Ethical Methods Of Feral Pigeon Management

Feral pigeon family

Pigeons are one of the most intelligent and adaptable birds on our planet. Feral pigeons are derived from domestic pigeons that have returned to the wild. It is thought that the domestic pigeon was originally bred from the wild rock dove, which naturally inhabits sea cliffs and mountains. Although this is a commonly held view, it is probably far more likely that the rock pigeon domesticated itself in order to exploit the wasteful humane society. However, thousands of racing pigeons and doves are intentionally released each year, many of them joining feral pigeon flocks and breeding with their cousins. Feral pigeons find the ledges of buildings to be a suitable substitute for sea cliffs and have become well adapted to urban life. Pigeons usually breed when the food supply is abundant, which in cities can be any time of the year. Laying of eggs can take place up to six times per year. Surprisingly, despite the high reproduction rate, feral pigeons often only have small populations within cities. Feral pigeons usually reach their highest densities in the central parts of cities and because of that they are frequently encountered by people creating a scenario, which often leads to conflict.

Pigeons Peter and Jimmy

The Myth About Feral Pigeons Being Health Hazards

Feral pigeons are often considered a pest or vermin, owing to concerns that they spread disease including bird flu, despite scientific evidence that pigeons do not carry the deadly H5N1 strain. It is rather rare that a pigeon will transmit a disease to humans, but so do other animals including pets. Having said that, pigeons can pose a health hazard, in particular if birds die as a result of having been trapped and decomposing carcasses become maggot-infested, particularly during summer months. This often happens as the result of non-professionally installed or damaged netting, which is supposed to keep birds out, and not in. In that context, there are also legal implications in respect of netting and inadvertently trapping live birds, where property owners can be prosecuted for causing unnecessary suffering.

Feral Pigeons And The Pest Control Industry

The real enemies of pigeons, and the health of humans and other wildlife, are the profit orientated pest control industry, and to a certain extent the well meaning lay pigeon feeder, because without lethal controls and the deliberate persistent feeding of pigeon flocks, the pigeon would only exist in small numbers and nothing would be like the problem it is currently perceived to be. Lethal control methods are without exception inhumane, unethical and morally wrong as they inflict suffering to sentient beings, who are actually suffering already because of us. In fact, the pest control industry is largely responsible for the massive global rise in pigeon numbers due to excessive and commercially motivated use of lethal control methods. Killing adult pigeons in a feeding flock favours the younger birds, which would otherwise have a smaller chance of survival. The size of a pigeon flock is dictated by the amount of available food.  The physical removal of birds from a flock will increase the food supply for the remainder of the flock and will also create a void, into which surviving members of the flock breed.

Feral pigeon Julie

Inhumane Methods Of Feral Pigeon Management 

A common method being used by pest controllers is poisoning. When pigeons are fed poisoned bait, surviving birds do not leave the area. On the contrary, they are left with more food per bird than before. This also attracts pigeons from outside areas as well as encourages breeding, and populations are increasing. An additional problem with poisoning is that it also kills natural pigeon predators, like peregrine falcons. Other inhumane and money wasting lethal methods being used are shooting, cage trapping and the abuse of birds of prey. Most pest controllers use harris hawks as the favoured control option. This bird of prey is not a natural predator of our feral pigeon and is much slower in flight and therefore this bird poses no threat to a healthy and experienced pigeon. The use of a bird of prey is neither ‘green’ nor ‘natural’. Using one species of bird to kill another, particularly when the hawk concerned is not the natural predator of the target species, is clearly not ‘natural’. In fact, this kind of pest control  is nothing else than another bloodsport, where birds of prey are abused to kill other species of birds and animals for the pleasure of the human handler.

Rook Martha – An Obituary

Spinal Trauma Rehabilitation – Magpie Anton’s Story

Corvid Isle Sanctuary

Humane Methods Of Feral Pigeon Management

The first simple and effective step to humanely control pigeon populations is to reduce uncontrolled feeding, which is aimed to reduce the reproduction rate and not intended to starve birds to death. Cities around the world have discovered that not feeding their local birds results in a steady population decrease in only a few years. Pigeons, however, will still pick at garbage bags containing discarded food or at leftovers carelessly dropped .

The next step is to directly influence the reproduction cycle. The use of dovecotes and designated feeding areas in public places combined with the use of pigeon lofts located on buildings has helped to concentrate and control pigeon numbers in a humane but effective manner. Eggs are replaced with dummy eggs in artificial pigeon houses to reduce the number of offspring. This also allows to keep an eye on the health of the local pigeon population. Another promising method is the use of nicarbazin, which is a compound for avian contraception. Originally developed for use in resident Canada geese, nicarbazin has been introduced as a contraceptive for feral pigeons. This contraceptive is both, non-hormonal and fully reversible. Declared safe and humane, the new technology is environmentally benign and does not represent a toxicity hazard to raptors or scavengers.

Crested archangel pigeon Merlot

All in all, an ethical holistic approach is needed and already readily available to influence pigeon numbers humanely, which has a positive effect onto the health of our feral population and is also reducing cruelty and suffering of one of the most lovable bird species on our planet.

 

Top 10 Mistakes Made In Corvid Rescue And Rehabilitation

Carrion crow Chili

During many years of corvid rescue and rehabilitation we came across a number of serious mistakes being made by presumably experienced and unexperienced individuals or rehabbers alike. We would like to share our observations and experiences in the hope that these sometimes fatal mistakes will not be made again, hopefully saving the lives of many corvids in need of help.

Overestimation of one’s own capabilities

Raising an orphaned baby corvid is often seen as easy and very tempting, in particular as the finder is often ‘persuaded’ by the cute and interactive attitude of baby corvids. Lay people, but sometimes even rehabber with some degree of experience with other bird species, ever so often get into the trap of ‘giving it a go’, even when expert help and advice is being at hand. Despite meaning well, it is sadly rather more often about the own ego than the genuine wish to give the bird the best possible second chance he or she deserves. One of the common mistakes being made is that the effort and financial implications needed to raise a corvid are often greatly underestimated, and so are the needs of a sentient being, who is being degraded as an object of experimentation.  Ever so often birds will be inadvertently imprinted on humans and prematurely released by choosing an insufficient release method, the wrong release site or the wrong release time.

Raising corvids as sole individuals without adequate company

Raising a nestling corvid by his or her own will without exception result in some degree of imprinting on humans, the human habitat or pets. However, it would be wrong and one of those mistakes to believe that imprinting is a negative or undesired feature. Imprinting as such is essential for life and survival. But the question is to whom the animal is being imprinted on. Birds are ‘hard-wired’ to many things in their future lives, but they also need to learn the art of feeding, catching prey or social interactions and behaviours from their parents. Songbirds can sing by default, but they do need to ‘learn the tune’ from those around them, those normally being their parents. Imprinting in animals in general can involve more than one sense. It can involve sight, sound and smell.  Furthermore, the imprinting becomes stronger when the animal is under stress, which is in no doubt a survival mechanism. Imprinting is an interaction between instinct and learning. The irreversible and species specific process of imprinting occurs only in a fixed time window. This is the critical period, learning after this period has different weaker effects. To counteract the risk of imprinting, company of a same or similar species bird is crucial, meaning that corvids in particular should never being raised by their own. As many of these young patients are in need of long-term rehabilitation, it is also crucial to understand and to recognise their social needs during the process of maturing, a process which takes many months if not years. One of the mistakes commonly made is that the importance of the help provided by releasable and also unreleasable wild adult birds is underestimated, or not utilised at all, which in fact is an essential tool to teach young birds necessary social skills and behavioural patterns they require for their survival.

Inadequacy of rehabilitation facilities

The fact that corvids should not be raised by their own, the species specific needs and the common requirement for long-term rehabilitation facilities with adequate company, which includes the interaction with unreleasable adult possibly disabled birds, is a challenge in itself, which is often completely ignored or at the very least underestimated. One of the common mistakes being made in this context is that the facilities provided are usually too small and inadequately equipped to be fit for purpose, which is leading often to injuries, chronic diseases like bumble foot or damaged plumage. Corvids are very inquisitive and destructive. The materials to be used in an corvid aviary have to be safe and need to be checked and monitored constantly for wear and tear to eliminate a potential cause of injury.  Although it is possible to combine different corvid species, one should always bear in mind, that the artificially created corvid society is a fragile and dynamic element, which needs constant monitoring and which is subject to frequent and sometimes rapid change at any time. Maturing, pair formation, hierarchical disputes, mood  and hormonal changes during breeding season and moulting are only a few of the causes influencing the stability of a mini flock. CCTV monitoring is an expensive but very useful tool, which allows undisturbed and unbiased observation of behaviour and social interactions between birds, allowing early interference before problems occur.  Sound knowledge and understanding of corvid species specific behaviour is the key, which unfortunately is often completely lacking, being ignored or at least regarded as unimportant.

Underestimation of the importance of hygiene 

The necessity of keeping a larger group of corvids in a confined area for a longer period of time harbours another challenge, which is to maintain a basic hygiene  and cleanliness system. The problem increases exponentially with the number of animals cared for and the good intentions to create a small artificial habitat, which should ideally allow the animals to behave and act naturally. It becomes apparent, when testing corvid patients, that almost all of them are carriers of coccidia and worms. Although it is possible to treat these birds individually, it becomes a bigger problem and challenge when birds are residing in a larger communal aviary, where flock treatment is the only option. It is also impossible and actually not advisable to completely eliminate these diseases, but is seems necessary to keep infection levels as low as possible. Therefore a larger communal aviary will always be a compromise between the ideal case scenario of a species specific nature habitat and a place which can be easily cleaned and maintained to minimise the potential infection risk due to the build up of infected faecal material in areas created for foraging and food caching as well as due to the run off of contaminated material into the surrounding environment creating a potential infection source for wild animals like ground feeding blackbirds or thrushes, but also hedgehogs and rodents.  This is in particular a problem with coccidia,  as the oocysts have resistant cell walls and are discharged unsporulated in the faeces. Oocysts do not survive well at temperatures below -30°C or above +40°C. However, within this temperature range oocysts may survive for more than one year and will sporulate or become infective in as little as 24 hours under optimum conditions in a humid environment between +25ºC and +30ºC.

Raising corvids on an insufficient or suboptimal diet

Although corvids are known to be scavengers and omnivores, the diet of the different corvids species does vary considerably, from species to species and over the seasons of the year.  Only about 40% of the rooks’ diet for example consists of animal protein, and those being mainly worms, bugs and larvae. They usually don’t eat carrion, as their beak is not designed and able to rip animal carcasses into manageable pieces. The remaining 60% of the rooks’ diet are plant-based products like fruits, seeds and vegetables. During the winter time, carrion crows prefer seeds, berries and carrion, whilst during the summertime they also do mainly live on animal protein like snails, worms, insects, small mammals and eggs. These species specific facts should be taken in consideration when creating the menu for corvid patients. Nestling corvids should be primarily fed on an insect or adequate animal protein based diet. However, despite the fact that nestling corvids are being fed snails and worms by their parents, these should not be fed to birds when hand raising them, as internal parasites like coccidia or round worms are likely to be transmitted. Tinned dog or cat food is not suitable either and will lead to severe digestive short and long-term problems. Additional vitamin, mineral and calcium supplements are recommended, as corvids are prone to develop calcium deficiencies resulting in rachitis and feather damage. Pellet producing materials like small pieces of fur or feathers should be mixed under the baby food when older than 2 weeks. When the birds are fledged, the species specific diet preferences become more important and should be accounted for.

Misinterpretation of species specific behaviour as imprinting or tameness

One of the most common mistakes made is the wrong interpretation of normal corvid behaviour, mainly due to lack of knowledge and experience, but also sometimes due to anthropomorphistic reasons. Corvids are highly intelligent, sentient and social animals, who are able to interpret good or bad intentions and behavioural patterns of other animals, humans included. There is a big difference between submissive behaviour in a captive environment and being genuinely tame or imprinted. Young corvid nestling and sometimes even fledglings have not learned yet to regard humans as dangerous entities and will cooperate eagerly when being fed. At that point in time the risk of imprinting is at the highest, but has not necessary happened yet. Adult corvids are also able to adapt very well to a captive situation, in particular when realising that the human caring for them is providing food and is easing the pain. They will remain calm when not being restrained and when a minimum amount of privacy is being allowed, at least as long as they are poorly or compromised due to their injuries. Long-term patients often form a close temporary and person specific bond with their carers, which is being cut when the animal feels ready to go. All these behavioural variations have nothing to do with imprinting or tameness and are simply signs of their amazing ability to adapt to these unique situations. It is important to recognise the difference, as this fundamental ability of a good rehabber will decide over the future and the chances of survival of the animal being cared for.

Underestimation of the importance of species identification and age

Animals are sometimes rescued unnecessary, with good intentions, but without good reason. A young bird alone on low-level branches or on the ground has not necessarily been abandoned, as the young of many bird species will spend a couple of days on the ground before their feather development is complete and they are able to fly. Parents will be close by and come to feed the bird as soon as it is safe. However, to make an informed decision, whether an animal has to be rescued or not, one has to find out what species he or she belongs to and how old the animal is. A healthy rook fledgling on the ground, who is unable to get to higher ground, will not be fed by his or her parents and will require help.  On the other hand, a healthy carrion crow fledgling on the ground, will usually be attended and defended by his or her parents. However, nestlings of any species, found on the ground, will not survive without human intervention. However, the degree of human intervention varies from stepping back and observing the situation, over taking a fledgling out of a danger zone and putting the bird back onto higher ground, to taking the animal in to human care. Species identification and establishment of the correct age are also crucial for the correct choice of release location and time.

Misjudgement of the importance of release area and timing

Hand reared juvenile corvids, but also all long-term patients having been in captivity for longer than 2 or 3 weeks, should always be soft released.  Juvenile corvids are not suitable for release until being 5 or 6 months old, which is usually at the end of the summer after their first partial post-juvenile moult. This allows them to reach full growth and to be able to fly strongly. It also allows enough time to reach enough strength allowing normal competition with other corvids, avoiding excessive bullying. The preferred release time in the U.K. is the end of August and during September. Please also note that an offence may be committed under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival. This may include the release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, when being unfit, or when not having learned to hunt, or when done during the wrong time of the year.

Lack of knowledge of species specific behaviour and ecology

The most common mistake made is the wrong species identification combined with the lack of species specific knowledge. Rooks are breeding in colonies or so called rookeries, as they are very social and gregarious animals. Carrion crows are territorial and have well-defined breeding territories, which are very much fixed but tend to shrink and expand slightly during and outside the nesting season. This means that the territory holding pair is using a single nesting site, which will be defended against any intruders. Sometimes another so called third bird, usually offspring from the previous year, is allowed to stay in the fringes of the occupied territory, helping the territory holder pair to defend their grounds. Non-breeding birds form loose groups, which will reside in an unoccupied area. Outside the breeding season and during wintertime, crows become more sociable and tend to sometimes mix with rooks. When releasing juvenile birds or longterm patients, then soft release is the preferred option. For short-term patients or a hard release scenario, the release site should be chosen very carefully. The location where the bird has been found, might not necessarily be the best place for his or her release. Neither crows nor rooks should be released into an occupied crow territory, in particular not during the breeding season. An area inhabited by a non-breeding flock of crows or rooks would make an ideal place for a release. Soft release works best, when the release aviaries are located in an unoccupied crow territory, near a rookery or communal roost.

Misinterpretation of plumage aberrations and their consequences

Leucism is a general term for the phenotype resulting from defects in pigment cell differentiation or migration. It is a condition in which there is a partial loss of pigmentation resulting in white, pale or patchy colouration of skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes. Leucism can be caused by the reduction of all types of pigment, unlike albininism, which only affects the melanin production. Leucism is occasionally found in corvids, which can show a varying degree of white or pale feathers within an otherwise normal appearing plumage. These abnormal feathers are often more prone to wear and tear and make the bird potentially more conspicuous and prone for predation.

Besides primarily genetic causes, dietary deficiency caused by calcium or folic acid deficiency, or as found in Australian ravens due to a circovirus infection, can also result into this phenotype pattern. It has been also found that agricultural pesticides have a direct impact on reducing food and insect availability. Insects are an essential dietary requirement for almost all bird species, which rely on those for at least a substantial part of the nestling phase of their offspring. Pesticides lead directly and indirectly to the search for alternative and often suboptimal food substitutes and may also result into a progressive weakening of the immune system of adult and young birds, which increases mortality in general, but does more often lead to a varying degree of dietary deficiencies with subsequent plumage and skeletal aberrations.

Recognising the difference between inherited and acquired plumage aberrations is crucial, as acquired plumage problems can be corrected, whilst inherited causes cannot.

How To Successfully Rehabilitate A Wild Raven

Raven Zarathustra in her release aviary.

Zarathustra is an adult female raven, who we have rescued after being found unable to fly. The admission assessment showed an extensive bruise along the proximal end of radius and ulna of the left wing, but luckily no fractures have been found. We could only assume that she must have suffered some sort of impact trauma, most likely caused by a collision with a car. Otherwise Zarathustra showed no other signs of disease and was in a pristine condition.

Part of the usual treatment and rehabilitation programme is passive physiotherapy and controlled gradually increasing active exercise. Fractures, but also soft tissue injuries can cause secondary problems in birds like joint stiffness and contraction of ligaments and tendons, potentially rendering a bird permanently unable to fly and making him or her not releasable. Not unexpected, as in any sentient being, pain is an alarm bell which will dictate how extensive an injured body part will be actively used by the animal who has been inured. That also means that a bird will naturally not use the injured wing, or only to a certain degree, unless he or she is encouraged to do so. This is a well working mechanism, but to achieve best results early careful passive physiotherapy together with appropriate pain relief is often needed to avoid the complications mentioned above.

Female raven Zarathustra undergoing her admission assessment.
Raven Zarathustra

Depending on the birds compliance, personality and individual character there are basically two different ways of rehabilitating a bird by using passive and gradually increasing active physiotherapy. Unlike old fashioned rehabilitation approaches, which are still be taught at animal care courses, we do not avoid interacting with our patients. In fact, we heavily rely on a close bond based on trust, which helps us to achieve best results. The concrete treatment approach always depends on an individual assessment of the animal concerned. In rare cases it might be necessary though, to constrain the animal for the time needed to assess injuries, or to do physiotherapeutic exercises. This procedure is usually stressful, despite precautions being taken to minimise the impact on the bird.

Trust Is The Key Ingredient For A Successful Treatment

Over many years of working with corvids we have learned that in most cases a trust based relationship can be created, to allow even the physical contact needed to perform physiotherapeutic exercises. There is no risk of permanently imprinting or taming a bird, as this relationship is built out of a necessity, understanding and desire of the patient to recover and to get back to normal. This bond will be only temporary and is usually being cut by the patient at an appropriate time. The provision of suitable, specifically tailored aviary space is the most commonly used way to encourage a bird to perform active physiotherapy, meaning to encourage the bird to fly and to strengthen his or her muscles.

Raven Zarathustra in her release aviary.
Raven Zarathustra

Zarathustra, a wild adult female raven, is a good example for this treatment approach based on trust, common sense and the targeted use of compliance to achieve the desired goal. She underwent her normal daily assessment and simple physiotherapeutic exercise performed usually twice a day, without the need for constraining the bird and causing unnecessary stress. Zarathustra did cooperate very well and was always in control of the situation. If an exercise did cause her any discomfort, or she was not content enough to proceed, she would either move away or she would make a non-verbal statement to make her intentions clear by using her powerful beak to gently nudge the offending hand away.

Zarathustra made a full recovery and has been successfully released after four weeks of treatment and rehabilitation.

How To Treat A Sentient Being With Respect

This adult rook is one of our local birds, who is visiting us and our residents on a regular basis.

Animals are intelligent, sentient individuals. We should refer to them as “he/she” or “them/they”, or by species. The words “it” or “thing” should not be used to refer to an animal, and “who” is used rather than “that”. If you do not know the gender, choose one: “he” or “she”. Even if your gender choice is wrong, it is more respectful than “it.” This is an important way of demonstrating the respect we ask others to afford to all animals.

Clive is an orphaned jay fledgling, who recovered well after being rescued, treated for an internal infection and successfully hand reared.
Jay Clive

Wild animals should not be kept in captivity for the purpose of subjecting them to the stress of a public display for educational or other purposes, even when the display is happening in a classroom. Public releases are in our opinion not acceptable either, because they do not any good to the animal concerned and only serve the ego of the person releasing the animal.

Should A Sentient Animal Being Used For Educational Purposes?

There are a multitude of more efficient educational media available in our days, which can be specifically tailored to suit the audience targeted. The abuse of animals in this manner sends a message to the public that animals can or should be tamed, or kept as “pets” or that they are objects for human diversion, entertainment, recreation or educational tools.

This picture of jackdaw Puck is taken after her successful release back into the wild.
Jackdaw Puck

It is often believed that species should be considered and preserved because they have some sort of value in themselves, a value unrelated to what’s in the best interests of the individuals who are members of the species. We don’t share this view. Sentient individuals have morally relevant interests in being alive and in not being harmed.

The interests in being alive and in not being harmed do not vary according to the fact whether a species is rare or common. It is very important to thoroughly establish whether an animal, who might not be releasable straight away, or at all is coping well with being kept in captivity. This is a difficult complex assessment depending on many factors requiring experience and intuition, a process which eventually is also very dependent on the individual animal and her or his adaptability.

Imprinting – The Death Sentence For Orphaned Corvids

Puck is juvenile female Jackdaw, who has been raised and unintentionally imprinted by a well meaning person after being found as an orphan.

Once again it is the time of the year, when members of the public, and even sometimes inexperienced self proclaimed rescuers, find seemingly or truly orphaned nestling or fledgling corvids. Many of these people naively believe that it would be a good deed or potentially good fun to raise the baby bird by themselves. Others do the right thing, and bring the bird straight away to an experienced rehabber or rescue. Advice gets usually ignored and imprinting is pre programmed, which also means that the bird will not be fit enough to survive in the wild.

Although it is legal to rescue and raise orphaned wildlife, it is only legal when done with the intention to release the animal back to the wild as soon as he or she is independent, experienced enough and well adapted to have a very good chance of survival in the wild. Having said that, raising a corvid by his or her own will most definitely result in imprinting and is unlikely to achieve that.

The Importance of Company To Avoid Imprinting When Raising Corvids

The company of other birds of the same age, but also of adult birds is needed to learn the necessary social and survival skills. In fact, raising a corvid by his or her own means that this wild bird is intentionally imprinted. This can be regarded as an illegal act, but more importantly, it is unfair towards the bird.  The bird will normally have a good chance to be released back into the wild, if he or she would have been in the hands of an experienced rehabber. These birds deserve exactly this chance, and should not be regarded as objects of experimentation or to make people feel good.

Jack is a juvenile male jackdaw, who has been raised and unintentionally imprinted. He also suffers of a cross beak, which has not being corrected in time when he was younger.
Jackdaw Jack

It is a widely known fact that corvids are extremely intelligent, curious but also destructive. This means that it will not take very long for a bored lone bird to take the household apart. This often leads at some point to painful attacks on one or the other human or pet family member, who are potential competitors in the corvid’s view.  The result is that very frequently these imprinted and suddenly unwanted birds are intentionally or ‘unintentionally’ released, or brought into a wild bird rescue under the disguise of a recently rescued bird in need of help. Sadly it is also a fact, that imprinting and releasing an imprinted bird back into the wild will most likely result into the death of the bird concerned. Only a few lucky ones are found and rescued again, after being released.

Long-term Care Requirements Of Corvids

Raising corvids also often means that birds might need long-term care for a year or even longer, before they can be safely released. Long-term care of corvids requires large specialist aviaries with adequate enrichment, exposure, social interaction with wild and company corvids, space and shelter, something which can’t be done in a cage or indoors.

Previously imprinted Jackdaw Puck has been gradually transformed back into a bird capable of surviving in the wild thanks to the help of other wild and resident jackdaws.
Jackdaw Puck

For all these and some more reasons, responsible rehabbers are happily working together to exchange birds with the aim to raise them in adequate nurseries to achieve the best possible outcome for the individual concerned. Understandably, it might be tempting, seemingly easy to begin with and good fun to raise a corvid by his or her own. However, the truth is that it is simply irresponsible, selfish, and ignorant. It also clearly shows a complete lack of knowledge regarding the essential requirements a corvid and any sentient being deserves.

If you believe you are an animal lover and you are raising a lone corvid, then prove it, think twice and find an experienced rescue before it is to late. Animals are not an object nor are the anyone’s property. They are sentient beings, who have a right not to be used, abused or experimented with.