Peter Dubacher, founder of the Berkshire Bird Paradise in Grafton, N.Y., holds Puffy, the pigeon who inspired a new memorial aviary set to open this summer at the facility.
GRAFTON, N.Y. — Friday, June 13, was not just a superstitious day for Peter Dubacher.
Dubacher, founder of the Berkshire Bird Paradise bird sanctuary just over the mountain from Williamstown, marked June 13 as the first National Pigeon Day.
"This day is significant in that we are sending a message to let others know there is a group of people who care and are passionate about pigeons and are ready and willing to fight for and support them," he wrote on his website. "It (is) a day to promote the positive portrayal of pigeons in society, educate people about the role pigeons have played in history and show them just how sweet and charming these birds are. We love them, and others will too once bad publicity based in lies and hate is eliminated."
And therein lies the motive behind Dubacher's latest endeavor in his rural property, which already houses more than 1,000 birds and almost 100 different species: the Puffy Memorial Aviary, "a series of phased innovations intended to educate people young and old about the unsung rock dove (pigeon)" which he aims to have completed by mid-August.
Pigeons, Dubacher said, are misunderstood birds.
"A lot of people despise and hate pigeons," Dubacher said during a recent tour of the facility, which is currently a construction zone while the new aviary is erected. (Visitors are still welcome, though, and no admission is being charged during the construction.)
But few people know the important role pigeons have played throughout history, used by the U.S. military in both world wars to relay the locations of soldiers. In fact, their role during wartime sparked the creation of the American Pigeon Museum in Oklahoma City, which just celebrated its grand opening on June 13 and 14 and features artifacts chronicling humans’ 5,000-year relationship with the bird.
The story behind the Puffy Memorial Aviary, however, is more personal.
Dubacher said Puffy was taken in as a pet by a New York City woman who found the bird disabled on the sidewalk. When Puffy died last year, she gave the Berkshire Bird Paradise a check for $100,000 to create a memorial in Puffy's honor.
"She was heartbroken. She loved that bird," Dubacher said. "She wants people to have more compassion for small creatures."
The aviary will feature a spherical form that will allow visitors to conceptually occupy the same space as the birds, a retractable enclosure, passive solar thermal control with Trombe wall and wind powered electricity, on-site stone to create a habitat, and locally cut lumber for use in form work.
It also will feature Puffy herself, professionally preserved by a taxidermist and mounted in a glass case in the aviary.
"This little bird represents the underdog," Dubacher said, stroking Puffy's head affectionately.
Dubacher currently has 800 live pigeons in the sanctuary, some of which are exotic breeds that look more like peacocks than the kind of basic rock dove pigeon most Americans are familiar with. Those birds share the facility with all kind of other birds, from bald eagles to a blind trumpet swan to Canada geese who just kind of hang out on the property.
The facility, which opened in 1972, is a certified 501(c)3 nonprofit that gives birds a place to live, thrive and rehabilitate as best they can, though 40 percent of the birds are permanently disabled and thus will live out their days in Grafton. Such is the case with Mitch, the bald eagle rescued by a Navy SEAL and former Army Ranger after the bird was shot in Afghanistan. Mitch eventually found his way to Dubacher via a presidential order and a book was written about him.
Dubacher is happy to have such a celebrity in his midst but wants people to remember to love all of God's creatures.
"I don't care if it's a pigeon or a bald eagle, they all have the same right to be there," he said. He's proud to be a place where people can turn to for help when they find an injured bird, regardless of the species.
"Who's going to want a pigeon?" he said. "Isn't it nice to know there's a place out there that can help them?"