Film Crew to Aid Birds

The Arizona Republic
December 9, 1997
by Janie Magruder

It was your basic Hollywood movie scene: lights, ladders, nets . . . baby pigeons.

Four days after filmmakers blasted scores of pigeons from their roosts at an abandoned West Valley racetrack, they were back on the set rescuing baby birds left behind in their nests.

At least 140 pigeons were injured and perhaps as many as 50 were killed Thursday during the filming of No Code of Conduct by Toddler Pictures at the old Phoenix Trotting Park in Goodyear.

Film crews spent Monday locating equipment to help rescue baby pigeons from the rafters in the park's grandstands. Assisting in the rescue were officials from the Arizona Humane Society and the Urban Wildlife Society.

The production company also plans to pay for the feeding and medical care of the birds, said Michelle Marx, a spokeswoman for Toddler Pictures of Los Angeles. The action adventure movie stars Martin Sheen and Charlie Sheen.

"They certainly had every intention of doing this right from the beginning," Marx said. "Now that they realize some mistakes have been made, they want to do whatever they can to rectify it."

Barb Houston of For the Birds Foundation Inc., a Valley agency that cares for injured and orphaned wild birds, was among several wildlife advocates called to the track Saturday on an anonymous tip.

They found more than 100 adult pigeons on the ground, feathers charred, their squeaking babies hundreds of feet above. They placed the birds in boxes and bags and headed back to Phoenix, then returned Sunday for a dozen more.

"Their condition goes from very, very bad, with burned beaks, burned feet, eyes seared shut, to some that are going to have to be held for anywhere from six to 12 months so they can molt and get new feathers," said Pat Welsh, who took five of the most badly injured pigeons into her home.

Houston said she counted at least 50 dead birds on the ground Saturday, but they had been carted away by predators by Sunday, she surmised.

But the rescuers also found the feathers of owls, which are protected species, at the site. The Arizona Humane Society retrieved the bodies of two birds that were burned beyond recognition, but are not believed to be pigeons. The society is planning to have the carcasses analyzed.

Before and after the blast, Scott Paulsen of the state Game and Fish Department inspected the site for protected species, but found none, said Pat O'Brien, a department administrator.

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This article originally appeared in The Arizona Republic.