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a pigeon being held, about to return to the gathered flock

Catching and Handling Pigeons

Catching a Pigeon

Nobody Likes Being Caught

Do not catch pigeons for "fun" or other selfish reasons. They take life as seriously as you do and being pinned or trapped by a giant for no apparent reason is extremely stressful and traumatic.

If you are making the decision to intervene in other creatures' lives you should recognize that you may be doing so against their will. You need to decide what you think is morally acceptable and act accordingly.

This guide is written with the belief that it is acceptable to grab pigeons against their will in order to help them with an entanglement or serious medical condition. Ideally this would be done regularly with flocks in an attempt to establish a shared and mutually understood ritual between humans and birds. If a strong culture was developed, hopefully it would help more birds confidently "self rescue" by seeking assistance from a human they trust.

Strategies

Standing / Sitting

  • Spread your legs a little and lay out a line of grain in front of you.
  • The pigeons probably won't run right for the grain at your feet unless they know you. Sprinkle small handfuls to draw them in until they feel comfortable coming close.
  • Let grain trickle slowly through your fingers and down around the pigeons at your feet.
  • Be aware that it may take a little while for hurt pigeons to decide to trust you and fly over to join the flock. Keep scanning for them.
  • Once you identify a stringfoot pigeon, keep an eye on them and watch to see how they interact with the other pigeons and you. Be aware, sometimes they will find it unnerving if you stare directly at them as they walk around (who wouldn't).
  • If they approach, slowly lean over while trickling grain down in front of them, distracting them.
  • If they stay at the edges of the flock you may need to toss seed away from them to distract the other pigeons and then slowly move around and trickle seed in front of your target.
  • Pick a moment when they seem focused on the ground and/or have their line of sight blocked by other pigeons.
  • Bring your hand down on them fast, pinning them (gently) to the ground. It can help to start with your elbow bent so that you can quickly snap your arm down.
  • Get them into a safe holding position with their wings tucked back above their tail, then bring them to your destringing station!

Traps

Sometimes hurt pigeons will be very cautious and not allow anyone to approach. You may want to try catching them with some kind of trap.

You can find many ideas for traps online (humans truly are a nefarious species). Two simple but effective options are:

  • An upside down laundry basket or box propped up by a stick with a long string attached to it. Create a trail of grain leading towards the box and sprinkle grain generously underneath it. Wait until the stringfoot pigeon is underneath, pull the string, and trap them. Reach under the box to secure the hurt pigeon, then let any other pigeons you captured free.
  • A crate designed for carrying animals that has a swinging door. Tie a long string to the door and pull the string through another part of the crate such that, when pulled, the string will close the door. Sprinkle grain leading up to the crate and then generously inside, then wait for the stringfoot pigeon to enter. Once they are trapped, reach inside and secure the hurt pigeon, then let any other pigeons you captured free.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Pigeons are usually ravenous in the early morning, so they may be more willing to approach and easier to catch at this time. If you have trouble catching a cautious pigeon with a bad case of stringfoot, try finding them early the next day.
  • Bread has very little nutritional value and should not be your primary food offering, however: It is recognizable at a distance, and humans are often seen tossing it to birds, so it can be used to lure pigeons perched high up who might miss small light-colored seeds scattered on concrete. Once they come closer they will go for the seeds.
  • When there are raptors or other scary things in the area the flock you are feeding may periodically take flight. Don't worry, they will usually come back soon. If you see them return and perch nearby you can show that you understand the situation by carefully looking around, waiting until you don't see any danger, and then looking back at the pigeons and scattering another handful of grain invitingly.

Holding a Pigeon

Single Hand Hold

  • Hold the pigeon gently but firmly facing your chest while you get them into position.
  • Get the pigeon's feet to extend out and back through your index and middle fingers, so that their lower chest/body is resting in your upward-facing palm.
  • Make sure their wing tips are folded over their tail, then wrap your thumb and fingers around their body so that you hold their wings gently but firmly pinned to their sides.
  • From this hold you can use your free hand to slip a sock over their head. You can also lean over and inspect + work on their feet.
  • If needed you can adjust their feet so that one is between your index and middle fingers and one is between your middle and ring fingers. This can help during destringing.

Working With a Partner

  • Working with a partner can mean better results for pigeons – one human can be holding the pigeon while the other has both hands free to work on destringing.
  • Always be communicating about how the pigeon seems to be feeling (whether they seem to be in pain, if their breathing changes, etc).

Dos and Don'ts of Handling

  • Remember that pigeons (and most birds) breathe differently from humans. They need to be able to expand and contract their whole chest / body to push air in and out.
  • They also struggle to breath if tipped upside down such that their head is below the rest of their body. Please don't hold them like this.
  • Always be feeling for changes in a birds breathing or heart rate. This can make you aware of their pain or stress.
  • Consider sliding a large sock with the toe cut off over a pigeon patient's head and body so that their wings are held gently at their sides and their sight is reduced. Always be sure the sock is big enough that it does not restrict the pigeons breathing. This can help calm them, or at least stop them from attempting to escape. Socks can be removed by pulling them off the pigeons head back towards the tail in order to minimize feather ruffling. Alternatively you can also use a small towel.
  • Don't put any pressure on a pigeon's crop at the front of their neck. This can cause serious internal damage.
  • Always move pigeons you are holding slowly and gently, but confidently. If a pigeon thinks it can escape it will probably try, potentially causing further injury.
  • Pigeons have a remarkable ability to shed lots of feathers that they sometimes deploy in a bid to slip away from a predator (or human capturing them). Don't panic if this happens; try to minimize feather loss by wrapping the pigeon up and calming them.