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The vendor who became known as the bird man of Exeter

The healing power of pets isn't exclusive to dogs or cats. Big Issue vendor Richard Todd explains how he bonded with pigeons while working on his pitch on Exeter High Street

Richard Todd @jillpendleton1864

I’ve been on my pitch since the second week of January this year. I started sharing my lunch with a white pigeon, one I called Sid, that would eat out of my hand. Then other birds jumped on the bandwagon.

I’ve got about 10 pigeons that feed out of my hand and will let me pet them now. I find it calming, a bit of stress relief. They seem quite calm as well. I’ve noticed since I’ve started petting them that they’re less spooked.

They like peanuts, but it’s wild birdseed mix I give them mainly. Some of my favourites get sunflower seeds because they’re oily and will put a little fat on with winter coming. Just the chosen few getting the good stuff.

They’ve got names: Sid, Cher Ami, Mary, Baby, Merlin, Marius… They’ve got used to me because I’ve been there every day for the best part of a year. Since then there have been fledglings that turned up, I’ve known them since the day they left the nest so they’re extremely tame with me.  

They’re all there waiting for me to turn up. I’m engaging more with people because of them. They’re like pets but they’re completely free, that’s what I like about it.

Pigeons are considered vermin and disease carriers that do damage to property. These things may be true but they don’t have any natural food in the town, they live off scraps and spend most of their lives hungry. To me the only solution is to be kind to them. 

They are intelligent, sweet little spirits. It’s like they’re telepathic. They all just fly off suddenly then 15 minutes later are back again.

Their role in the wars is pretty impressive. I named one Cher Ami after a pigeon from the First World War that saved 194 soldiers with a message. Another bird I’ve called Mary after Mary of Exeter, she was awarded the Dickin Medal at the end of World War II. I read about her story and that’s my inspiration, really.

She was carrying messages across the Channel to somebody working for the intelligence services here in Exeter. She was attacked by a German hawk and had 20 stitches, recovered from that but then had the tip of her wing shot off. She recovered again and went back into service, then got a shrapnel wound. A lot of the birds on our streets today are descendants of pigeons used in the war so I think it’s our responsibility to look after them.

Image: @jillpendleton1864

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