The Genesis of a Bird Rescue

One injured dove leads to the inception of the bird rescue that became Pandemonium Aviaries, now one of the largest bird sanctuaries and rare breeding facilities in the country.


| November 2014



Ringneck dove

This ringneck dove is the same species as the first injured bird Michele Raffin encountered on the side of a California highway.

Photo by Michael Kern

For Michele Raffin, one injured dove is all it takes to start a lifetime of studying, caring for and bonding with exotic birds of all stripes. In The Birds of Pandemonium (Algonquin Books, 2014) she shares her experiences living with dozens of birds, ranging from ringneck doves and plum-headed parakeets to turacos and East African crowned cranes. By turns joyful and solemn, The Birds of Pandemonium is both a delightful look into life with exotic birds and a call to protect the environment and the creatures within it. The following excerpt is from chapter 2, “One Dove Leads to Another, and Another...”

I had never held a bird before. Yet there I was by the side of the Lawrence Expressway near Santa Clara, dressed in crisp new gym togs and cradling a trembling white dove. It seemed badly hurt. As it lay against my palm, I could feel its panicked heartbeat; my own was racing as well. Balanced there amid the noise and hot wind of traffic and the blinding afternoon light, I felt a bit disoriented. The tall, well-chiseled man who stood beside me looked anxiously at his watch.

I had set out just after lunch that day with a modest suburban mom’s resolve: Time to get back into shape. Our boys were growing, but I was determined that my hips and thighs would not. Though I was and still am an enthusiastic hiker, I had come up with a less conventional discipline to get myself fit again. I decided that I would lift weights—and not those dainty sets of dumbbells at a measly twelve pounds each. I meant the really heavy bar that you heave up over your head. I wanted to learn Olympic-style lifting, the kind with chalk on your hands, metal clanging, big weights thudding to the mat. Grunts. Moans. Bring it on!

I had joined a gym that offered a promotion for three free training sessions. Matt, the trainer assigned to me, was six feet five, with zero body fat and a totally professional manner. Yet Matt was a no-show for our second appointment—or he was just very, very late. I paced, and then I fumed. I was about to take myself off in a Gore-Tex huff when he ran up from the parking lot and apologized. There was this bird...

On his way to the gym, he explained, he had noticed a white dove by the side of the highway. It was flapping its wings piteously but unable to right itself or fly. Traffic roared past a few feet away. Matt was torn: there was a time-pressed, auburn-haired woman waiting with a “free session” voucher who must be served if he was to keep his job, and there was the wounded bird. He sped past the pathetic sight, thought better of it, took the next exit and doubled back. Gently, he moved the dove out of harm’s way and laid her beneath a bush. And there he was, apologizing to me for his late arrival. Since Matt was probably expecting a tart rebuke, my question must have been a relief.

“Would you mind if we checked on the bird?” He didn’t hesitate. “I’ll drive,” he answered, and we headed toward the place where he’d left the dove. Minutes later, there I was, on the side of the highway, lifting that few ounces of feathers and fear. She craned her neck to look up at me. I was a goner, though I didn’t realize it at the time.