Thursday, October 1, 2009

Grease & Pigeons Don't Mix

If you've ever lived in the city, you've probably been lucky enough to hear the purr of a pigeon from the ledge outside your apartment window. Their gentle coo is a welcome treat amid the cacophony of traffic and sirens. Of course, there are some who have been known to call pigeons "flying rats," but I won't go there...

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On August 8, a pigeon -- more formally known as a rock dove -- was brought to VINS Wildlife Services in poor condition. The pigeon was found outdoors behind a restaurant's kitchen drenched in cooking grease. The pigeon must have accidentally fallen into an open vat of discarded cooking oil. While no animal would like to be dunked in grease, it's a particularly bad situation for birds to get into, as such feather damage can mean flight problems for birds.

Birds themselves have a special oil they self-apply to their feathers, which helps to waterproof the bird. The oil comes out through their skin via the uropygial gland -- a small opening above their tail that they can rub their heads against, abstracting oil coating it over their feathers using their head. Without preening using the uropygial gland, birds feathers may become become so saturated with water or bogged down by various matter that the bird is unable to fly.

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Dawn dish soap is great for cutting grease, so once we got this pigeon settled into her enclosure, we began daily baths of warm water and dish soap. We used a toothbrush to gently scrub away the oil. After a few weeks of daily bathing, the pigeons feathers began to look fluffy and dry.

Today, the pigeon is flying with beauty and strength in our songbird aviary, and is scheduled for release within the next week.

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