Over Two Dozen Birds Saved In Golden Gate Park

Releasing birds into the wild usually ends poorly for the birds, experts say.

A motley crew? A felonious flock?

Last weekend, San Francisco Animal Care and Control rescued 27 domesticated birds — an assortment of pigeons, King Pigeons, and Japanese Button Quail — from Golden Gate Park. The birds were most likely purchased from live-food markets by people who thought they were saving them by releasing them into the wild rather than being slaughtered for a meal, says Deb Campbell, an agency spokesperson.

“People buy them at food markets and release them thinking they’ll live happily ever after, but it just doesn’t work out that way. It’s just not good for anyone,” Campbell says. “The sad thing is, they’ve been in cages and they’re not able to survive in the wild.”

Releasing domesticated animals into the wild is also illegal, and can be punishable by fines up to $1,000 and possible jail time, Campbell says.

Last year, SFACC took in 183 domesticated birds that had been abandoned throughout the city. But it’s likely many, many more were released and perished before they could be recovered.

“It’s basically like taking a Saint Bernard puppy and saying ‘go live with the wolves,’ except [pigeons] don’t have as good a chance as that,” says Elizabeth Young, director of Palomacy, a pigeon rescue organization. “You’re protecting them from death by a butcher, but you’re putting them in an environment where they have no ability to forage for themselves. They’re waiting for a food dish; they’ve never had to look for food before.”

Young says King Pigeons are bred to be butchered when they’re just four weeks old. They’re heavier and twice the size of regular city pigeons, which in comparison are well suited for city life.

“City pigeons have brilliant DNA. They can fly at 60 miles per hour and live off Cheetos. They’re very well able to handle our wild environment,” Young says. “But these domesticated pigeons can’t. Humans have done to pigeons what we’ve done to dogs.”

When domesticated birds are released into the wild, “they stand there, like a deer in headlights,” she says. “They know they’re screwed.” The future they face is often worse than the quick death of being butchered for food. Pigeons are at the very bottom of the food chain, and become prey animals for hawks, racoons, coyotes, and even rats.

“It’s not a good death. They eat them alive,” Young says. “Most of them don’t get rescued. They get torn up, and that’s that.”

“If you really want to help them, you adopt them, give them a good proper home yourself, or you support a rescue that’s doing that. Or you become an animal rights activist and work to stop the poultry markets. But just buying them and letting them go is not doing anything. That’s a worse death,” Young says.

People interested in adopting a King Pigeon can visit SFACC from 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, or until 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. If you see animals in distress, you can reach SFACC at 415-554-9400.

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