Meet the Pittsburgh Pigeon Whisperer: Kim Garrett | animal question | Pittsburgh
If you live or work in downtown Pittsburgh, there’s a good chance you’ve become familiar with pigeons. Often seen strutting alongside humans crossing busy streets, downtown pigeons are charismatic and funny. Commonly ridiculed as “rats with wings” and “filths,” pigeons are sometimes subjected to cruel treatment by the humans they live with.
But Kim Garrett wants to question your perception of these city birds. Garrett, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh, has two pet pigeons named Cooper and Lady. Some might find it odd, but she says they’re doing wonders for her sanity.
Lady and Cooper are kept in a very large dog crate in their own room, with newspaper covering the bottom of the crate. They have a container for birdseed, one for water, and one for the “oatmeal,” which Garrett says is made up of extra oyster shells or small pebbles for the birds to “grind things up” and provide birds with a source of calcium. .
“That’s why the pigeons on the street look like they’re eating asphalt or rocks and it’s like, ‘Why are they doing this? ” “, she says. “It is because they need to have stones in their system to crush all the seed of the birds.”
Garrett says that due to misconceptions about pigeons, she is often asked silly questions about how she keeps them, like if she would catch bird flu or if they poop all over her house. She says younger generations tend to be more curious and inquisitive. There’s a misconception that she just took Cooper and Lady off the streets, but there are pigeon rescues.
Cooper, a beautiful bronze and cream colored pigeon, was rescued from a breeder of “fancy pigeons” bred for their appearance. Lady was saved from a release of doves. Popular at funerals and weddings, dove releases often leave birds confused and susceptible to predators like hawks.
Garrett says she first developed an interest in pigeons at a young age while watching Sesame Street. Bert, one of the characters in the show, loved pigeons and often collected items like paper clips. He also had a pigeon friend named Bernice. Garrett grew up in New Wilmington, PA, and she hasn’t really seen pigeons in real life.
“Growing up, I didn’t really see any pigeons in my small, rural town, but I associated it with the big city,” she says. “And so, I remember in ninth grade we took a trip to Pittsburgh to see a show and school stuff, and there were pigeons everywhere and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s like in Sesame Street, it’s a big city, there are pigeons here.
Since then Garrett has become a bit of an expert on pigeons and enjoys sharing interesting facts about birds. She says they were the first domesticated bird, even before chickens. Pigeons were also briefly used for food and, of course, many know their history as carrier animals. When homing pigeons went out of fashion due to the development of the telephone and postal system, pigeons were still very comfortable in the city atmosphere and stayed there.
“So they fell into disuse and they were so prevalent and people kind of let them go,” says Garrett. “And so they found their own kind of safe places in urban areas. And when they found these safe places, they just had families and were hanging out there. That’s why we have them everywhere. They are on every continent except Antarctica.
Garrett also says that pigeons mate for life, and although they may leave the nest and mate with other pigeons, they always come back to their nest and partner pigeon.
If you are not interested in owning a pigeon, there are always ways to befriend those you meet on the street. Feeding pigeons is okay, but avoid bread. Garrett says cut fruits, vegetables, and birdseed are the best meals for our feathered friends.