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Last week at work I noticed that one of the disabled pigeons in Dora’s aviary was sitting down a lot and was very reluctant to move about. It was Teresa, an old girl with a broken wing (old injury). After examing her I found that she had hurt one of her legs, however, there wasn’t anything obvious (no breaks, cuts, etc.). She was just reluctant to use it. So I took Teresa into the intensive care unit (I.C.U.) to receive the care and bed rest she needs.

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Teresa in a hospital cage

Teresa is still in I.C.U. on medication (pain relief, etc.) and bed rest, and she’s eating lots and her droppings are normal. I’m hoping she’ll be on her legs and back in the aviary with her friends soon.

In other news, we have two new resident pigeons to join Dora and the gang! :)

Burko

Burko, a tame feral pigeon

Burko is a grey checker feral pigeon that was found on the ground in February. He was healthy but was simply not flying. It is thought that he had just fledged and maybe got dazed and confused. After a bit of care Burko started flying again.

Tux

Tux, a tame feral pigeon

Tux is a black and white pied feral pigeon. She was found in March, all wet and oily with a damaged left wing. The wing healed within a few months, by which time Burko had wooed his way into Tux’s heart, since the two had been living in the same house together (with a few cats too). Both are a bit too friendly towards people and cats so they cannot be released and were brought to my work for rehoming.

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Burko and Tux in their new home

Tux and Burko settled in fine in Dora’s aviary and I’m sure they’ll be sitting on eggs soon (fake ones when I sneakily replace them). I cannot wait to get to know them better. When they were in the isolation pen Burko kept attacking my fingers in a playful manner, so I can see he’s a very feisty pigeon, however, Tux was not so keen to interact with me. I think she’s a bit more timid and may take a while to get used to me and her new surroundings.

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Some of the pigeons in Dora's aviary

Remember Birdie girl? Unfortunately, she hasn’t chosen a mate yet. Neither Button or Davey have stolen her heart. :( I’m afraid she may never choose a pigeon mate, rather preferring a human companion. If she seems unhappy I will have to rehome her to a loving home, however, at the moment she doesn’t seem unhappy with the pigeons. I will keep an eye on her and assess the situation later. On a happier note, Birdie’s feathers are growing back so she should look like a proper pigeon soon. :)

List of all the current resident pigeons (fancy or disabled) at my work:

  1. DORAfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Pidge)
  2. PIDGEmale - feral pigeon (paired with Dora)
  3. GERTIEfemale - racing pigeon (paired with Marmaduke)
  4. MARMADUKEmale - Archangel breed (paired with Gertie)
  5. FLEURfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Marmalade)
  6. MARMALADEmale - Archangel breed (paired with Fleur)
  7. MADDIEfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Lord Nelson)
  8. LORD NELSONmale - West of England Tumbler breed (paired with Maddie)
  9. PEACHESfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Stanley)
  10. STANLEYmale - feral pigeon (paired with Peaches)
  11. SPECKLESfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Horatio)
  12. HORATIOmale - Highflyer/Tippler breed (paired with Speckles)
  13. LUMIfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Turk)
  14. TURKmale - Turkish Takla breed (paired with Lumi)
  15. MOUSIEfemale - racing pigeon (paired with Rudderford)
  16. RUDDERFORDmale - feral pigeon (paired with Mousie)
  17. TERESAfemale - feral pigeon (single)
  18. DAVEYmale - feral pigeon (single)
  19. BUTTONmale - feral pigeon (single)
  20. BIRDIEfemale - feral pigeon (single)
  21. TUXfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Burko)
  22. BURKOmale – feral pigeon (paried with Tux)

Today six fantail pigeons were brought to my work. The gentleman who owned them didn’t want them anymore and after having problems finding homes for them he was directed to my work to see if we could help. Although my workplace is a wildlife rescue centre and does not take in domestic animals, occasionally we take in fancy pigeons in need of care or rehoming if domestic rescue centres cannot help – which was the case with these six fantails.

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Upon opening the boxes I found four young adult fantails and two baby fantails. Apparently the father of the two babies was amongst the four adults – so I put the two babies and their father in one aviary and the other three fantails in the aviary next to them.

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I have to admit I initially found these fantails very dopey and clumsy. They didn’t seem to have mastered the art of flying and found it hard to fly to the top perches in the aviaries. But my heart melted when I watched the father fantail feed his young – the babies squeaked and shrugged their wings – and the father fed them with the usual gusto you see in parent pigeons. Since I fell in love with pigeons from having been in contact with feral pigeons not fancy ones, I find ferals to be prettier and more interesting than the fancy breeds. (Am I a feral pigeon snob?!) But I think the fancy breeds are starting to seep into my thoughts. … And these fantails are a good start! :)

When I got home I searched the net for a bit more info on fantails (I knew these ones aren’t show fantails). It seems the name for them is “garden fantail doves”. I’ve never seen these type brought to my work before, usually the white garden doves are brought in (are they more popular than the fantails?). Although breeders and enthusiasts state that they are suited for dovecotes and can fly well and evade predators, I have my doubts about the four adults that we now have. I’ll have to watch their behaviour a bit more before we decided if they are to be in an aviary or free flying.

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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)