Plight of the pigeon: Common injuries, misconceptions and ways to heal our feathered friends
Pigeons. You either love them or hate them. Just ask someone ... anyone ... and you're sure to get a "coop" full.
I personally think that pigeons are super cute. Have you ever watched a pigeon walking away down the street? They look like they're wearing little knickers. It's adorable!
Unfortunately, pigeons often fall victim to misconceptions and misinformation. Many believe, for instance, that pigeons carry diseases that are communicable to humans.
This is simply untrue, according to Nicole Benson, an animal advocate who has rescued dozens of pigeons and has never come down with a disease.
"These misconceptions are put out there by pest control companies who want your business," says Benson. "While there are a few diseases that a pigeon may carry (such as salmonella), it is far more likely that we will infect a pigeon with one of the diseases that we carry."
Pigeons, she adds, are very smart birds, who have been used in times of war to save troops. The birds worked as couriers to deliver critical messages.
Benson has worked with pigeons suffering from a variety of ailments and says they are sweet birds with fun personalities.
"I have been coo'd too, danced for, wing slapped, pooped on and cried for," she says. "The young ones will see you as your momma or pappa. Then as they become adolescents, they will become more independent, much like human teenagers, sometimes exerting their will, but also wanting your love. As adults, they settle down with a mate for life and share parenting duties."
I have personally watched her coax an injured pigeon out of the street and into her arms.
"I can't understand why you would leave one there if you have the ability to help," she explains. "I mean, if I came across an injured grackle or mockingbird, I would have no idea how to help them, but I think that I would still try."
One of the challenges Benson faced early on was finding a vet who was friendly to wild birds. Many vets won't even look at a pigeon, while others provided subpar care or just opt for the easy fix: euthanasia.
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Nicole's Pigeon-Care Tips
The next time you come across an injured pigeon, please think twice about helping him. Here are some steps you can take:
- Pick up the bird and place him in a box or cage. A cage made for guinea pigs works well.
- Place his cage in a warm, dark area to calm him. He's probably very scared and in pain.
- While he is in the quiet, safe area, prepare an electrolyte solution: Warm a cup of water. Add a pinch of salt and sugar, making sure it dissolves. When the water is lukewarm, pour it into a deep cup. Pigeons drink water by sucking, using their beaks as a straw.
- Don't try to feed him at this time. He needs to be rehydrated first.
- If you have a warming pad, you can place it in his cage or box, and place a towel over it (maybe an old dishtowel). Set the pad on low.
- Check the pigeon for obvious signs of injury: Drooping wing, bleeding, cuts.
- Watch for pigeon droppings. These often serve as an indicator of what is ailing the bird.
- If the bird is drinking and seems to be doing OK, after a while you can provide the bird with seeds, if you have them. Wild bird seed is fine in a pinch.
- Pigeons love safflower seed and unpopped popcorn, both of which can be found at a grocery store or other market. They should also be given the smaller millet seed, a basic component in wild bird food.
- If the bird is not eating, he will need immediate help. Pigeons have a high metabolism and need to eat often.
Some common pigeon injuries
Broken Wing: A pigeon with a broken wing is usually unable to fly. Sometimes the wing is drooping or dragging. Occasionally there is bleeding or a protruding bone. Causes vary from the pigeon getting clipped by a car, a close encounter with a cat, even high winds that throw them against the side of a building. In some cases a vet can repair the wing, but often times the pigeon is handicapped for life.
Pellet Gun Wound: With this type of wound, you would notice a hole in the pigeon. The wound should be examined for possible infection by a vet. The bird will probably need antibiotics, regardless.
Broken Feet: More common in areas where there are fishermen. The pigeons' feet can become tangled in fishing wire or other loose string. This is very dangerous for the pigeon because it can cut circulation to the foot and become badly infected. Also applies to other types of birds hanging out near fishermen.
- Visit The Pigeon Forum and add a post about your bird. The people on this forum are helpful and can assist you in finding a vet, getting meds, or connect you with a rehabber in your area who can walk you through saving the bird's life.
- Don't be discouraged if you take a pigeon into your care but you're unable to save the bird's life. Not all pigeons can be saved. "You did what you could," says Benson, "and, at the very least, provided the pigeon with a safe, warm place."
- If you are flummoxed by an increase in pigeons around your home, don't take drastic measures like hiring an exterminator or shooting a pellet gun. The birds' sudden arrival is most likely the result of an increase in food. Once the source of food is eliminated, the pigeons will leave. "The pigeons will eat the seeds in your yard, then move on," says Benson. "It's that or deal with weeds later. Besides, their poop is the best fertilizer -- full of nitrogen!" One solution for keeping pigeons at bay involves putting a reflective material that will move with the breeze on your roof. The motion and reflection will discourage the birds from landing.