Fan-Tailed Pigeon Victim

Pete Wedderburn
5th June 2020 - 5 min read

I often see pet birds at our veterinary clinic. Budgies and canaries have always been kept as pets, and other birds such as parrots and cockatoos are increasingly popular. Racing pigeons are occasionally brought in by enthusiastic hobbyists. We frequently see wild birds that have been found injured in public places or back gardens.

Cat And Bird Attack

A few weeks ago, a man arrived with an unusual bird in his cardboard box. It was a Fan-Tailed Pigeon, and it had been attacked by his neighbour’s cat.

Fan-Tailed Pigeon

Fan-Tailed Pigeons (also known as “Garden Doves”) are a breed of pigeons that have an unusual and spectacular appearance. They are pure white in colour, and they have a huge, tail that is fanlike when it is displayed, a dramatic sight that is created by the presence of an extra twenty tail feathers. The tail is not as impressive as a peacock’s tail, but when it is held fully open and a bird is strutting around with pride, it is certainly very eye-catching. 

Pet Garden Birds

Fan-Tailed Pigeons have been bred to be exhibited over the years, and they are very tame, docile birds. This makes them very appealing as pet garden birds, but unfortunately, it means that they are an easy target for predators such as hawks and cats.

Cat-Proof Bird Home

The man with the bird in the box introduced himself as Mike. He only kept four birds – he had a small dovecot at the bottom of his garden, and he enjoyed their gentle, calming presence. He had seen the cat prowling around the base of the dovecot for some weeks, but he had done his best to cat-proof his bird’s home. The dovecot was on top of a high post, and wire netting around its base meant that even a climbing cat could not clamber up to attack the birds.

Neighbour Cat Attack

He had witnessed the incident himself. He had been digging his flower beds that afternoon. The pigeons had been behaving, as usual, fluttering from the dovecot to the roof of his house, then back again. There was no sign of the cat. Then a couple of the birds had landed on the lawn near him, perhaps hoping to pick up a few beetles or worms from the soil that he was turning. Then suddenly, the large tabby cat from next door had sprung out of some dense undergrowth and grabbed one of the Fan-Tails by the back of the neck. Mike was standing a few yards away, with a shovel in his hand, so he immediately charged at the cat, shouting. The cat had dropped the bird at once and vanished back into the bushes.

At first, Mike had thought that the bird was dead. She was lying motionless on her side, and when he picked her up, he thought that she had gone. Then he saw that her wings were still flickering, and her beady eye was clearly looking back at him with a very anxious expression. He had taken her into the house, wrapped her in a small blanket, put her into a box, and now here he was at the vet clinic.

Bird Vet Consultation

After checking that the windows and doors of my consulting room were firmly closed, I carefully and slowly opened the cardboard box. It is common for birds to go into shock immediately after an accident, but then to make a very rapid recovery. Sometimes, when a box is opened, a bird can make a bolt for the fresh air, and I did not want to have a fan-tailed pigeon flying around the room in a panic. As I peered into the box, I could see that the bird was sitting up and looking around. I gently put my hand around her and lifted her out.

She looked bright and alert, but I could see that the cat had inflicted some serious wounds along her back. There were several puncture wounds, and there was a two inch laceration where the skin had been torn.

Mike was keen to do everything possible for the bird. He felt guilty as if it was his fault because he had been encouraging the birds onto the lawn with his digging. And he was very fond of his birds – they were his continual companions when he spent time in his garden. Mike left the bird with us for the day.

Rehydration Fluid

The first task was to treat the bird for shock. I gave her some oral rehydration fluid using a syringe, and we kept her in a warm cage for an hour. By this time, she was clearly much more settled, walking around the cage, bobbing her head and showing an interest in her surroundings. I then gave her a short general anaesthetic, using a quick-acting gas via a mask. As soon as she was asleep, I cleaned up her wounds with sterile saline solution. The laceration was easy to repair using fine, absorbable suture materials. Within ten minutes, she was back in her cage, coming around from the anaesthetic. 

Cat bites always carry a high risk of serious wound infection, so she was sent home on a course of antibiotics. I asked Mike to keep her in a large cardboard box in the house, so he was able to give her the antibiotic dose directly into her mouth each day.

Vet Follow Up Visit

I asked him to come back a week later to make sure that she was healing properly. As Mike came into the consulting room with the box, he was telling me enthusiastically how well she was looking, and how pleased he was with her progress. As I listened, I was making my usual check of the windows and doors, and before I could stop him, Mike had opened the top of the cardboard box.

It was if the bird had been waiting for this moment, and she flew up and out at the speed of a Jack-in-the-Box. She circled the room once, then landed on top of a cupboard on the wall. As Mike reached up to catch her, he turned and winked at me: “I think she’s better – don’t you?”