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Cute as it may be, a pigeon advocacy group is asking them to stop.
Pigeons around Las Vegas are getting a fashion upgrade, thanks to an anonymous person or persons who have taken it upon themselves to don the birds with tiny red cowboy hats.
The birds first showed up a week ago, when people on Twitter reported sightings of at least two birds with the hats.
Found this pigeon while walking home pic.twitter.com/RlEzVnHc3Z— Mx.Chaos (@Mx_Chaos420) December 5, 2019
Mariah Hillman, the cofounder of Lofty Hopes, which labels itself “a pigeon positive movement” said that people have been calling her organization now whenever they spot them. Hillman, along with her daughter, have been driving around the part of the city where people have trapped the birds with the hopes of removing the hats. So far, they haven’t been able to take one off.
“They all seem to be in the same area,” Hillman said, referencing a report they recently received of two birds spotted by the Westgate Casino in central Las Vegas. “So someone probably did it to a flock.”
Hillman said that the hats were likely glued on since they haven’t yet fallen off. That means removing them will be tricky. “Pigeons naturally molt their feathers, and we can wait for them to fall off, or we could use oil, but then you have to wash them off,” she said. “Either way, they’ll need rehab and will stay with us until they can be safely released.”
Exactly how the hats will affect the birds isn’t entirely clear. “There’s no research on this,” Hillman joked, but she surmised that the hats could get in the way of flight, attract predators because of their flashy colors, or force the pigeon out of the flock, as the birds are social animals that pick on the weakest links (and likely don’t have much fashion sense).
Mike Gardner, who runs Pigeons Be Gone, a humane pest removal service in Las Vegas, said that touching pigeons isn’t safe. “Not all pigeons, but some pigeons, have been known to carry 60 different diseases,” he said. “It’s not safe for the people putting the hats on or for the people taking them off.”
Hillman said that they received one report of a dead pigeon wearing a hat, which Gardner said is dangerous because “a kid could pick it up and it could have fleas, ticks, or a disease like histoplasmosis.”
Jace Radke, a spokesperson for the City of Las Vegas, said that the city’s animal control department hasn’t been involved in the pigeon chapeau response, as it doesn’t handle complaints about pigeons. The city encourages residents to call private pest control companies like the one run by Gardner.
David Thain, Nevada’s interim state veterinarian, said that cases of pigeons infecting humans with illnesses are rare. “Pigeons can carry a number of zoonotic diseases—those are ones that can be passed from animal to man and man to animal,” he explained. “But as long as you avoid fecal contamination, you’re probably fairly safe being around them.”
A representative from the Southern Nevada Health District said that while it’s not recommended for people to touch pigeons, the health department is more concerned with diseases that grow out of the fecal buildup that pigeons leave behind.
Pigeons produce around 25 pounds of feces each year, and they nest in it to insulate their eggs from extreme heat and cold. In 2018, Las Vegas passed a law to ban feeding pigeons, which now comes with a hefty $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Former city councilmember Lois Tarkanian said that she proposed the ordinance for health reasons. “Their droppings contain germs which carry diseases and can be very toxic. We are doing this for health purposes,” she said.
But while feeding pigeons may be illegal, the practice of adorning birds with tiny cowboy hats doesn’t seem to be. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department told the New York Times that it “does not appear to be a police matter at this time.”
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.