Slapped by a pigeon! Twice!

This pigeon clearly did not want to be handled. It wing-slapped me – twice – as I went in to capture and hold it gently for meds and tube feeding. You may think it was just coincidence.

Sure, pigeons flap and try to get away when someone is too close for comfort. But this was clearly deliberate. This pigeon was not panicked, it looked at my hands coming toward it, and it slapped by hand down with its left wing. And when I tried again, with perfect aim and clarity – it slapped my hand again.

I had to laugh and give it credit. And then of course I gently captured it, held it up for the intern to give it medication and food, and then I returned it to its enclosure.

Pigeons are definitely underappreciated, highly intelligent birds. (More on that in a future post.) One of the interns told me she was a not a fan of pigeons before working at TWC, and now they are her favourite bird.

They are sweet tempered, smart, and their plumage is beautiful. I held 6 pigeons this evening, to be given medication or tube-fed. I reach into their enclosures, cover them with a pillowcase, and gently bring them out into the room. I often have to do the first part one-handed as I am holding the top of the enclosure open. It is heart wrenching when they cry out and try to hide in a corner. So scared.

As I hold them, sometimes they shake with fear. Literally vibrate. Their head is gently covered with the pillowcase to reduce their stress, but I can feel their little heart racing. I try to give them part of my hand or a finger to hold on to with their feet. Holding on, as if perched on my hand, seems to make all kinds of birds feel a little more secure.

Pigeons are considered to be one of the most intelligent birds on the planet, able to undertake tasks previously thought that only humans and primates could do. They are of course well-known for their ‘homing’ superpowers and their history of carrying messages over long distances to accurate destinations. It’s also been shown that pigeons can also recognize their reflection in a mirror, and can be trained to recognize all 26 letters of the English language. In scientific tests, pigeons have been able to not only differentiate between photographs, but even differentiate between two different human beings in a photograph.

All of our feral city pigeons, a.k.a. rock pigeons, are descendants of domesticated rock doves.

Image: ©Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark