Science to Sanctuary: The Heartwarming Story of Adopting Pigeons

This heartwarming story follows the journey of a group of pigeons, previously used in research at the University of Auckland, to their new loving homes.
June 26, 2024

Thanks to our collaborative approach with the University of Auckland, we had the exciting opportunity to find loving homes for a group of pigeons previously used in research. Rehoming these feathered friends wasn't easy—we faced the challenge of finding adopters who not only had a passion for helping these birds but also had the experience to care for them properly.

After several weeks of searching, we struck gold when Angela, whom we affectionately call the "pigeon whisperer," stepped forward (again – yes, she had already adopted pigeons via NZAVS in the past). Angela’s eagerness to welcome the entire group of pigeons into her home and give them a fresh start was nothing short of miraculous.

Angela has graciously penned the article below, detailing her journey and experience in adopting these remarkable birds. Dive in to be inspired by her story and join us in thanking Angela for her compassion and dedication to giving these pigeons a second chance at a happy life.

The article below was written by Angela Dawson for NZAVS.

Science to Sanctuary: The Heartwarming Story of Adopting Pigeons

When I picked up the first two pigeons from Auckland University, I couldn’t wait to get them home and out of their boxes to start their new lives. I wanted them to have freedom, flight, flock mates, and experience all the many joys my other rescue pigeons now embrace. However, the reality of caring for pigeons used for science is quite different from the idea of it!

At the venerable ages of 15 and 17, Jack and Magnus were two spirited pigeons full of character. Despite their years, they were the feistiest pigeons I had ever encountered! I couldn’t house them with my other rescue pigeons as these poor boys had forgotten their flock manners, and due to their large size (these are racing pigeons), they could easily injure another pigeon. I couldn’t even house them with each other! So, as much as I wanted a cage-free life for them, I soon realised that they needed the familiarity and security of a cage to feel safe. I set up spacious cages for each of them and allowed them supervised time to venture out and explore their new surroundings without the stress of other birds. They were understandably incredibly wary of me and very protective of their space.

Magnus looking very regal on his perch.

I have had Jack and Magnus now for two years…Jack is 19 now! Over time, they have become less aggressive for the most part due to them finding a female pigeon to bond with. They are devoted, very affectionate, and gentle towards their wives. They enjoy courting, nest building, and egg-sitting duties (fake eggs, of course!), which all pigeons should be able to experience. They are not pets in nature; they simply tolerate my presence, and I allow them a quiet retirement. I feel they are owed that, at the very least, and I absolutely adore them!

Jack hanging out with his beautiful wife Magnolia.

Earlier this year, another opportunity became available to rehome pigeons from science, a small group of 13-year-old pigeons, and so this time around, I decided to set up a room solely for them to get to know each other and learn to be pigeons again. Again, the boys were quite aggressive and wary and were set up in their own cage space. Over time, the cage doors were left open, and it was up to the pigeons to decide when they were ready to explore their environment. Offering them their first bath was a real highlight for me; pigeons LOVE bath time, and these guys were no exception; they couldn’t wait to get in the water!

Benjamin enjoying his first bath in years!

It didn’t all go smoothly and according to plan, though. I soon realised that Bella had arthritis in her legs; she needed a soft rubber cage mat and easy access to food and water; she couldn’t compete with the group and endure the constant courting of the boys, so she needed a quieter space to hang out. She is the only pigeon from this group who shows me constant affection! She snuggles with me and has made best friends with a little disabled baby pigeon who came into my care recently.

Bella enjoying a snuggle with me.
Kisses from best friend Fritter!

There have certainly been challenges, and I am learning new things every day; the pigeons I adopted are all very elderly in bird years, so they need soft perches (vet wrap is great), indoor housing and a really nutritious diet. Male pigeons like to chase each other and fight. I don’t discourage this unless someone gets a bit rough, as this is what pigeons spend their day doing in the wild and is part of their normal behaviour, but it’s really important that they get quiet cage time alone to eat and drink each day. As much as I hoped to be able to introduce them to an aviary flock, they find this very overwhelming and frightening, so at the moment, we just have supervised visits so the pigeons can get used to bigger groups of birds…we will keep trying!

Bella relaxing.

It is a hugely rewarding experience to adopt pigeons used for science. It is a joy to see them rediscover the simple pleasures of socialising and bathing. It is wonderful to see them fly for the first time in years! And it is heart-warming to see them form an intimate bond with a mate (pigeons’ bond for life). If you have a bit of time, a lot of patience, and a big heart, I highly recommend it!

Brave Red nervously checking out the aviary…
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