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.
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.
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!
Pigeons are completely devoted to their families and most have an extraordinary ability to ‘home’ back to them, a trait we’ve utilized all over the world for thousands of years. Pigeons relayed the results of the first Olympic Games and the Associated Press used pigeons to rush breaking news dispatches. They are still being used in military conflicts and one of the most amazing stories is that of Cher Ami.
Cher Ami, french for “Dear Friend,” was a messenger pigeon who flew for the US Army Signal Corps in France during WWI. Her courage and determination saved the lives of almost 200 soldiers in October, 1918.
The 308th Battalion in the 77th division was trapped in a small depression on the side of a hill behind enemy lines. Taking deadly fire, out of food and water, they attached messages to their carrier pigeons requesting urgent support. The first two pigeons sent were shot down by German forces. They had one pigeon left, Cher Ami. The Battalion wrote one last message which they attached to Cher Ami, desperately hoping that she would somehow make it through.
Cher Ami was also shot by enemy fire. She was shot in his chest by German forces while flying across the battlefields. With a bullet in her chest, and one leg hanging by a single tendon, Cher Ami flew the 25 miles to headquarters to deliver the message. When she arrived, she was blind in one eye, covered in blood, with a bullet in the chest, and a leg literally hanging by a thread. The message she delivered saved the lives of 194 men.
Cher Ami became the hero of the 77th division. Medics saved her life but were unable to save her leg. Instead, they fashioned a wooden prosthetic for her to use. When Cher Ami had recovered enough to travel, she was put on a boat to the US, and was personally seen off by General John J. Pershing.
For her hard work and determination, Cher Ami became the mascot of the Department of Service and was awarded the Croix de Guerre medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster for heroic service in delivering 12 important messages.
Cher Ami passed away eight months after the battle as a result of her wounds. She was mounted by a taxidermist and now is displayed proudly in the Smithsonian in the “Price of Freedom” exhibit.
Originally published in the Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue Newsletter July 2015
Julia is an active volunteer, helping advocate for pigeons throughout her community and beyond.
On 4/1/15, a brown & white Persian High Flyer pigeon with a startling injury approached a kind person in Sacramento who took him to Wildlife Care Association (WCA). The bird’s upper beak was entirely gone, torn from his face. Brianna of WCA took care of his immediate needs with pain meds, antibiotics and supportive care and reached out to us, Palomacy Pigeon & Dove Adoptions, for his long term care. Brianna named him Fleetwood. We were able, with the help of a volunteer from Mickaboo (our big sister parrot rescue), to get Fleetwood transported to our avian vets at Medical Center for Birds.
Fleetwood on intake 4/1
Losing half a beak is like losing a thumb
Aside from the disabling wound (which included a punture into the lower mandible as well), Fleetwood was in surprisingly good condition. The wound was recent. His injury was such that his beak would never grow back and, because there was not even a stump left for attachment, he is considered a poor prospect for a prosthetic beak. Now he needed to heal and relearn how to feed himself with only half a beak.
Fleetwood’s sort of injury is frequently seen among pet parrots who have fought and wounded one another with their incredibly strong-biting beaks but is much less common among pigeons. The best we can tell from the wound, he was attacked by an animal, likely a rat, racoon or cat. He had no marks anywhere else on his body and he may have been injured through chicken wire (something that is commonly used but which is totally inadequate for protecting against predators). Whatever the case, Fleetwood was very lucky to survive the attack.
He was hospitalized for a week. In the beginning, even though he was being tube-fed, he tried diligently (but unsuccessfully) to self-feed from the various types of dishes the clinic staff provided. After a couple of days, his efforts petered out. They cut back his tube-fed meals in order to increase his appetite and re-invigorate his efforts to self-feed but it didn’t help.
Depressed at the vet’s 4/9
I picked Fleetwood up on 4/9. After a week locked indoors in a hospital tank with all kinds of piles of food that he couldn’t eat, he was very depressed. I brought him home and he brightened up at seeing other pigeons. He needed to regain lost weight (arrived home weighing only 238 grams) so I increased his meal size and, though he hated tube-feeding, the extra nutrition seemed to also lift his spirits.
It doesn’t take a lot to make pigeons happy. Pigeons are very easy going and good natured. There is a saying about them: Pigeons bloom where planted. I have found this to be very true. They are expert at making the best of a situation, no matter how bad, and they are incredibly stoic about enduring hardships. Even so, they have their needs. Pigeons need companionship (preferrably other pigeons but if not, a really devoted person willing to learn some Pigeonese), they need sunshine, they need space to move, they need to be able to eat…
Fleetwood much happier in the aviary 4/13
Fleetwood showing off his Persian High Flyer wings
I was able to offer Fleetwood most of these. I found that his favorite place to be was outside in the aviary with the flock. Initially I was concerned that he was not strong enough to manage out there (especially with only half a beak to defend himself) but I could see how much he preferred it. I saw he would scamper away when another pigeon accosted him. And Indy, a bachelor pigeon racing-survivor I foster, courted Fleetwood and spent a lot of time shadowing him so he had a buddy and bodyguard of sorts. (So much so that I thought Fleetwood was female for the first five weeks I cared for him.)
Fleetwood with Indy ever by his side
Amazingly, though I was tube-feeding Fleetwood big, filling, weight-gain-intending meals thrice daily, outside in the aviary, he continuously pecked (unsuccessfully) at the pigeon feed all day, every day. He wanted to eat! He was relentless and spent all his time peck peck pecking. He never altered his technique, just kept trying the same thing over and over, for hours every day. It was heartbreaking and encouraging both.
When I brought him indoors after a day in the aviary, I returned him to a cage full of pigeon food in deep bowls that, if he plunged his face into, he likely could have self-fed from, but he wouldn’t. He only wanted to try and eat seeds from the ground in the aviary. Ideas and suggestions poured in and I tried everything we could think of to enable him to self-feed. I tried hand-feeding, feeding gruel in a baby-pigeon feeding-type tube, different types of food in different types of containers…
Seeing how committed he was to pecking at the ground, I had what I thought was a stroke of genius. I filled the bottom of a plastic box one inch deep with all kinds of bird seed- large pigeon feed grains as well as tiny canary and budgie-size seeds. I put him in sure that the “feeding box” was the solution. He could stand in the seed, peck peck peck away and, because there was only seed an inch deep, never miss! It seemed, at first, like it was going to work. He did peck at the seed and I think might have even got a couple in. But being in a box, even a clear one that he could hop out of when he wanted to do, seemed unsatisfactory. He only tried pecking in it a couple of times. Eventually he would completely ignore the lush carpet of food at his feet when I put him in and I finally put the box away.
As the weeks went by, Fleetwood had slowly regained a little of the lost weight (getting up to 290 grams) but he was still very thin and he hated- hated – being tube-fed. It was the thing that we both had to do every day that we both hated the most. Some birds warm up to being tube-fed, appreciating the full crop it delivers, but not Fleetwood. And because he hated having it done so much, I hated doing it. He also endured a flare up of infection to the wound in his lower beak that required another course of antibiotics. I’m sure it was painful. I worried that he might lose his lower mandible as well. (At the same time, there was speculation that without his lower beak, he might be able to self-feed.)
Fleetwood’s lower beak wound became reinfected
I rarely see problems for which euthanasia is the solution but I was beginning to wonder if that might be what lay at the end of the road for poor Fleetwood. (Some had suggested it right away but my theory is, we don’t have to start with euthanasia, it will always be there as an option.) He wasn’t happy. He couldn’t eat. He wouldn’t even drink water though it was always available to him. I even made a point of offering him the chance to sip from a water cup whenever I handled him (something most pigeons appreciate) but he always recoiled from it.
We count a few especially talented pigeon people amongst our supporters, people who have an uncanny ability to befriend and soothe even the most challenging birds. I had scheduled an upcoming weekend, 5/22, for Fleetwood with one of ours. I hoped that together they could have the feeding breakthrough that we were not…
Then, on 5/13, Fleetwood had his own breakthrough and took a bath in the aviary for the first time! (Pigeons love to bathe and most do it nearly daily so it’s always really encouraging to see a recovering pigeon decide it’s time to bathe.) I was very happy! He gave me a lot of new hope with that bath.
Fleetwood 5/13, after his first bath since being injured
And then, all of a sudden, on 5/15, as I was about to feed him for the 105th time, Fleetwood and I finally had our big feeding breathrough!
I had brought him in for his afternoon tube-feeding, something we both dreaded, and, for the first time ever, rather than fight my fingers, he nibbled at them! Little ‘feed me’ nibbles! Oh my goodness, I was so excited! I immediately dropped the tube-feeding stuff and instead got pigeon feed that I could finger-feed him. And it worked! When he wanted me to finger-feed him, it was easy and fun! (Previously, when he resisted, it was basically impossible.)
Fleetwood & I ecstatic after our first successful finger-feeding 5/15
That day marked an incredible turning point for Fleetwood. He’s never been tube-fed again. The following day, I saw him take a big drink of water and so that was really good news, too. Now, twice a day, I finger-feed him pigeon feed that has soaked in water for a few minutes (it swells up, is easier to feed and helped provide extra moisture when I was worried he wasn’t drinking enough) and we both love it! What had been the worst part of both our days is now the best part. It’s hard to express how much satisfaction we both get from it.
Pigeon feed soaked in water is great for finger-feeding
He still peck peck pecks outside in the aviary all day and sometimes he is actually successful! Sometimes I can feel a small amount of seeds in his crop when I bring him in for his bedtime dinner! I am pretty confident that he’ll be able to self-feed enough to no longer require finger-feeding. He may already be at that point (he’s put on a lot of weight and is 350 grams now!) but he and I so both enjoy the finger-feeding that we are not ready to give it up quite yet.
As soon as Fleetwood started getting finger-fed instead of tube-fed, his demeanor changed. He became so much happier! And he made it clear that he was all male- strutting and flirting and expressing himself with great machismo.
When I went to Sacramento on 5/19 for the ASPCA’s Paws for Celebration event, I took Fleetwood along so that his original rescuer, Brianna, could see him again. I wonder how he felt seeing Brianna again? (Pigeons are proven to remember and recognize human faces.)
Fleetwood visits his rescuer from WCA Brianna & her son Phoenix
And Fleetwood, through updates about him on social media, has won a lot of hearts. He is an inspiration to many.
Art by Shawnelle Frady in honor of Fleetwood
Fleetwood suffered a devastating, life-altering injury but thanks to all of us along the way- the partners and volunteers and donors, his amazing spirit has won out. Fleetwood has a long life ahead of him. He still needs to meet a nice single lady pigeon and he still needs his forever home but he is here- alive and well, thanks to the rescue community that you support. He is happy to be alive and grateful to you for giving him the chance to live.
And I thank you for giving me the privilege of leading this amazing community. We are helping animals for whom there used to be no rescue. We are closing a fatal gap in the animal welfare community. We are making a real life and death difference.
Thank you for saving Fleetwood’s life and so many others.
Elizabeth Young, founder & director
Palomacy Pigeon & Dove Adoptions
My small aviary, already at its limit but doing fine, went from eight birds to twelve within the span of two days. How? Oops babies. Two couples, two eggs each = four new beings. Being quite involved in Palomacy since rescuing my first pigeon, a racer, in 2011, it is one of my mantras when I speak to people about having pigeons as pets. It’s one of Palomacy’s mottos as well. Don’t breed, don’t buy, ADOPT! I tell people over and over again about the importance of pigeon birth control so how does one of Palomacy’s biggest advocates and fans have oops babies? Life gets busy. Busy is a word that I don’t like because it seems to be over-used these days. Of course people are busy. We have relationships, friendships, kids, pets, jobs, etc. etc. We must try to balance all of our responsibilities and sometimes we become complacent with those things we do every day. It becomes a motion without much thought, especially those tasks that we don’t enjoy and perhaps even dread. One of those jobs is checking for new pigeon eggs and replacing with dummy eggs. Every time I pull real eggs out from under a pigeon, it breaks my heart. They live to raise babies and are amazing parents. I’ve had four oops babies in the past and while (at first) exciting and joyful; they grow up so quickly that we barely have time to savor the sweetness. From hatch to fledging is give or take four weeks. Within the space of a month you have one more grown bird competing for space, attention, food, water, bath time, and perhaps even avian vet care (which isn’t cheap).
Let’s get back to my flock. I have what is called a ‘soft’ aviary. All are gentle birds, no big thugs, no trouble makers (mostly). Most of my pigeons are on the smaller size, even my two king pigeons! So there are eight sweet pigeons, all occupying a space of 4 feet by 8 feet, fine and dandy. Everyone knows the rules (and there are rules!). Everyone is compliant and respectful (mostly). Having 8 birds in that space is pushing the limit and on more than one occasion, our dearest Elizabeth has commented that it is unusual and even impressive that things were going as wonderfully as they were for so long – until life got even more crazy and we had a family crisis that took me unexpectedly away from home for a few days. Right about that time two of my couples laid eggs. When I returned, I went through the motions, my mind somewhere else, while tending to my sweet pigeons. My pigeons bring me so much joy, so after dealing with family sadness and grief, I basked in the lives and loves of this wonderful flock, mind still reeling from our recent tragedy.
We, who are pigeon keepers, know the egg cycle and most of us can keep track pretty easily. We know that they sit on the two eggs for 17 – 19 days and them they quit their eggs and the cycle continues. When I realized I hadn’t done an egg check in a couple of weeks, I found 2 pipping eggs. When I put my ear to the eggs, I could hear movement in all four. It was too late to pull them so I was resolved to watch nature play out and see four new lives come into the world. It really should be a wonderful time but all I could think of was how disappointed I was in myself to be doing what I ask people to be careful of over and over again, bringing more pigeons into the world when we have so many that need homes already. Four more lives in a space that is meant for half that is in my aviary. With babies that would increase to twelve. My aviary is really meant for six, max.
What happens when pigeons are stressed? They get sick. They become agitated and their immune systems become compromised. Viruses or illness that their immune system is doing a good job of suppressing may surface. This is what happened to my flock. I had an outbreak of PMV in the aviary which could have been prevented. I had to add another aviary in order to reduce the overcrowding. This takes time, energy and money, all of which are in short supply these days in my world.
It’s heartbreaking to see pigeons you know and love getting sick, knowing there is not much you can do but provide vet treatment, supportive care, reduce stress, wait and watch. All four parents of the new babies became sick. Watery poop, fluffed up, having a hard time coordinating beaks to seeds, crash landing, wobbly walking. This will likely last another month or so and so far so good, but I can’t stress this enough – this was preventable.
Although these new lives are much loved and will always be well taken care of, having more babies was irresponsible to the pigeons I already take care of. I take their lives seriously. I consider these little souls family – as much as I do my dogs. Those who know me know this. I would love to be able to foster more birds for Palomacy and now I am very limited with the help I can offer, space-wise.
I want to share my experience with everyone who has and loves pigeons, whether it is two or 20. We know that reproducing means so much to these lovely birds, so much so that they can often lay a third egg once we’ve switched out their pair (yes, that’s happened to me). It’s our responsibility to make sure we don’t bring more lives into what is already an unfair world to pigeons. While we are making great strides with pigeon diplomacy (yay!), we are inundated with so many that need our help and in some cases turning some away from being saved.
In my case, I was loaned an aviary on an emergency basis and moved four of my pigeons into it until I can figure out the logistics of building a bigger aviary for all of my birds. Had I brought this same loaner aviary home without having to move my own birds into it, I could have offered foster space to four in- need birds. In the meantime, I now have a strict regimented routine that I will follow to check every nest, every day. I will also make sure that even when routines are disrupted, I will be able to have a family member, neighbor or friend check and then double check my nests. I will set an alarm on my phone to make sure I am reminded to do my daily egg check. We all make mistakes. I have reconciled with myself and am writing this article in hope that I can help my fellow pigeon advocates be reminded of the solemn and important duty of practicing conscientious pigeon birth control.
Addendum – Two of my pigeons died after writing this. My beloved Bijou, a fun, friendly, inquisitive little being who was always the first to fly to me when I entered the aviary. She was the mother of two of the oops babies I recently had. I saw that she was losing weight and at the time I was only suspecting PMV. I took her to the vet thinking I wasn’t giving her the at home supportive care she needed. She passed away while they were taking blood samples. Her death surprised the vet and myself as she didn’t appear to be that frail. Her necropsy showed that she was full of roundworm – the cause of her death.
Bijou & Jill (Photo by Lori Stoneman)
Pretzel, who resided in another aviary next to the bigger one also passed away. I found her dead on the aviary floor the morning I was to take her and Bijou to the doctors. She was Opal’s mate. A beautiful homing pigeon, not fond of people but she made my Opal a very happy pigeon. Her necropsy showed roundworm as the cause of her death as well.
I do worm my pigeons – religiously. I had just wormed everyone on April 15th and lost Pretzel and Bijou early June. According to the doctors, that’s not enough time for those large levels of roundworm to take hold. We are not entirely sure how the roundworm infestation in both birds could have gotten to such deadly levels. The speculations are:
Stress levels bring about illness in birds that otherwise would be kept at low levels. As a matter of fact, low levels of any disease or parasite is beneficial as it keeps their immune systems healthy. When stress levels are high, parasites, virus and disease can take hold. It’s very stressful for any animal to be in reproductive mode.
The wormer I was using may have been stored improperly or had expired. This, exacerbated by stress, is probably the most likely cause of the deaths.
The worms were resistant to the particular wormer I was using. I am now using two different types of wormer on my flock. Moxidectin and Pyrantel. This scenario is probably not the cause but since both of those medications have a wide safety margin, I am going to use both and rotate them.
I do blame myself for their deaths. I could have prevented the stress that might well have given the parasites the opportunity to take hold. Please do your best to swap their beloved real eggs for fake. You are actually doing them a favor. Think about my birds and what happened to them.
Our largest foster aviary, the Wulf Aviary, always housing 24 pigeons and sometimes surging to 28, has been an incredible, life-saving asset to Palomacy for almost five years. Foster volunteer Linda, who was new to pigeons when she began and who has lovingly and successfully cared for our largest flock (see her story Why I Care for 27 Pigeons), is starting a new chapter in her life and moving abroad. I cannot tell you how much we will miss her dedication, warmth and huge contribution to our rescue. I’ve told her she needs to start a pigeon & dove rescue called Shalomacy once in Israel.
Linda loving on Jitsu
We’ve known about this transition for a year and we have been working diligently all this time to increase adoptions, reduce intakes, develop new foster partnerships and be ready for when the time came. And now the time is here.
We are down to the final eight foster birds and they must be relocated in the coming two weeks. Our current foster volunteers are full (and overfull). We urgently need YOUR help.
We work carefully to prepare and support our fosters and adopters. No experience required. We match the needs of pigeons with the homes available and we have all kinds- from those who need a small, quiet environment to those who would be thrilled to just be birds in an aviary. (We call it Pigeon Tetris.)
Gentle March & Grace need a quiet home
Mackenzie & Niban are flexible, interested in both people & flock life
Meulin (unreleasable Rock Pigeon) & Jitsu (King) would love to be adopted!
The Wulf Aviary is a big foster home to lose.
We need your help to restore the foster capacity we are losing
Please help! Learn the basics of pigeons as pets- either outside or indoors here. See the birds we have available here (updates are happening all the time). And please- apply to foster or adopt! The birds need you!
We appreciate pigeons every day- for their gentleness, their loyalty, their courage. Let’s share our love of these birds with everybody on Pigeon Appreciation Day- June 13th, 2015! Artists have shared their pigeon appreciation imagery with us and we encourage you to share them far and wide. Pigeons are the angels among us and they deserve a lot more appreciation than they get! Here’s the gallery of images from which you can choose your favorites to download and share! You can always make a donation in support of pigeon rescue here. Please use #PigeonAppreciationDay in your tweets, Instagram & Facebook posts!
You can download these photos and share them with your friends and family to celebrate Pigeon Appreciation Day! (Click on the photo, click on Actions menu above, click Download photo.) Pigeons are amazing and they need us to speak up on their behalf. Palomacy- it’s pigeon diplomacy!
Pigeon racing hobbyists breed thousands of domestic pigeons, transport them hundreds of miles from home and then release them in a competition to see which birds return first. Unfortunately, many (sometimes most) of the pigeons will never make it home. They get exhausted, lost, blown off course, injured, starved. The luckiest among them are found by nice people.
On June 9th, I received this email:
I hope you don’t mind me contacting you. I found your website www.RescueReport.org while trying to do some research.
This morning, we found a pigeon in our yard. We normally don’t see pigeons in our neighborhood, so that alone was unusual. But, upon closer look, this one has a band on each leg. I don’t know if he couldn’t fly or was just choosing not to, but he let me pick him up this morning. I’ve contacted the International Federation of Pigeons for help locating the owner, but so far no one is interested in helping us rehome him. I guess they feel that if he can’t find his way home, then they don’t want him.
He or she is very sweet. He is currently inside with us in a cat carrier with some fresh water and some wild bird seed that I have. He lets me hold him and my daughters have been able to pet him. I’m not opposed to keeping him as a pet, but I don’t know where to start. I don’t have the space to get a very large cage. Can you please point to some websites that may have information for the minimum requirements to keep a happy and healthy pigeon?
Thank you so much for any help you can offer.
Erin and I exchanged emails (you can see them below) and the following morning I received this heartbreaking message. I was very moved by how quickly and deeply affected Erin and her family were by Pebbles the pigeon and by the love and respect they gave her.
I am sorry to tell you that our pigeon passed away last night.
My daughters decided that it was a female and they named her “Pebbles” because she’s a rock pigeon.
After I received your last email, I called the pet store to see if they sold any pigeon or dove food. It didn’t seem like Pebbles was eating any of the wild bird seed that I gave her. The pet store told me that they usually feed the doves in the pet store a combination of parakeet and cockatiel food. Our neighbor has a few parakeets and she gave a tablespoon of the food that she uses that also has some grit in it.
I offered some of that food to Pebbles along with some shredded broccoli stems, but she didn’t eat. I wasn’t too terribly concerned because I thought maybe she needed a day to get used to her new surroundings.
I changed her newspaper and her bedding around 10:00pm last night. At that point she still looked like she did in the photos I sent you. But, I did notice that when I placed her back in the carrier, she seemed to have a difficult time getting her feet under her. I picked her up and tried to right her and then she seemed okay. She laid in the spot that I had put her in. I told her that we were going to give her a new home and that she would be safe and cared for here. And I decided then that once I got her to a vet, I wanted to have her bands removed so she would be free of that abuse.
I checked on her around midnight and she was still in the same spot and her eyes were slightly closed. So I figured she was sleeping and I felt comfortable leaving her for the night.
Then around 3am I heard her moving around. And when I went to check on her, she looked almost like she was having a seizure. She was laying down, but her head was dropped to one side, her beak was opening and closing, and her body was shaking. A few seconds later she stopped shaking and passed away.
It’s amazing how attached we got to her in only a few hours. But, I’m grateful that she’s not hurting anymore. And hopefully we contributed more to her life than we did to her death.
We’ve decided to bury her in our garden without her bands. She’s a free pigeon now!