A king pigeon that was dyed bright pink and released into the wild has died a week after it was rescued from a New York City park. The animal likely perished from inhaling toxic dye fumes, per the Wild Bird Fund (WBF), the wildlife rehabilitation and education center that took the bird in and cared for it.
"I don't think we've ever really had a pink pigeon come into the clinic, so we were all pretty surprised," Antonio Sanchez of the WBF tells WABC. "We were honestly disgusted that someone would do this." The bird—nicknamed Flamingo—was barely older than a fledgling and showed signs of long-term malnutrition, according to the fund.
Flamingo was rescued from Madison Square Park on January 30 by professional dog walker and frequent animal rescuer Carlos Rodriguez. Rodriguez had received a call that morning about an abandoned pink bird behind the Shake Shack, writes the New York Times’ Hurubie Meko. At first, he assumed the rosy avian was a parrot.
“I was perplexed,” Rodriguez tells the newspaper. “As soon as I picked it up, I smelled the fumes coming out of him.”
Rodriguez (who was once kicked out of an Uber for riding with a poisoned squirrel, per the Times) took the pigeon to the WBF in a taxi. The caretakers gave the bird oxygen, fluids and medication, and the staff tried a variety of methods to remove the dye.
“We went through the whole list: mayonnaise for tar, Dawn dishwashing detergent for oil, vegetable canola oil for glues,” Rita McMahon, director of the WBF, tells the Washington Post’s María Luisa Paúl.
The rescue posted Flamingo’s story to its social media accounts, where it quickly captured the attention of thousands. "We have been overwhelmed by messages of concern and goodwill for this poor bird," Catherine Quayle, social media director of the WBF, tells NPR’s Bill Chappell. But despite the organization’s efforts, Flamingo grew weaker and continued vomiting. Last Tuesday, the bird was found dead in its enclosure, per the Post.
Flamingo was a king pigeon, a type of domestic bird often bred for meat. These birds cannot survive out in the wild, as they do not have the skills to find food, water or shelter, per Palomacy, a San Francisco-based pigeon and dove rescue. Their large bodies prohibit them from flying very well and their bright white feathers make them easy targets for predators. Many are sold live and butchered, but sometimes they are purchased and “‘set free’ by well-meaning but misguided people,” writes Elizabeth Young, Palomacy’s founder and executive director. They often die shortly after being released.
Why Flamingo was dyed is unclear, but the WBF staff speculate it may have been part of a gender reveal.
Anthony Genise of Doves of Love NYC, a company that releases trained doves, says he occasionally gets requests to dye his birds, writes Clio Chang of Curbed.
“Matter of fact, this lady recently came in and wanted to put blue on a bird, and I said ‘no,’” he tells the publication “What do they call that, a reveal? I don’t rent my birds out for that.”
Extreme gender reveals have often made headlines for their disastrous consequences for humans and the environment. In 2020, a gender reveal gone-wrong sparked the El Dorado wildfire in California, which burned close to 23,000 acres, torched five homes and killed a firefighter. In 2021, a homemade explosive built for a gender reveal killed a father-to-be in New York. In 2022, a couple in Brazil illegally dyed a waterfall blue to announce they were having a baby boy.
The New York City Police Department’s animal cruelty has launched an investigation into Flamingo’s death, per the Times.
“Flamingo's story sparked a lot of emotion and generated interest from around the world,” writes the WBF on Instagram. “We hope the tale of his too-short life will help prevent more acts of careless cruelty.”