their throats.”
The pheasants and morning doves are in enclosures for their own protection.
“I can’t leave the doves out. They’re domesticated and hawks would pick them up,” Nancy says. “But even so, one day I found a Red tail Hawk and two Goshawks in the garage picking off the pigeons one by one. My veterinarian couldn’t believe it because hawks don’t usually hunt in groups or enter enclosed spaces. But hawks know it’s a free dinner.”
Nancy has seen three of her pigeons caught by hawks. She says it’s heartbreaking to watch, but she understands the food chain. However, if a hawk catches a pigeon near her house, she the one-woman rescue team.
“It’s amazing to watch pigeons escape,” Nancy adds. “Instinct takes over and they plummet to the ground or fly 1,000 feet in the air. They’re smart birds.”
Nancy cleans her garage to prevent disease and sprays insect repellent to thwart West Nile. It’s work, but she’s never had a sick bird.
She says the real issues are people not understanding or appreciating birds.
“People live their lives day to day and don’t stop and smell the flowers,” Nancy says. “Pigeons make wonderful parents, they have magnificent eyesight and they can find their way home from hundreds of miles away.”
Nancy thinks many people, herself included, have an affinity for animals because they bring peace, are innocent, give unconditional love and provide comfort not provided by people.
Nancy says her family members aren’t animal lovers and don’t want anything to do with her. She says they tell her to get rid of her animals, due to costs of caring for them.
“I just tell them they have no right to tell me what to do with my money,” Nancy says. “I choose to rescue and feed animals rather than buy material things. I always get people telling me I’m not normal. I say ‘thank you, I don’t want to be anything like a normal person.’”
Nancy’s always loved animals and grew up on a farm that is now Lange Middle School.
“I love taking care of animals, my life is built around them,” Nancy says. “It’s not about being paid, it’s the satisfaction of knowing you are helping something. Animals give me a joy in life I never got from people. Animals and God. I could be around animals 24 hours a day. I’m peaceful when with them.”