Last week, Las Vegas resident Bobby Lee was on his way to the grocery store when a few pigeons milling around a dumpster in a parking lot caught his eye. These weren’t ordinary pigeons: the birds were wearing miniature cowboy hats, one sporting a red hat and one outfitted with gray. Lee posted a video of the birds on Facebook that went viral, and now people are trying to figure out who gussied up the little birds.
Lee tells Christine Hauser at the New York Times that he threw some Doritos out of his car to attract the pigeons, but it scared them off to a nearby ledge. The 26-year-old’s 12-second clip of the strutting cow-birds, however, was enough to delight the internet, racking up tens of thousands of shares and views.
“It got a lot of attention fast,” Lee says. “The day after, I had a lot of news people texting me and people trying to buy my video.”
Mariah Hillman, co-founder of a Vegas-area pigeon rescue Lofty Hopes, and her daughter set out to find the pigeons soon after seeing the video, reports Deanna Paul at the Washington Post. They walked the area where the birds were seen last and handed out business cards to people, asking to be contacted if the pigeons were spotted again.
Hillman received several videos of sightings and reports of other hat-wearing pigeons as far away as Reno. She found a red-hatted pigeon, dubbed Cluck Norris, and a pink-hatted bird called Coolamity Jane. She then set out traps to capture the birds. The gray-hatted bird from Lee’s video and a different brown-hatted bird are still on the loose. Hillman’s concern is the effect of the adhesive used to attach the mini-Stetsons to the animals' heads.
"[Cluck Norris] was shaking his head, trying to get the hat off. It’s definitely glue,” she tells Paul. “We either have to molt it off, which will take time, or have it removed. The only thing that wouldn’t harm them is oil, which then makes him a grease pigeon — like the ones around McDonalds.”
She tells Jelisa Castrodale at Vice that the best case scenario is that the avian haberdasher attached the hats using a temporary adhesive, like eyelash glue. But she suspects that, because the hats have lasted so long, the perpetrators used something like super-glue.
Charles Walcott, an ornithologist from Cornell University, has studied pigeons for 30 years. He has affixed tracking devices to birds for his research, and tells Hauser that the birds will probably be just fine. (Walcott told the Times that he "enjoyed the video" and "thought those pigeons with hats were cute.")
"I can’t see that it is causing any great harm to the pigeons," he says, pointing out that the hats appear to be very light and whoever attached them took care not to impede the birds’ vision. “They look like happy pigeons to me. It is hard to know, of course, because they will not talk to us.”
The question of who put the hats on the birds is still a mystery. Lee tells Hauser that the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was recently in town and may have inspired the hats. Organizers deny that they had anything do with outfitting the birds. Currently, the Las Vegas police say that they don’t believe the situation is a police matter.
Hillman tells Hauser that she hopes the mad-hatting will not continue. “Humans basically just need to keep their hands off animals. It is their life. They have the right to live free from harm.”