Thursday, Oct. 9, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Phil Proburke found a purpose for his life the day he drove past an unconscious pigeon lying on Maryland Parkway.
He stopped in the center median and scooped it up. He put the pigeon on his lap, drove home, and started nursing it back to health. It had a broken thigh.
“I kept it in a soft towel in the bathroom so if it woke up, it wouldn’t go far,” he said. “I spent time with it, talked to it. I knew it was alive. I made sure his head was elevated and comfortable.”
On the fourth day, the bird opened its eyes. Proburke offered the bird some water out of a tea cup and some bird seed.
The two bonded. When Proburke ate dinner, Elmo sat in his lap. When Proburke worked at his roll-top desk, Elmo rested on a little platform on top of the desk and looked down at him. As Elmo got healthier, Proburke took him outside and put out seed. Other birds in the neighborhood flew down for the food — sparrows, feral parakeets, mourning doves. Proburke said the other birds and Elmo got along nicely.
One day a veterinarian gave Proburke another sickly pigeon.
Proburke named the new pigeon Little Cloud, put it on the floor alongside the roll-top desk, and built a ladder so it could climb to the top of the desk and visit Elmo.
Little Cloud warmed to its surroundings and in time both birds started flying out the kitchen window and returning at dusk. “They fell in love,” Proburke said. Little Cloud and Elmo built a nest atop the roll-top desk and one day Proburke discovered that Elmo was in fact an egg-laying hen.
And this could be the end of the story, of two lost pigeons making a connection on Phil Proburke’s roll-top desk.
But Proburke had discovered that he liked pigeons a lot — it seemed they could almost talk to one another — “and if I can help them out, I’m happy to do it.”
And it must be told that since that day in 1980 when he was driving down Maryland Parkway and rescued the injured pigeon Elmo, Proburke has shared his living quarters with 1,000 pigeons. Maybe 2,000.
On any given day, there may be 30 or 40 pigeons living with Proburke, perched on curtain rods in his living room and kitchen. Many of them had been injured and were nursed back to health.
Over the years they have come and gone, these pigeons, out the open window. Some wouldn’t return, but other ones would fly in. And people still give him injured pigeons.
As for Elmo and Little Cloud: Years ago Proburke gave them away to a very sweet couple who lived near the airport. She was a retired showgirl. He was a musician. They kept rabbits and goats on their property, and they said they’d love a pair of pigeons.
“They were kind of eccentric,” Proburke said.