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Home, sweet homing pigeon

Domesticated bird taken in by Whistler family trying to reunite him with former owner



By now, Sean Burke has heard every excuse in the book. Co-manager of the historic Tyrol Lodge, Burke will regularly return to the isolated West Side Road ski lodge to find someone illegally camped out in the parking lot that he then has to politely ask to move on. Often, they will feed him a line about why they should be allowed to stay.

"I get lots of different excuses from people," he explained.

One morning this September, Burke encountered a man in his Dodge Caravan who told him, through broken English, that he couldn't leave until his homing pigeon returned. That was one Burke had never heard before.

"It sorta cracked me up. I thought, 'That's incredible, that's the best excuse to not move on that I've heard,'" he said. "I told him that was fair enough and he could wait a while for the pigeon, but please don't be here this evening when I come back."

Burke didn't think much of it until friends Mark Beaven and Sheila Sherkat posted on Facebook that they had found an unusually friendly pigeon on their doorstep, not far from the lodge.

"It's not the most common bird to see around Whistler, so I just went, 'Oh, a pigeon, that's a little odd.' I'm pretty sure it was the next day or the day after, I see him again," Beaven recalled. "I go out onto the balcony and he flies right over to me. Strangely close. In a weird way, he flies pretty much straight at me and then lands within three feet from me. That's not what you call a normal thing, to go out and see a bird fly right over to you, unless you're holding French fries up."

Realizing this was no normal pigeon, the Beaven family has tried to make the bird as comfortable as possible, building him a coop, and putting out freshwater and feed on their balcony. They've consulted with bird owners in Pemberton on the best ways to care for him. They even named him Walter, after the Canadian-born, Oscar-nominated actor, Walter Pidgeon.

"He is a character. You don't know if he's this idiot savant or what," Beaven chuckled. "He's ridiculous, but he's very endearing. He comes over and does his little circular dances and his little cooing sounds, bobbing his head around. In the morning I go out and give him some freshwater and he starts flapping his wings, doing his morning exercises. He's got his routine."

Over the past six weeks, Walter has become an endeared part of the family.

"Our kids have always wanted a pet, and I'm allergic to dogs and cats so it was a no-can-do," said Sherkat. "And then this gift came to us. We're fully embracing it and loving having Walter. He's amazing, but at the same time there's a little bit of that niggling feeling of, 'Oh, this belongs to someone else and that person might be really sad right now wondering where his pigeon is.'"

The Beaven family has posted flyers around town in the hopes of connecting Walter with his former owner. Although they have heard reports of a middle-aged man camping in the Soo Valley with a pigeon last summer, without even a name to go off of, they haven't had any luck tracking down the mystery man. Sherkat said a reunion would be somewhat bittersweet for her and her family.

"I would feel sad, more thinking about my kids. Especially Cove. He's pretty attached and has always wanted to have a pet," she said.

"It feels like Walter's a visitor for a while, a guest, and we're welcome to have him with us for as long as he is with us. But it also feels like the right thing to do is reunite him with his rightful owner, if that person still wants him."