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I’ve never seen a King pigeon before – in fact, I didn’t even know about this breed of pigeon until seeing a link to a King pigeon rescue blog (I don’t think there are many King pigeons in the UK – but I could be wrong). After reading about them from the below websites I can see how such beautiful pigeons would make lovely pets – either indoors or in an aviary. They sound like gentle giants.

Originating in the US, the King is a dual-purpose breed – used for squab production (for their meat) as well as for exhibition. The King is large in size and can be found in a variety of colours – however, the white strain is found in the squab production pigeons. These ones have no survival instincts if released and will often die from predator attack, starvation or being hit by a car. If found and taken to a rescue centre a permanent home is needed to house these non-releasable birds.

The following websites tell the tales of many King pigeons – please have a read (and help if you can):

MickaCoo! – “a division of Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue dedicated to the rescue of doves and pigeons, a sadly overlooked segment of the avian companion population.”

The Rescue Report – a blog about rescuing and rehoming King pigeons

You can also find them on Facebook: MickaCoo Pigeon & Dove Rescue

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why have a pigeon for a pet?

Originally published in the
Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue Newsletter, July 2009

I had never considered having a king pigeon (or any pigeon) as a pet until I met a tame one, Gurumina, who had been surrendered by her owner to SF Animal Care & Control. I was there doing my volunteer shift socializing the rabbits and rats and guinea pigs and she kept bouncing up and down in her stainless steel cage. She sounded like a bowling ball in a clothes dryer. Shelter volunteers usually don’t handle the birds but Gurumina wanted attention and when I opened up the door to her cage, she stepped out on to my arm, surprising me both with her weight and her charm. Rather than let Gurumina be euthanized (which is what usually happened to king pigeons), I decided to find her a home. At the time, I had two parrots, two cats and a dog and was feeling full up (ah- the good old days), but figured I could foster her until I found the right adopter. With Mickaboo’s help, I did. Her adopter, Shafqat, has this to say, “Having a king pigeon is a nice alternative to having a more demanding pet. My Gurumina is low maintenance and independent. She quietly follows family members around the house while we go about our business and is lovely to look at on top of that. I’m very glad I have her in my life, she’s a peaceful and pleasant presence.” Since meeting Gurumina, I’ve adopted six and fostered almost one hundred pigeons. So beware, pigeons can be addictive.

Kings pigeons are domestic and can’t survive in the wild. They’re bred to be eaten as squab and so are big-bodied for maximum meat yield and white (white feathers are a byproduct of the pink skin consumers prefer in meat birds). Bay Area animal shelters get quite a few in (several a week in SF) because they get away from backyard breeders or people see them for sale in live food markets, feel sorry for them, buy them and set them ‘free’- a gesture most don’t survive (and that only rewards the breeders). Once free, king pigeons stand around, not sure what to do or where to go and are quickly killed by hawks, dogs, cats, and cars. The few lucky survivors make it to shelters where adopters are scarce and euthanasia likely.

As a breed, king pigeons are calm and very adaptable. They’re alert but not prone to panic. Their energy level is much lower than that of parrots and they tend to have really great leisure skills- lounging and napping and watching more than being busy, busy, busy. I think of parrots as being hot and spicy while pigeons are cool and mellow, maybe even boring to some. Pigeons will interact with you and some like ringing bell toys or adopting cat toy balls as surrogate eggs. They don’t talk and while they are flashy strutters, I don’t know of any that dance. Pigeons are quiet with the male courtship cooing/moaning being the main vocalization. They do coo or trill at you sometimes but they never scream or yell. While quiet and mellow, they are still full of opinions and personality and each is an individual. Like when adopting any bird, you have to accept them as a cherished guest in your life and not try to change them or force them to be something they’re not. Most of my pet pigeons will give me some quality snuggle time when in the house but prefer not to be handled when they’re outdoors (like it’s our little secret). Louie, who I’ve had for almost two years, does not want to come indoors or be handled ever and I respect that wish. I leave her be and am content to love her from afar.

If you keep your pigeon indoors as part of the family, two or even one alone, given enough attention, is fine. They need a home base such as a large dog crate, flight or Amazon-size cage. The less ‘out time’ they get, the bigger their home base needs to be. They’ll walk around more than fly (and never climb) but will likely pick out a high perch or two (atop kitchen cabinets is a favorite) as well. Poop can be managed (especially on hardwood or tile floors) with meal feeding and some designated hangout places or controlled with pigeon pants. Pigeons ‘hold it’ while sitting on their eggs and so have the potential to be potty-trained. Pigeons don’t bite (though they may peck or pop you with a wing if they have a point to make) and they don’t chew so your woodwork and walls and electrical cords are safe. They do seem to love walking on keyboards (Note to self: Buy an old keyboard or two on next thrift store visit).

Frances, a sick and terrified shelter king I brought home to nurse a couple months back, surprised me by becoming completely tame. I’ve nursed lots and would have swore he was an aviary-only bird but he now spends his days outdoors in my backyard loft but his mornings & evenings in the house with me, three cats, a dog and three small parrots. Usually he gets along fine with everybody but once in awhile he’ll get in the mood to attack the cats (!) and I have to put him in his crate for a time-out so they aren’t terrorized. I absolutely adore hearing Frances pitter-pattering around the house. He’ll do his own thing for a while (like deciding to take a bath in the dog’s water dish) and then comes looking for me and always brings me a smile when he comes.

It’s extremely easy to keep king pigeons as outdoor pets. They can’t be safely flown (they are easy targets for hawks and cats) and so must be protected in an enclosure. Kings are birds of leisure though, and don’t need a lot of flight space (they do, of course, need room to move around). They require a safe, predator-proof enclosure with some protection from weather extremes but, because they are soft-bills, it is safe to contain them with wood and galvanized wire- no stainless steel required. If kept outdoors, it’s nice to have a small flock of four to eight birds and I highly recommend a walk-in aviary because it’s easier to clean and fun to go in and interact with them. They say no one ever wished for a smaller aviary so plan it to be as big as possible. Minimum size for four birds would be at least six feet long (horizontal space is most important) by four feet deep and five feet high and the bigger the better. They’ll spend their time bathing (pigeons love water), preening, lounging in the sun, eating, watching the sky, napping, socializing and courting. Every four to five weeks, couples will lay a pair of eggs (which should be replaced with fake for pigeon birth control) and take turns sitting on them. Pigeons are extremely devoted to their family and usually (though not always) mate for life. They adjust well to life in the human world and make really easy, sweet pets. I highly recommend them!

Elizabeth Young, MickaCoo Pigeon and Dove Coordinator

(From: http://www.rescuereport.org/2008/09/why-have-pigeon-for-pet.html)