This beautiful Wednesday morning, after walking a happy 6 year old to school, we went for a bike ride. 7 miles from the South Loop to Hyde Park, sometimes on State, or Michigan, or Martin Luther King Blvd. Through Bridgeport and Bronzeville we gawked at the incredibly beautiful old Greystones, in wildly varying condition. Some of these jewels of Chicago residential architecture are being actively lived in, but some are available, and could be preserved and/or repurposed. For more info on them, check out the Chicago Greystone and Vintage Home Program.
My wife likes to say “Hello, Good Morning!” to everyone. I absolutely love that about her….because at my best I like to do the same thing. And with each passing stranger, it’s an interesting greeting experiment. Are they present, confident, comfortable enough to say hello back? Are they lost in their own issues and unable to connect? Would they simply rather be nasty? It’s entertaining, this game of Social Roulette.
As we then walked the gorgeous campus of the University of Chicago towards a Yelped brunch spot, we paused, read, laughed about, took a picture of, and then shared the following sign found on a mailbox:
Oh, we laughed a lot. The responses were funny…you can check the thread. “That bird was delicious!” I facebooked it; the comments were funny. We’re all such hilarious jokesters.
But things got more interesting. One commenter said she’d seen a sign like it last week:
Another said I was not the 1st person who’d posted a picture about this today, and the drawings were dissimilar.
And a bit later, a tweet went deeper.
Hmmmm. So what’s going on here? Is this a post-modern bit by an art student collective? Is there a child somewhere, being humored by a parent, perhaps being taught a lesson about how to ask the community for help? Curiosity ruled me!
So I called the number. And I found a very gentle, kind, sad but still hopeful woman named Karen, who really, really wants to find her beloved pet bird. She made all of those signs, perhaps hundreds of them, by hand.
We spoke. She shared the entire story, and it’s amazing. This is a partial transcript.
Karen: Well, I have some medical problems and so I would just sit by the windows here over the years, and I was just feeding birds on my windowsill of my apartment. For many years I was feeding mourning doves and sparrows. And then in the year 2000, some agencies dropped Peregrine Falcons into this neighborhood, which is really a great pity since we already had a whole bunch of Raptors. Suddenly, all these birds that I’d been feeding for like 10 years who knew me really well, some of them even ate out of my hand, I just opened my window a little and they would literally eat out of my hand, suddenly they were being attacked two, three times a day.
And I was watching them killed, and I was watching them show up, you know, ripped up, and it was just awful. And almost all of them were killed off within about five years. There were just a few left. One showed up who was really injured, and I had to take it in because I had called the rehab places that are way out in the suburbs and I didn’t have a car anyways, but I called them and I was told by one of them that they didn’t do mourning doves. They were like too common of a bird, or whatever.
So I took it in and took care of her. She had a head injury, an eye was seriously damaged, and-
MATT: Wow, so you took her in, did you put her in a cage? Did she live in a cage in your home?
KAREN: I think I had her in a box at first, while she was … just trying to heal her, because I didn’t want her moving around, I believe she had a concussion. Because I have canaries and things, so I know a little bit about birds. So I took her in and treated her like she had a concussion and it took quite a long time, and her vision never really was very good even after that.
And then like a week later, another one came, and he was very injured too. I think they might have been a pair outside, because there were really only like five or six left outside at the time. So I took him in separately, and-
MATT: So you think these might have been mates coming back together.
KAREN: Yes. By chance. Because they all kept coming … even when the birds were injured, they’d still try to come to my windowsill to eat because that’s what birds do, they try to go on with life, even when they’re … no matter what is happening to them. I mean, I had birds come to my windowsill that had their throats ripped out with their tracheas protruding out the side of their neck because they had been attacked by the neck. It was awful. Those ones, there were two of those. I remember I just picked them up, lifted that trachea out the side of the neck, gave them a kiss and let them go, and of course they would have died out there somewhere, never seen again. But these two, I had to take them in because it was either me help them or no one.
MATT: Understood, understood, Karen. And you had them for 10 years, is that what you said?
KAREN: I had them for 10 years, even 11 I think. And then at around the 10 year point, I had a flower pot on the windowsill that they liked to cuddle in, and they would just sit there and kiss each other all day-
KAREN: That’s why they’re doves, you know, that’s why I love doves. They’re the most gentle, precious things. And these are just common birds, mourning doves, you know?
And then suddenly they laid an egg and I was like, “What?” I didn’t think it would hatch, I just left it. I said they’re old and you know, I just couldn’t imagine, but it did, and that was Bobo. The parents fed him and did what they were supposed to do, but after like maybe two weeks, he was pretty well on his way to growing, but I decided to start feeding him by hand too on my own, and that would make a bond with me too. And also because I thought the parents were getting tired just from feeding him.
So yeah, I would hold him on my chest at night, like watching TV and he’d be nuzzled up under my chin. I have some pictures of that that I can hardly bear to look at right now.
KAREN: His mother died last year.
MATT: Do you still have the father?
KAREN: No, he also died about age 12 or so.
MATT: Wow. What were their names? Had you named them?
KAREN: Yeah, they were Punkin’ and Pretty.
KAREN: Punkin’, with an I-N, Punkin’.
MATT: With an I-N apostrophe.
KAREN: Yes. Punkin’, and Pretty was the mom, and Bobo.
MATT: And then so Bobo escaped, and how did Bobo escape?
KAREN: I can hardly bear this. I mean, I’ve been paranoid of course, about windows through all these many years.
I do not know what happened. I have no recollection of this, but that mourning, 11 days ago or whatever it was, I don’t know. It was one of those really hot days in the 90s when everybody was suffering, and I don’t know, I turned away, turned towards the windows and all of a sudden I realized one of my screens was up all the way. And I’m like, “Oh my god, oh my god.” You know, and I like turned around and I can’t find Bobo. And I was literally sick. I mean, I was shaking.
And I have no recollection of putting this screen up. The only time I would do it would be once in a while if I thought maybe a pigeon or something was injured, if I heard something going on outside, because I’m on like a third floor.
MATT: Do you think Bobo could have done it himself?
KAREN: No, no, no, no. It was a regular window screen that you have to lift up. And he wouldn’t have even known he was walking outside because unfortunately his water dish is like on my desk right next to the windows. He would have just gone there and walked out without realizing it.
MATT: Well, I don’t want to make you relive all of that. I know it’s painful. So the idea to make the signs.
KAREN: Yeah, well I know what to do if you lose something, right away you’ve got to look for a bird immediately. And literally within like five minutes I had scribbled out some signs that were really … they looked like child’s signs, and stuck some up around my building, my area, 57th and Blackstone area, and immediately put them up. By that afternoon, people were calling me and we did find him at first. He was right around my building. He was like on Blackstone Avenue, but he was sitting on top of a car. He doesn’t even know what a car is, you know.
So he was sitting on the roof of a car, but he was terrified, you know, his eyes were wide and even when I approached him, well there were cars going by, and people, and when I tried to get near him, he darted this way and darted that way, and he didn’t know what he was doing, and I ran back up to my windows and kept calling him all day, to try to bring him to the window because some pigeons eat on my windowsill. I figured Bobo might follow them there, because even though he wasn’t outside with them in the past, he’s seen them through the window over the years.
MATT: And we don’t know if he knows how to … does he fly?
KAREN: He flies, but you know, I don’t know how far he can fly. He’s a really fast flyer in my tiny apartment, in my studio apartment. But how far can he go outside? Because I’ve said that he flew from the ground up to like this porch roof, this is just two doors down from me, and that he struggled to do it, and that he was really panting. So I think he was probably super hot and very dehydrated already that second day, probably had had nothing to eat. And that was actually the last known, you know-
MATT: Sighting. The last known sighting.
KAREN: And that’s one of the most heartbreaking thing, like the next one was a few days later, a college student thought she saw this brown bird in the middle of the road just walking on the street at 61st and Ellis, which is pretty far from me. It’s right on the edge of Hyde Park. And it was literally … I went on my bike and I was like a hundred degrees in the sun, and I was like “Oh my god, the notion of my precious boy being out here in this heat by himself, lost. I mean, it’s overwhelming.” And so that was an area I put tons of signs and then over the days I had another call from like 52nd and Ellis, so that’s like a mile away north, on the same streets, from 61st to 52nd on Ellis, and I’ve been going over there a lot.
MATT: Of course, of course. Karen, so tell me about making the signs. Did you make them all in one night?
KAREN: No, no, no. It takes probably several minutes to make each one. I started making them the first moment, and then … I’ve been going out for like 10 hours a day looking for him, so in the evening when I’m like dead, I just sit on the bed and I have a pad of paper and Sharpie and I drew a sketch of a mourning dove, and make as many as I can and go out and put them out, and some signs need replacing, and I’ll take the old one down if it gets ripped up or something and put a new one up.
MATT: And you did them all by hand?
KAREN: By hand, yeah. I don’t think I could afford to use a color copier.
MATT: So some folks have noticed that a couple of the drawings look just a little dissimilar.
KAREN: They are. Even when I look at them, I’m saying, “Does that bird look too fat? Should I put it up?” You know. Too thin, or too fat. I just-(laughter)
MATT: What else have you … have you remembered some of the spots, because there’s like three dots on the back, right?
KAREN: There’s several spots on their back. They’re like the size of the tip of your finger. They’re not little tiny specks, they’re like your little finger, the tip of your little finger, that’s how big a mourning dove’s spot is on it’s … they’re actually on their wings, but when their wings are folded, it looks like it’s their lower body.
MATT: I understand. So the bird is brown, Bobo is brown-
KAREN: Yeah, brownish tan. I had to pick a color to make it simple. They range a little bit. Brownish tan, and some of the males, their chests have a vague light reddish mix in there.
MATT: I so appreciate you talking with me, Karen. I want to write about this and try and help Bobo be found. You can look at my website, if you want to look at it, it’s mattspiegel.com. And I appreciate things. The website is called The Appreciator because I love music, I love sports, I love life, and I-
KAREN: And now you love doves-
MATT: And now I love mourning doves, and I didn’t know. And I love your humanity, and I appreciate that there’s actually a real person and real feelings behind these signs, because I wasn’t sure. I thought … you know, I saw the signs and I thought frankly, is this … once I found out there were at least three different , I’m like, “Is this an art student doing a bit?” You know what I mean? I wasn’t sure what it was. Because there were jokes early on social media, so my post may include some of the jokes, but people are going to then realize that this is an actual story and there’s a woman behind it.
KAREN: Yeah, Bobo will be suffering. If he’s still alive, which I’m not sure because he wouldn’t know how to drink or eat. If he’s alive, he is suffering. (Crying) He will be starving and dehydrated and terrified of everything. He may even be just on the ground somewhere, like my nightmare is of him like under a bush dying alone somewhere. You know.
MATT: Oh, well I want to help you find him, Karen. I want to help you find him, okay?
MATT: You’re very sweet. Thank you for talking to me.
KAREN: Okay, Matt. I’ll send you some pictures of Bobo, and then you’ll see.
BoBo born fall 2016, boy MATT: Well, there’s going to be a lot of people that will have empathy for you, greatly. There’s a lot of good people in the world who will read this and there’s already people who have seen the signs, but now people know that-
KAREN: There’s thousands in the neighborhood … and you know, he does have tags on his legs, and maybe one of them fell off, but he should still at least have something on his leg, so that’s why I’m still looking, because even if he survives, you know, we’ll always be able to recognize him because he’ll have a tag on his leg. I think it’s white. I mean, sometimes I’d change the color, but I believe it’s a white plastic. I think he had a white one and a yellow one. And the yellow one was just a piece of like yellow duct tape.
MATT: Okay. All right. Well, thank you so much.
KAREN: Okay, Matt. Thank you.
MATT: Karen, thank you. Good luck, okay?
KAREN: Thank you. Thank you. Nice meeting you.
MATT: Nice meeting you too. Thanks for talking to me.
Bobo is loved. Bobo is missing. Karen is heartbroken. If you live near or in Hyde Park, Chicago, look for Bobo. This is him; note the small white tag on his right ankle.
I don’t feel guilty about the jokes and the laughs, because I had not put a person with the story. And the pictures were charmingly rough.
But now you know the humanity behind the artist. You know the love and concern in a delicate woman.
Let’s help Karen find Bobo.