The King Pigeon aviary Palomacy built for Animal Place
Look at the amazing aviary you helped to create! Remember the crowdfunding campaign that we organized to help Animal Place begin helping King Pigeons?
Thank You for helping make this dream come true!
Thanks to your support, our efforts have finally succeeded! Animal Place, one of the oldest and largest animal sanctuaries in the nation, now has a beautiful, life-saving, game-changing King Pigeon aviary on site at their Rescue Ranch in Vacaville and they are engaging their expertise and resources to generate adoptions for rescued King Pigeons- survivors of the squab industry, abadonment and overfull shelters.
On Saturday August 22nd, our builders Josette & Luis and volunteers, Ellie, Helen, Diana, Joe & myself, gathered at Animal Place’s Rescue Ranch in Vacaville to assemble the pre-built aviary panels into a gorgeous, safe and very comfortable foster home for rescued King Pigeons.
The pre-built panels are easy to transport
The 16′ x 8′ x 7′ aviary consists of 20 4′ x 7′ panels
Built from 2x4s & 16 gauge, .5″ hardware mesh
It was an amazing day. The weather was mild and the panels, so beautifully built, went together with ease. (Luis & Josette had done the hardest part the day before when they dug out and installed the base.)
Predator & rodent-proof panels attached to treated lumber base
Treated lumber base on store-bought cement piers.
Volunteers Ellie & Helen attach the smooth aviary floor (marine grade plywood) to the predator & rodent-proof base
Ellie & Joe installing the side and roof panels
Throughout the day, the construction was carefully overseen by the patiently waiting pigeons. The aviary is 16′ long by 8′ wide and 7′ feet tall. It is designed to comfortably house 16 rescued King Pigeons but for now, Animal Place is starting with four to get the feel for this new effort.
Pigeons Boo & Maya and Pat & Snowberry watching over our work
Maya & Boo say, Hurry up!
Diana donated to the project, spent the day building it & snuggled Pat
Nancy came to adopt chickens but spent some time learning about pigeons too
Blake, an animal care provider at Animal Place, loving on Snowberry
After the enclosure was up, a half roof & siding to half of the back & one side was added for shelter from weather, shade & security
Finished aviary offers shelter as well as exposure to sun, wind, rain, sky- life!
Shelves & nest boxes were added for pigeon comfort
Ellie & Helen added two ‘swing’ style perches
It was really very exciting to introduce the first lucky pigeons, Boo & Maya and Pat & Snowberry, to their beautiful new (foster) home! They were more than ready to move in and, being pigeons, they of course made themselves comfortable straight away.
Yay! Welcoming Boo & Maya into the new aviary!
The foursome immediately shared supper
Maya & Boo checking out the nest box area (one pox per couple)
Pat & Snowberry waited in the lobby cage at the SF animal shelter for an adopter from March through August
The romance began immediately: Snowberry kissing Pat
Boo & Maya trying out a nest box
The pigeons’ neighbors are hens rescued from battery cages
Jan, Animal Place’s Rescue Ranch Manager, says “The gang is doing great – and seem very happy in their new home” and Jacinda, Animal Place’s Adoption Coordinator, is already working to develop adopters for these beautiful birds.
Making this dream come true was a long process. I sat for awhile just enjoying it.
YAY!!!! Look at this amazing, life-saving & game-changing aviary YOU helped to create! THANK YOU!!! Thank you to Animal Place for partnering with us to help raise awareness about the plight and potential of these beautiful pigeons! Thank you to our donors for investing in this life-saving aviary! Thank you to our builders and volunteers for creating such an important new aviary. I have a feeling there will be many more. Thank you all! Your support for this very special effort means more than I can say.
On August 12th, I was contacted by WildCare regarding a scalped racing pigeon that had been brought in. (A predator had caught and begun to eat her before she miraculously escaped.) Because she was a banded racing pigeon, she was not eligible for vet care and needed transfer and help ASAP. Thanks to the help of WildCare staff and a Palomacy volunteer, we were able to get her from San Rafael to Medical Center for Birds in Oakley for treatment. She arrived with her scalp taped onto her head.
Blossom upon arrival at MCFB
Part of Blossom’s skull was exposed
The extent of Blossom’s injury required that she be sedated so that her wound could be surgically cleaned and repaired. When she was anthestized and intubated, it was discovered that she had a ruptured air sac as well (revealed by the way her body inflated abnormally with breathing support). She recuperated in the hospital for a couple of days, receiving supportive care. She had come in emaciated and, even though her scalp was back in place and she could see again, she wasn’t eating. But she was super thirsty and had polyuria (excessively watery poop). Blood tests came back normal and didn’t reveal any answers. In a couple of days, she began eating and they were able to discontinue the tube feeding. The thirst and polyuria continued.
Blossom looking a lot better after her surgery 8/14
Dr. Fitgerald checks Blossom’s progress 8/15
I went out to Oakley on August 18th to pick up Blossom and as soon as I met her, I realized that the name I had originally given her- prior to meeting her and when I needed something quick for our and the vets’ records- Rex- was so wrong as to need changing (something I hate to do because it creates extra work and potential confusion). She’s a delicate, petite, shy little flower of a pigeon. I renamed her Blossom.
Dr. Fitzgerald and Blossom
Once home and fostered with me, Blossom, on antibiotics and pain meds, was stable and her wound seemed to be healing but something else was going on. Her thirst and polyuria continued.
Blossom 8/21, note her too-watery poop
On 8/25, I did a routine weight check expecting to see that Blossom was gaining weight (she seemed to be eating well) but I was surprised to find that she had actually lost weight. I took her back in to see the vets the following day. She surprised me by eating almost non-stop the whole 54 miles. (She doesn’t seem like the adventuresome type so I hadn’t expected that a roadtrip would spark her appetite but it did.)
On the road, Blossom ate & tossed seeds enthusiastically
Once at Medical Center for Birds, Dr. Speer looked through her matted feathers to reveal what was really happening with her scalp. While a portion of the reattachment was healing well, there were places that had reopened. When I had looked at her scalp, I hadn’t really looked.
Note to self: Look more closely at wounds
Dr. Speer examines Blossom
Close examination reveals only partial healing
Dr. Speer checked the wound for necrotic tissue and infection but found none.
The blood is a good sign & means living tissue
Dr. Speer added a few new sutures to help close the wound and speed healing. She received topical Lidocaine to numb her scalp and was an incredibly cooperative patient throughout the procedure.
Blossom was very calm and brave
Dr. Speer sutures while I hold
Blossom’s new stitches
The vets didn’t see any obvious explanation for Blossom’s weight loss, thirst and polyuria and recommended I discontinue the anitbiotics and Meloxicam in case they were contributing.
Today is September 2nd and Blossom is doing OK. Her weight is back up to where it was (though she is still too thin) but her thirst is, if anything, is increasing. She will drink this entire huge bowl of water in 24 hours. We’ll be going back out to Oakley next week for more follow up. Through all the years and so many pets and so many pigeons and doves rescued, I’ve worked with a lot of vets, many of them truly wonderful, but none more supportive, responsive, helpful, generous and dedicated than those at Medical Center for Birds. They work tirelessly to help us (and so many others) and that’s why we go to such lengths to get our birds all the way out to Oakley to see them whenever we can. They also do everything possible to help us stretch our dollars as far as they will go but even so, medical care is expensive and Blossom’s bill, despite the discounts, is over $1200 already.
Blossom & her extra large water bowl
Blossom, this brave young survivor of pigeon racing, barely six months old, was lost and starving to death before she was attacked and nearly killed by the predator that scalped her and ruptured an air sac. Pigeon racers say, “let the (training) basket and races cull for you“. To them, birds like Blossom, who get lost, hurt or killed while being flown, are worthless. As if Blossom’s life means any less to her than theirs does to them. It breaks my heart to think of all that birds like Blossom endure. They suffer a lot. Blossom is one of the lucky ones.
On Saturday August 8th, I was contacted by a radio producer doing a story about the project to bring Passenger Pigeons back from extinction. She wanted to record sounds of pigeons and interview me and was on deadline to do it that day. I changed my plans and arranged to meet her in the lobby of San Francisco Animal Care & Control. When I arrived, I first checked on the birds and found that a King Pigeon baby had been brought in the day before. She was too immature and sad to self-feed. I brought her downstairs to handfeed while I did the interview.
Found “stray” Washington & Webster SF, CA
I learned early in my pigeon rescue work that it’s pointless to talk to people about pigeons unless you have a pigeon for them to meet. Pigeons are so common that everybody thinks they know them and yet, most everything that people think they know about pigeons is wrong. (For example: Pigeons aren’t dirty though they may be trapped in a dirty environment. Pigeons don’t pose health risks to humans: Petting a dog or cat or eating a hamburger are riskier. Pigeons aren’t stupid, they are highly intelligent.) Radio producer Lucy Kang had never really met a pigeon before she met this one. She was very touched by this vulnerable pigeon child and how eager she was to be comforted. At the end of the interview, Lucy’s feelings about pigeons were different.
Radio producer Lucy Kang meets her first pigeon
We spoke at length about pigeons like this baby (who I named Lucy in her honor) and how they wind up in shelters, about wild-living Rock Pigeons and about the Passenger Pigeon de-extinction project. Lucy was surprised that I’m not a supporter of it. I think that when we hunt a species to extinction, even if we could bring them back, we have forfeited the right. We shot Passenger Pigeons by the billions. We killed them all. And we are still killing their relatives at every opportunity. Cruelly. For no reason other than the joy of killing. Pigeon hunting is legal everywhere in the US and every day of the year (“no season, no limits, no rules”). Pigeon hunters set out decoys in fields to lure pigeons in and then blast as many pigeons to death as they can, bragging at the numbers killed and especially prizing killing banded racing pigeons.
More Mourning Doves are killed in the US by hunters than any other animal (estimates range from 20-70 million are killed annually). They’re so small that few bother with eating them. They are shot in the many millions just for the fun of killing. They’re considered “cheap skeet”.
US Hunters kill more Mourning Doves than any other animal
You can hear the program Lucy produced here. And I’ll be writing more about pigeon hunters in a future post.
This story is about baby pigeon Lucy. After feeding her and comforting her as best I could, I left her there at the shelter. I of course didn’t want to but I’m full up. We’re all full up. I had nowhere for her to go.
Fed & left with a rolled towel for company
But I couldn’t stop thinking of her and I woke up in the morning determined to somehow figure out a placement for her. My day was already booked solid but Lucy had become my new priority.
One of the challenges of bird rescue is fitting each bird, according to his and her needs, into the right situation. I call it Pigeon Tetris (doves are involved as well). We have 23 different foster homes caring for nearly 100 birds ranging from big, strong adults through to the old, frail and special-needs birds. A not-yet-self-feeding baby like Lucy can’t just be put in an aviary. Then I had an inspiration. I had a new foster family that was going to be taking in a single young adult pigeon, Swift, that had been waiting too long at the shelter but perhaps I could persuade them instead to foster two birds- blind youngster Henry and delicate baby Lucy. Both were lonesome. Both were young and frail and each needed a gentle, safe companion. It was a hell of a lot to ask of new foster volunteers- to take two birds instead of one, to take on a blind bird and especially, to take on a baby King Pigeon who might not survive after the ordeal she had been through. (These youngsters, bred to be butchered at only 4 weeks old, come in sick, traumatized and without the robust immune system an adult pigeon has. Many don’t make it, despite everything we do to save them.) Incredibly, Cris & Kelly said yes. And so, on Sunday, August 9th, I packed up Henry and headed back to the shelter to get baby Lucy and Swift, the young adult pigeon who had waited so long (and who I could fit into my aviary).
Henry, a blind Rock Pigeon youngster
Animal Care Manager Orlando says goodbye to Lucy
SFACC staffer Naomi snuggling Lucy
Swift- finally on her freedom ride!
I cannot tell you how happy I was to take young Henry and baby Lucy to foster with Cris & Kelly!
Cris with Henry & Kelly with Lucy
As I had hoped, the two pigeon kids made instant friends. Henry, though a couple of weeks older, was still young enough to be gentle with a baby and, isolated by his blindness, grateful for a friend. And Lucy, not even quite old enough to be out of the nest and yet already a survivor of both the squab industry and an inhumane “release”/abandonment, was thrilled to have a new birdy buddy! (Pigeons grow up as twins and are all about having a special, significant other.)
Making new friends
Lucy & Henry
Happy to be together
Cris & Henry
The next morning, I awoke to one of the happiest sights I’ve ever seen since becoming a rescuer: A video text of Henry preening Lucy while she squeaked her pleasure. They were so happy together! I was truly overjoyed.
And the good news kept coming. Just as I had hoped, Henry was teaching baby Lucy how to self-feed!
It’s hard for me to overstate how happy this rescue made me. I was so thrilled for baby Lucy and for Henry and for their foster volunteers and everybody involved. This rescue made me feel like the past eight years were all worth it. (And of course they were.) It was a week of adorable, happy snapshots.
Henry & Lucy snuggling
Lucy loving the loving
Lucy & Henry- BFFs
Except that on Friday, August 14th, baby Lucy didn’t feel well. I was able to get over to see her that night, start her on meds and a heating pad, and we started working on a transport plan to get her either to our vets or our volunteer bird health care coordinator for care. Baby pigeons are frail and when they are sick, things go wrong fast.
Sick baby Lucy on her heating pad, Henry nearby
Lucy 7/7/15 – 8/15/15
Tragically, despite the best efforts of many, Lucy died the next day. She went very quickly. She died peacefully. She’ll never be forgotten.
Henry and his foster family are soldiering on. Henry is, I’m sure, heartbroken. We all are. Cris and Kelly have surrounded Henry with love and comfort. We’re working to find the right new friend for Henry.
Henry & Cris, grieving together
Henry on his shelf
Henry after a shower
I’ll always be so grateful to Cris and Kelly for taking the chance and saying yes to two foster pigeons instead of one, for opening their hearts to a blind pigeon and an at-risk baby, for giving these two angels such a wonderful and happy week. I don’t know how we ever would have rescued Lucy without them and even though she didn’t make it, she was safe, loved, comfortable, happy. She was adored.
Jeff & Roxanne with their pet pigeons Baby & Matilda
While our adopters love their pigeons and doves, it is not easy getting the birds adopted. Many people would be thrilled to have a backyard aviary but most don’t know how to go about creating one and buying pre-made enclosures can be tricky. They can be expensive, too small, unsafe, ill-designed (see our recommendations here). So, after years of grappling with this barrier, we are exploring a brand new way of overcoming it.
Last month, with the help of our friend Nancy Powell, an expert in both building and bird rescue, our aviary panel kit #1 was created. It is designed specifically for the needs of Palomacy’s fosters and adopters and it’s wonderful!
Nancy & Nieve
Sketch of the front view
We had the pleasure of putting the aviary panel kit together Saturday on the backyard deck of adopters Roxanne & Jeff. It is built from sixteen 3′ x 6′ panels that are easy to transport, easy to assemble and easy to finish with aviary furnishings (such as bird feet-friendly flooring, partial siding & roof, shelves, nest boxes, etc.). Using all the panels, it creates a safe, secure, pigeon or dove-friendly enclosure that is 9′ x 6′ x 6′ ( a good size for up to 8 pigeons or 16 doves). Thanks to the modular panel design, it can easily be reconfigured into a smaller size (or expanded) or disassembled and relocated if needed. The cost to buy it: $950.
Roxanne & Jeff admiring the bottom panels
Jeff (with Baby), Roxanne, Steph (with Matilda) & Paul in the assembled (but not yet complete) aviary
We are so excited about this potentially game-changing strategy to increase adoptions. (And adoptions do need to be increased! There are a lot of beautiful, innocent, easy-to-love birds in need of homes. More than we are able to keep up with at our current rate.)
Aviary panel kit #2 is going to be built to help farmed animal sanctuary Animal Place begin to help rescued King Pigeons (survivors of the squab industry and inhumane “releases”) to be adopted. This partnership, bringing together little Palomacy’s unique expertise in caring for and placing King Pigeons with Animal Place’s far greater depth of experience and range of resources, is a huge step forward on the road to saving more lives of these overlooked and under-served birds. (Read more: Palomacy & Animal Place Working Together to Help King Pigeons)
Rescue Ranch Manager Jan & Dylan visiting chickens
Founded in 1989, Animal Place’s California animal shelters fills a much-needed niche of farm animal rescue, sanctuary, education and adoption. Animal Place is one of the largest and oldest animal sanctuaries in the nation. We operate a 600-acre sanctuary in Grass Valley, California, and a 60-acre animal shelter in Vacaville, California. Animal Place extends compassion to all life with a special emphasis on farmed animals. This is executed by providing permanent sanctuary, education, legislation and appropriate placement of needy animals.
Site of Animal Place’s Rescue Ranch King Pigeon Aviary to be!
We’re crowdfunding an aviary to help Animal Place save the lives of King Pigeons!
So far, we’re 24% of the way towards our fundraising goal. Please click here to help us reach it.
Our hope is that not only can we make this aviary dream come true but that we can then start fundraising to build aviary panel kit #3. We already have a place for it!
Debbie marks our intended site for aviary panel kit #3!
And, if we are able to raise the needed funds, we plan to create loaner aviary panel kits for qualifying foster volunteers too. Also, as we get the plans written out, we will make the information- the materials lists and how-tos and videos- available for free online so that everybody can repliciate this life-saving solution for birds in need.
If you’re a Bay Area builder or a funder who’d be interested in helping with this life-saving project, please contact Elizabeth.
And stay tuned for lots more news about this super exciting leap forward in helping pigeons get home!
Thank you for all of your support.
Nieve & Duke, survivors of the squab industry, inhumane release and an overfull shelter thank you for saving them!
Gurumina is the bird that started all this.
My first memory of Gurumina is that she was hopping up and down in a stainless steel cage at the San Francisco Animal Care & Control shelter (SFACC) where I was a newbie volunteer in the “Smalls Room”. She sounded like a bowling ball in a dryer.
The Smalls Room at SFACC
I had seen a couple of these big white birds at the shelter and they always just stood stock still, clearly trying to be invisible. And for the most part, they were. Shelter staff & volunteers didn’t really know what to do with them. Unlike all the other animals, they weren’t taken out of their cages, socialized, given names, photographed, posted on websites…
And so I really wasn’t sure why Gurumina was hopping up and down nor what would happen if I opened her cage. I had finished up my volunteer shift- having socialized with all the other animals- and was about to go home. I remember feeling very unsure about opening her cage. I didn’t want her flying around the room, banging into the window, hurting herself, embarrassing me.
When I did open her cage and offered her my hand, she stepped out onto it in the most lady-like way. The hopping had been her way of asking for attention. Once given it, she was sublimely calm. And big! And heavy for a bird, I remember thinking. I didn’t really know what to do but I walked around with her standing on my hand and introduced her to all the bunnies. She seemed to enjoy meeting them. And they her. She was incredibly charming.
Gurumina was different from the other King Pigeons who routinely arrived at SFACC. She wasn’t a young, terrified, traumatized squab. She had been someone’s pet who had been surrendered. That’s why she had a name. She was a King Pigeon who had been socialized. She was clearly an awesome pet. Smart, loving, quiet. So elegant.
Gurumina inspired me to start learning about King Pigeons. Despite all my years of studying animals, I’d never before heard of King Pigeons. Most people haven’t.
King Pigeons are bred for meat (squab) and the vast majority go straight from their nest* to the processing plant and from there to a fancy plate. (*They are slaughtered at 4 weeks of age, before they fledge, for maximum tenderness.) But some King Pigeons are sold live at poultry markets where people sometimes buy and “release” them in a ceremony or in a misguided effort to liberate them (release equals death for these domestic birds). A lucky few survive long enough to get taken to an animal shelter where, if they’re not adopted or have no rescue to help them, they’re killed.
When Gurumina needed to be rescued, I took her into my home and fostered her. I knew I could get her adopted and, with help from Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue, I was able to find her a wonderful forever home. She was adopted on 10/21/07.
I hadn’t meant to start a rescue. In fact, the prospect of doing something like that was one of my biggest fears. I had, for all of my life, been more interested in and drawn to animals than anything else. From the time I was very young, people would always say, “Oh, you’re going to be a vet someday” but I always knew that I could never be a vet. Even in grade school, I knew that I never wanted to be in any kind of business with animals. They are too vulnerable to us. We are too unkind. I couldn’t bear what animals endure. And so I had adopted and rescued privately, but avoided any other involvement. But, in 2007, I was wondering, since I was still so drawn to animals, if maybe I had made a mistake. And so I had very cautiously dipped my toe in by signing up as a shelter volunteer. All I was going to do was socialize the Smalls for an hour or two a week. I was not going to let myself go over the animal cliff…
Because of Gurumina, I recognized who the next King Pigeon was when she arrived at the shelter. Though she was dirty, sick, and terrified, I knew her amazing pet potential. I named her Rocky because when she punched out with her wing to warn me away (something we call wing fu), she always used her left. She wing-fu’d southpaw.
Rocky, 4 weeks old at SFACC
Because of what Gurumina taught me, I, despite trepidation about the cliff I was stepping off, rescued Rocky. And then Sugar. And Stretch. And Jesse… And within a couple of months, MickaCoo Pigeon & Dove Rescue was hatched and it has since grown into Palomacy Pigeon & Dove Adoptions. To date, we have saved more than 600 lives and helped countless others. We provide coaching and referrals to people all over the country and beyond. We are helping pigeons and doves and the people that love them today because of Gurumina. We are creating awareness and inspiring compassion. We may be the world’s first (and only?) adoption agency devoted to pigeon and doves.
On July 23rd, 2015, Gurumina died peacefully at home. She was a cherished pet. She is mourned. She will never be forgotten.
Gurumina’s My Mutt Poster
Gurumina & her adopter Shaf visit my brand new aviary 2008
Shaf & Gurumina volunteering at Filoli outreach 2010
Gurumina & I 2010
By Elizabeth Young, founder & executive director Palomacy Pigeon & Dove Adoptions
When Natalia saw the nervous, hungry white pigeon looking so lost on a busy San Francisco sidewalk, she knew that the bird needed help. It wasn’t until after the fact that she learned the King Pigeon she rescued and named Snezhok (snowball in Russian), was only four weeks old, a survivor of both the squab industry and an inhumane “release” and completely unable to survive in the wild.
Domestic and defenseless, Snezhok was incredibly lucky to be rescued into a loving family and given a home. Natalia writes, “Snezhok has the most loyal but at the same time independent spirit. Surprisingly for a bird, who has no means of defense and does not fly very well, she is not afraid of anything and faces challenges fearlessly: from the streets of San Francisco, where we found her abandoned and starved but her spirit still unbroken – to living with humans and adjusting to other pets.”
We created Palomacy to help birds like Snezhok and people like Natalia. There was a deadly gap in the animal welfare community so, while domestic (unreleasable) pigeons were going in to animal shelters, they weren’t getting out.
The shelters didn’t know who these birds were, they didn’t post them to their websites nor include them in events. People didn’t know they existed and they didn’t get adopted. Yet all the other animals had at least some hope of getting adopted or rescued. Just not the pigeons. Strange.
Pigeons are among the most commonplace of animals in our lives. Our cities have flocks of wild Rock Pigeons. There are countless pigeon breeders, hobbyists, fanciers and squab producers hatching millions of domestic pigeons in the US alone every year. Plenty of people are seeing pigeons but somehow they aren’t really seeing pigeons.
But those of us who have seen the beauty, the intelligence, the soulfulness of these earthbound angels, we know they deserve compassion.
And so, we are super excited to have not only Natalia & Snezhok’s photo by Elisabeth Millay Young selected as a semi-finalist in GlobalGiving’s 2015 Photo Contest, but also a portrait of pigeon-racing survivor Indy as well! This is an extraordinary opportunity for us to show who pigeons really are.
Pigeon-racing survivor Indy, photographed by Kira Stackhouse, is an incredibly gentle, sweet bird. As a racing pigeon, he was bred to be a “champion”, taken hundreds of miles from his home and “tossed” with thousands of other pigeons to begin the desperate “race” to find his way back home. Despite flying their hearts out, most never do. Indy was lucky in that, when he was grounded with both a broken wing and broken leg, he was found by a well-meaning person rather than a hungry predator, but he wasn’t out of danger. He was kept unprotected in a backyard, given no vet care and he likely would have died there if he hadn’t been rescued by Palomacy. Now he has a happy life ahead of him.
Rescued Pigeon Racing Survivor Indy photographed by Kira Stackhouse
Please vote for your favorite photo (shot pro bono by professional photographers who support our work) and invite all your friends to vote for us in the GlobalGiving Photo Contest! First prize is $1000 for the rescue! Voting starts Monday, August 3rd at 9 AM PT and the photo with the most votes this Friday at 9 AM PT will win $1000. (Only your first vote will count and email confirmation is required.)
Please help people to see who pigeons really are. Pigeons are worthy of our compassion.
Warning: Includes graphic photos showing what happens to “released doves”.
When you hear about a “dove release” or “wedding doves”, it usually means that Homing Pigeons, selectively bred to be all white, small and dove-like, were rented so as to be ceremoniously released. (They don’t call them “wedding pigeons” for some reason…)
Most will survive the flight home.
Homing pigeons released as “wedding doves”. Photo by Jim Kennedy
But the reality is very different from the fantasy.
The “dove release” business perpetuates the idea that white birds can be “set free” and they will just fly away and live happily ever after. Even under the best of circumstances, trained “wedding doves” are hurt, lost and killed trying to get home. It’s even worse when do-it-yourselfers mistakenly buy white Ringneck Doves and King Pigeons to release. Nearly all of them will die.
“Wedding dove” lucky to be rescued & taken to a shelter
Please help counteract this fantasy with the reality. We have to speak up for the birds because no one is listening to them. We strongly recommend against using these gentle, loyal birds in this uncaring way.
A nice employee at Evergreen Cemetery called to tell me that managed he to save six of a flock of white doves “released” at a funeral. The mourners had to pull them out of the cage and throw them in the air but even so, only a few flew anywhere (they knew they weren’t safe). One was hawk-struck, another run over… others flew away (but they won’t survive).We all know people who will be having weddings, funerals, graduations and other ceremonies and rituals… Please help educate people to how cruel and unfair this is to the birds.
Photo by Carol Fletcher taken at Heart & Soul Animal Sanctuary
Never buy and release birds for weddings, funerals, prayers, blessings, as a “kind act” or other ceremonies. White doves and other birds (like King Pigeons) sold to you have no survival skills and will suffer and die, bringing neither joy nor honor to any occasion. Releasing store-bought birds is both cruel and illegal.
Four-week old King Pigeons rescued after their “release” at a funeral
And even when done “properly”, by hiring a professional to release trained white Homing Pigeons, casualties are still common. Note: We recommend against all releases of domestic birds. We have rescued plenty of lost and/or injured white Homing Pigeons too.
See the heartbreaking story of Pope Francis’ 2014 “release” in the Ukraine here.
This custom needs to end
Predators recognize what we do not
Domestic Homing Pigeons are easy prey
Domestic birds should never be “released”
This happens to a lot of the “doves” (Homing Pigeons) released by Popes and others. Here’s a “symbolic appeal for peace” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013.
Pope Benedict XVI
Wild vs. Domestic is not “nature”
The odds of survival for true doves (white Ringneck Doves) & King Pigeons are much worse. Whether they are being used for a ceremony or misguidedly “set free”, most of them don’t survive long enough to be rescued. When unprotected, their life span, whether in the city, a park or the wild, is hours to days. These King Pigeons youngsters (sold as squab at a live poultry market and “set free” in Golden Gate Park, beat the terrible odds and were rescued. (One of them, Duke, is still available for adoption along with his mate Nieve.)
Baby King Pigeons “released”
Domestic King Pigeons have no survival skills
These were very lucky to be rescued
And even if they lucky enough to be rescued, they are still at risk. Many are weak, sick, traumatized, injured as well as at risk of being killed in overfull shelters. After watching yet another one of these innocent victims die, I posted this on Craigslist:
It says, To the well-intended but misguided people who buy baby King Pigeons (squab) from live poultry markets and “set them free”- don’t! You are just killing them in another (and not very merciful) way. These baby birds have no survival skills and, even if they were to live to adulthood, they still won’t. They are DOMESTIC. They are preyed upon by hawks, gulls, ravens, dogs, cats, raccoons, mean people and hit by cars if they don’t starve or die from disease. (If you eat squab- beware. The majority of the baby king pigeons- squab- that live long enough to make it to an animal shelter are sick- from Trichomoniasis, PMV, chlamydophilia and more.)
I was contacted by the shelter again today to try and save one of these poor, sweet creatures but she died within the hour. She was 5 weeks old. If you want to help King Pigeons, do something meaningful. Volunteer at the shelter. Protest live animal sales. Donate. Adopt some and provide them with the decent life they deserve. But please please please don’t buy them and “set them free” in the parks thinking you have helped them. You haven’t. You have put them in an even worse predicament than they already were (as bad as that was).
Here’s a picture of today’s victim (found in MacLaren Park a week ago and kept until her inability to breathe got her finder to take her to the animal shelter). Despite our best efforts, she was too sick to be saved. And here are pictures of what happens to many of the others “set free”.
Please- RELEASING BABY KING PIGEONS (AND ANY OTHER DOMESTIC ANIMAL) IS MURDER. Don’t do it.
“Released” domestic birds have no survival skills. They are killed by hawks, ravens, gulls, dogs, cats, raccoons, mean people and cars.
King Pigeons “released” at Our lady of Peace Church
King Pigeon we spent hours trying but failed to rescue
Despite all the many birds we rescue, this is the fate of many that get “released”.
Domestic birds are killed by all kinds of predators
Originally published in the Marin Independent Journal on 7/16/2011
By Elizabeth Young
There is an epic but almost invisible drama at work in the San Francisco Bay Area. Every week, unbeknown to most, local animal shelters get in a couple of beautiful, smart, all-white birds called King Pigeons. Most arrive as babies, only four weeks old, and they are usually weak and hurt. The few survivors that make it to the shelters have beat astronomical odds and yet they face euthanasia as their likely fate, unless they are rescued and adopted.
When I started volunteering at my local animal shelter in 2007, I had never heard of a King Pigeon and I was surprised to learn that each week, these smart, gentle birds were found, wandering starved and often injured, in parks and around town. King Pigeons are not wild. They are a domestic breed raised for meat. King Pigeons are bred to be big (for maximum meat yield) and white (so their skin will be pink) and are factory-farmed or raised by backyard breeders. Squab (which means baby pigeon) is served in French, Italian, American Haute and Asian cuisines and is sold live at poultry markets which is how a few king pigeons wind up in animal shelters rather than on a dinner plate.
Baby pigeons are cute and, while most that are sold live are butchered and eaten, some are purchased and “set free” by well-meaning but misguided people. King Pigeons have no survival skills and, with their bred-to-be-big bodies, never achieve the flight skills required to evade hawks, gulls and ravens. Their snow white feathers make them highly visible targets and their long history of domesticity has robbed them of their ability to find food and water and shelter. The “lucky” few that escape the butcher are usually killed by dogs, cats, birds of prey, cars and even mean people, often within hours of their “release”. How cruel that their brief freedom ends so tragically.
Yet, miraculously, a very few do survive long enough to make it to an animal shelter. Unfortunately and ironically, despite having escaped the butcher and survived the wild, these even “luckier” birds are almost guaranteed to be euthanized rather than get out alive which, after all the odds they’ve beat, seems particularly cruel. Animal shelters are stretched to their limits trying to care for and adopt out all the puppies and kittens and bunnies and budgies. They don’t have the resources to advocate for pigeons and people don’t know that they’re there needing homes.
Despite all their terrible luck, King Pigeons are actually very beautiful, smart and charming creatures and, when I met a tame, sensitive pet King Pigeon that, like all the others, was facing euthanasia, I knew I could find her a home and save her life. So I did. That effort grew to become first MickaCoo Pigeon & Dove Rescue and is now Palomacy Pigeon & Dove Adoptions with volunteers serving seven Bay Area counties. So far, we’ve saved the lives of more than 600 birds from being euthanized in shelters.
King Pigeons can live indoors as house pets (they can even wear pants) or outside year-round in an easy-to-create aviary. They are gorgeous, calm, simple to care for, smart and full of personality. And they want to live. We always has lots of King Pigeons available for adoption as do many Bay Area shelters. Please help us to save the lives of these gentle birds.
You can foster, adopt, volunteer and donate in support of their care. Until there are homes for all, please – don’t buy, don’t breed, adopt!
Violet is a strikingly beautiful, gentle, petite Birmingham Roller who is trying really hard to recover from a devastating injury. She was taken to WildCare in January, unable to walk or stand. She still cannot unless she is flapping her wings to generate lift. Her legs aren’t paralyzed but they lack the strength and control she needs. Her WildCare report states, “Came to WildCare on January 17th, found in El Sobrante, unable to stand with no deep pain response in either leg and a deep laceration along her keel along with multiple puncture wounds – we assume caught by a hawk based on this presentation. Through physical therapy, anti-inflammatory and pain meds, was able to stand, with pain reponse in both legs, wounds all healed, but with lasting spinal and probably nerve damage. Physical therapy included active and passive range of motion along with a sling during the day. She was always calm and began eating on her own once she got the sling in early February. By mid February she had plateaued, standing but wobbly. So was removed from WC and sent to Palomacy.”
Violet flaps her wings in order to stand & to walk
Roller pigeons are tragically selectively inbred for the genetic inclination to flip backwards in flight. They inordinately suffer injuries and death from “roll downs” and raptor strikes. Roller Pigeons are used in competitions and their performances are judged. The “Ariel Standard” from Lewis Wright’s book titled The Practical Pigeon Keeper states, “the true Birmingham Roller turns over backwards with inconceivable rapidity through a considerable distance like a spinning ball.”
Fanciers consider the rolling beautiful but how anyone can enjoy a hobby that so endangers the birds? This news article excerpt is telling.
Four Inland men are among suspects accused of killing raptors to protect pigeons. Thursday, May 24, 2007
By JENNIFER BOWLES, SANDRA STOKLEY and IMRAN GHORI
Seven Southern California men, including four from the Inland region, were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of killing scores of red-tailed hawks and other raptors that prey on the pigeons they breed for aerial acrobatic competition. The men have been charged with violating the federal Migratory Bird Act, which protects raptors. Each misdemeanor count carries a maximum sentence of six months in federal prison. Brian McCormick, 40, of Norco, denied the charges Thursday and said he was “extremely shocked” when federal agents showed up on his doorstep at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. He said that while hawks and falcons cause “devastating losses” to enthusiasts who breed and raise champion birds, he would never kill them. A breeding pair of roller pigeons that perform backward somersaults while in flight can fetch $300 to $500, he said. “For me the loss is emotional,” McCormick said. “I raise 100 birds to make a team and half of them are eaten by birds of prey. It’s heartbreaking.”
Violet was extremely lucky, when she was injured in January, most likely from a “roll down” collision into the ground, to be found and taken to WildCare. They cared for her for a month in the hopes that she could recover the use of her legs and be transferred to the Marin Humane Society for adoption.
Despite all their resources and best efforts, she made little progress. She clearly wanted to live- she ate and preened and paid close attention to all the happenings around her- but she couldn’t stand up. She was unadoptable and would be euthanized if transferred to the shelter. In February, when she had to have a placement, WildCare RVT Nat reached out to Palomacy on her behalf to ask if we could take her on to our caseload. Nat knew we were full and offered to foster her for us. We said yes.
Nat & Violet
Nat lovingly fostered Violet until May when she transferred into my care. Throughout all this time, her progress has been incredibly slow.
Violet’s sitting posture 4/2/15
Violet still sitting back on her tail 5/12/15
Violet lounging in her special cage set up 5/13/15
Violet is fostered in my special needs bird room. She can’t be out of her cage all the time because she has to time-share the space with other birds. When too-aggressive Freckles is out of his cage, she has to be in hers. But she loves to come out for a couple hours each morning and evening. As soon as I open her cage door, she flies out and begins flapping her wings.
Flapping her wings for lift, Violet can stand & walk
She spends most of her out-of-cage time flap flap flapping. When she flaps, it generates the lift she needs to be able to stand up and to walk a few steps. She’ll flap continuously for an hour or more. It seems almost involuntary or compulsive while she is doing it but there are times when she chooses not to do it (when she’s in her cage or sitting in a food bowl) so perhaps it feels good or reduces discomfort from sitting all the time.
The trauma Violet endured when she was injured has impacted the transmission of neural information between her brain and her legs. She has feeling in her legs and can control them (somewhat). We were surprised to discover that when turned on her back, which I did the first time to exam her, she will pedal pedal pedal her legs. This does seem more involuntary than deliberate. I occasionally turn her over for some pedal time in the hopes that it will help her recovery.
We know that birds sometime make extraordinary recoveries if given enough time and support (see Ava’s story and Bell’s story for examples). Violet seems to be getting better rather than worse and she shows a strong desire to live. We are committed to helping her live the very best life she can.
Briefly standing (!) without flapping 6/6/15
Breeding domestic pigeons to fly wild skies is an inhumane practice from the start but to further endanger them by selectively inbreeding “Roller Pigeons” for the genetic inclination to somersault mid-flight is truly heartless. The fanciers’ enjoyment of their “sport” in no way makes up for the suffering of the birds. Breeders have gone so far as to create “Parlor Rollers”, pigeons so compromised that when they try to fly, can only somersault across the ground. (The current world record roll is 662 feet.) It is perverse and indefensible. Watch Parlor Rollers compete to see for yourself and set aside time to see the BBC documentary Pedigreed Dogs Exposed to learn more about the horrors of “purebreds”.
But Violet can’t help any of that. She is here and she wants a life just as we all do.
Sitting in the food bowl
Having a soak
Working at the computer
In the sun
I think Violet’s progress may be plateaued and that she needs some extra help to increase her chances for success. I want to rig up a sling that can help her bear some weight on her legs and improve her strength and control. Slings aren’t easy to get right and I’ve not had much luck with past slings that I’ve made. Here’s one I found on the Internet (creator unknown) that has inspired me. I’ve also been thinking about how a pair of pigeon pants or a flight suit might be modified to serve as a sling… Stay tuned.
Thank you for reading Violet’s story and for helping us to help her and all the others. Compassion matters.
This morning, until funds run out, you can make a donation in support of the work that we do and GlobalGiving will add a 50% bonus match to your donation. Please, if you can, make a donation right now. Bonus match funds run out early. Thank you.
Steph is making & donating hundreds of buttons to help the pigeons
Palomacy volunteers like Steph Fries share their talents and expertise so generously to help us help the birds!
On June 8th, I received this message from Steph:
Hello again, Elizabeth! I was thinking about how you were saying that Palomacy needs all the PR it can get especially since it never occurs to most folks that pigeons can be pets (and great ones at that!). I used to make pinback buttons for local bands as a side business when I was younger and I’ve thought about getting back into it again, more as a hobby than as a business this time. I’m working on getting another button press right now and I’d like to donate my time and supplies to make promotional buttons for Palomacy to pass out at events, free of charge. I don’t earn enough at my job to make regular monetary donations to Palomacy like I wish, so I thought this might be a good way to donate my time in a way that could have a real impact on getting pigeons into forever homes. Let me know if you think this is something Palomacy could use and benefit from. I’m excited to get the word out and help in any way I can. Thanks!
And here’s my response:
OMG! That’s a BRILLIANT idea, Steph! (And a very generous one too!) That would be awesome!!! Why have we never thought of that?! Imagine if all the people we talked to at events went away wearing a PIGEON BUTTON?!
And in less than two short weeks, I had the privilege of picking up a whole treasure trove of amazing pro-pigeon buttons which I have already distributed to volunteers and which Steph has already replenished! (And she’s busy at work making even more so that we can give them to the summer campers who attend our humane education presentations.)
East Bay SPCA Animal Campers
And you too can show off your pigeon pride with Palomacy buttons! Email your address, tell us your favorite and volunteer/creator Steph will send to you! (You’re welcome to make an optional donation here if desired.)
Beatnik Pigeon Button
Super Dovee Button
Feed the Birds Button
60s Pigeon Button
Blanco & Bean Button
Steph writes, “It doesn’t occur to most folks that pigeons can be pets. Nearly everyone I’ve met at Palomacy adoption & outreach events initially seems confused as to why our pigeons & doves need homes in the first place. I wanted to find a fun & creative way to advocate for these birds, and buttons seemed like a great way to do that. The idea is that the buttons will pique people’s curiosity when they see folks wearing them and hopefully start an interesting and important conversation about pigeons as pets, the horribly cruel “sport” of pigeon racing, and why we rescue these brilliant, charming birds.”
And I can’t say it any better than that.
Your time, energy, creativity and compassion are the forces that power our culture-changing, life-saving work. Thank you!