Not your average pigeon lady
Stephanie Bell isn't your run-of-the-mill bird lady who plops down on a park bench with a bag of birdseed. Never one to loaf around when work is at a lull, Ms. Bell, a dockworker for the Steamship Authority in Vineyard Haven, runs an informal bird-feeding operation in her spare time. An astute observer might see her reach down to empty a sleeve of Ritz crackers onto the ground and casually step on them, or throw some stale bread from The Black Dog or Stop and Shop behind a dumpster during a lull between boats or after her shift.
When Ms. Bell found a one-legged pigeon limping about the ferry docks last February, she took the bird home and nursed "Hoppy" back to health for two months. A week after she released him from her makeshift home-hospital, he had found his way back to the docks of Vineyard Haven to become one of her regular customers. She said that she's not sure how Hoppy lost one of his legs, but a coworker once told her that Hoppy lost it from an accident with a pulley on the docks.
"That could be it, or maybe [the coworker] was just pulling my leg," joked Ms. Bell.
Taking birds home is nothing new for this amateur ornithologist. Two weeks ago, Ms. Bell boldly commandeered a nearby Zodiac to retrieve a drowning baby pigeon near the ferry landing. Relieved that her efforts had paid off, Ms. Bell placed the fledgling back on the dock only to watch it stumble into the water a second time. After convincing another boater to take her on one more rescue mission, Ms. Bell took the careless pigeon back home in a cardboard box for a few days until it could fly.
Ms. Bell lives in Edgartown, where she was born and raised. This is her fourth summer working on the docks for the Steamship Authority, but she had worked at the Steamship Authority's airport reservations booth for about 15 years before that.
Ms. Bell is 48 years old, and married with two children. At home, her non-human residents include two dogs, a cat, and seven birds (four cockatiels, two lovebirds, and a conure).
One of the dogs she didn't buy. She said that a family of vacationers arrived with him in Vineyard Haven, claiming that they had seen the pooch abandoned in the heat on the mainland just before getting on the ferry and had to do something with him, but couldn't keep him any longer. She offered to take care of the Pomeranian, but now realizes that the dog probably had belonged to the vacationers the whole time; the vacationers just made up a story to get rid of him for their vacation. She named the dog Petey, after her former boss who had recently died.
"I'm not getting any more animals," she promised, with a laugh, as if that may prove to be a promise she can't keep.
As much as she loves animals, she said she also loves being around so many people at the docks. She considers herself a "people person."
Ms. Bell wasn't always so interested in birds. Her interest started some four years ago when her only sister died of cancer. Seeing how distraught Ms. Bell was, a friend gave her a bird to console her, and she has loved the comfort and companionship that she has found in birds ever since.