How These Volunteers Are Trying to Save the Cowboy Pigeons

Somebody—for some reason—has been gluing tiny red cowboy hats onto pigeons in Las Vegas. Staff at Lofty Hopes Pigeon Rescue have led efforts to save the birds, so far capturing two. A third remains on the loose.

If neighbors' accounts are anything to go by, there may be many more hat-wearing pigeons in the city. There are also reports of a copycat gluing sombreros onto pigeons in Reno, Nevada.

Billie the Pidge
Billie the Pidge, one of three cowboy pigeons spotted in Las Vegas. Lofty Hopes Pigeon Rescue

A mission to rescue the pigeons has been in play since early December, when Vegas locals spotted pigeons sporting little red cowboy hats.

The effort is being led by Mariah Hillman and Cheyane Frankenberg, the mother-and-daughter team behind Lofty Hopes. The charity has been staking a feeding location since December 9, 2019, when staff were able to track down the location where the pigeons were being fed.

The process of capturing the pigeons begins by training them to expect food at certain times of day—a process that usually takes around three days. Once a routine has been established and the pigeons get comfortable, a cat trap can be set up to catch and rescue any injured bird, Hilman told Newsweek. Previous attempts at catching the birds have involved nets and bird traps, but the cat trap has proved to be the most successful.

Two birds, nicknamed Chuck Norris and Bille the Pidge, have been caught, though Billie died shortly after she was taken into the rescue center. A third, Coolamity Jane, continues to evade capture and appears wary of the traps set up to save her.

Hilman says Coolamity still has her hat on, which has now faded to a shade of pink. She visits the feeding spot less often than she used to and when she does, brings a male pigeon in tow. Staff at Lofty Hopes believes she is bonding with the male and may be preparing to have chicks.

They remain concerned about her health, saying pigeons often hide their sickness as a means of protecting themselves against predators (who might attack a weaker bird) and from their flock (who might isolate any weak links from the group).

Gluing hats and other objects onto pigeons can cause a lot of damage. Billie the Pidge died of an undetected illness earlier this week and staff at Lofty Hopes say her death may have been caused by the glue's fumes poisoning her slowly.
Pigeons are active groomers, they explained in a Facebook post, and the hat could also interfere with preening, preventing the bird from dislodging any small insects that might be trapped inside.

"So many things could have gone wrong," they said.

Chuck Norris appears to be doing better. According to a recent Facebook post, he will head to an aviary when the weather warms up to bond with other birds. Once they have bonded, the birds will be released as a flock in Pahrump, Nevada.

While no one has been caught, neighbors have witnessed a man who might be responsible for trapping the pigeons, Hilman says. There also have been a number of reports from locals who have independently said they have seen other pigeons in the area wearing hats of different colors, including brown, orange and blue.

In a recent update, it appears these antics have spurred on copycats despite the health problems they cause birds. Someone in Reno, Nevada, now appears to be gluing tiny sombreros onto pigeons there.

How These Volunteers Are Trying to Save the Cowboy Pigeons | Tech & Science