Birds in the News

Why Are Some of England’s Pigeons Pink?

The bright birds have been popping up from Bristol to Bletchley.

Plentiful and plain, pigeons can be easy to overlook. But some of these ubiquitous avians are turning heads in the United Kingdom—because they are pink. Between early June and late July, at least eight of the rosy birds have been spotted, according to reports on social media. 

It’s not the first time the unusual birds have appeared in the region. In 2012, one was sighted in West London, and last May, another popped up in Bletchley, a town about an hour’s drive northwest of the capital city. That latter reportedly looked more dove-like (pigeons and doves are in the same family), and its flamingo-pink plumage led to speculation that a magician had dyed the bird for show.

But the bright bird sightings have been growing in recent months. Curious observers have snapped photos of the birds in locales ranging from Bristol (in the south) up to Northumberland (near the Scottish border). Some have a mere blush to their wings, while others are fuchsia from head to tail feathers.

The mystery birds have sparked plenty of fascination, as well as speculation.  

One theory is that the birds are naturally pink pigeons called Nesoenas mayeri, an endangered species. Scratch that one off the list, says Audubon field editor Kenn Kaufman: “The photos I've seen of the recent U.K. birds don't look anything at all like that species.” The species is found only on Mauritius, a tiny volcanic island off the coast of Madagascar—more than 6,000 miles from London. Even if they somehow did make the trip, they don’t match the flamboyant British birds’ garish hues—they have soft pink feathers on their heads, shoulders, and undersides, and pink feet and beaks (the feet of England’s mystery birds are the standard, duller earth tones, not pink).

Pink Pigeon at Ile Aux Aigrettes, Mauritius. Photo: Jon Irvine

Then there’s the notion that the birds picked up something in the environment. There’s the collision theory, but the even coloring flies in the face of the idea that these birds are simply running (or winging) into something pink. Commenters on some British media sites expressed concerns that the pigeons ingested a toxin or pollutant in the environment that’s changing their hue, in a process similar to—and more sinister than—the one that turns flamingos the same shade as the shrimp they eat. But it would take an incredibly potent chemical to cause such profound color changes through ingestion, experts say.

It turns out, the simplest theory is also the truth: Someone (or multiple someones) is dyeing the pigeons pink (dyed birds are often featured in weddings and other ceremonies). To that end, one culprit came forward to fess up to his crime yesterday—pigeon fancier Sher Singh, 39, of Eastville Bristol, admitted that he had painted several of his birds pink (with fabric dye) to help disguise the birds from predatory falcons. “I put the colour on because the Falcons will get confused,” Singh told the Bristol Post. “He will see the colours but won't see the pink so well.”

Kaufman says he's never heard that falcons don't see pink well—adding "and I'd be astonished if there were any truth to it at all." In fact, painting the birds such a bright hue may leave them more vulnerable to predator attacks, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Last week an RSPCA spokesperson told the Bristol Post that dyeing a bird is “cruel and unnecessary,” and could cause allergic reactions.

Singh has already promised to stop dying his birds (he owns around 100 of them). Let’s hope that any other rogue artists follow the leader on this one. 

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