One problem with the chick, as I quickly discovered, was that it had flies. Not fleas, but flies, pigeon flies, flat spastic things that resemble nothing so much as a cross between an ordinary house fly and a toad. They have wings but generally choose to hop instead of flying, and for some reason this enrages me. They were crawling among the chick's feathers: I could see them from time to time, scuttling around under there like the sandworms in Dune or Bugs Bunny after taking the wrong turn at Albuquerque. I hated them with every fiber of my being. Plus occasionally one of them would detach itself from the chick and make a beeline for my ear. Something had to be done.
Experienced breeders of racing pigeons swear by a few tablespoons of Borax in the bathwater, but I hestitated to dunk a fledgling in bleach. So I called a wildlife rehabilitator, who told me to immerse the chick up to its neck in water and hold it there for a few minutes. This I did, after first sticking it in an oven mitt. To my surprise, it didn't seem to mind being held underwater in an oven mitt for three or four minutes; on the contrary, it was relaxed enough to take the opportunity to gulp down a great deal of water. And the bath seemed to do the trick: that was two days ago, and I haven't seen a pigeon fly since. And if I never see one again, in my whole life, that will be fine by me.
The wildlife rehabilitator cautioned me against keeping the bird captive for too long. She said that if I didn't release it as soon as it managed to fly even a little, there was a good chance that it would imprint on me. This came as a surprise. I had always thought of pigeons as somewhat autistic, unconcerned with anything but what was happening to them as individuals at any given moment. But I suppose that they are gregarious creatures: they live in flocks, and like all doves, mate for life. Already the chick, who bounced away from me when I found it, peeping anxiously, has grown used to the sight of my hand hovering into view: instead of backing away, it will start to flutter its wings and peck at my fingers. I think it's trying to figure out how to nurse from them. (Its mother or father would, under similar circumstances, disgorge some tasty pigeon milk for it, and the chick seems baffled that my hand is unable to do this.)
Pigeons have magnetite, a magnetic mineral, in their brains; that's how they can find their way from place to place with such accuracy. If the chick imprints on my hand, and I release it, will it follow the unerring compass lodged in its head back to my apartment? I hope that it will, though officially I must deny this.
Damn, though, it's adorable.