Glaspell, S. 2020. Flight to freedom: Behavior modification of an undomesticated pigeon using human interaction. Laboratory Animal Science Professional 8(2) (March/April), 58-61.
The white-crowned pigeon, Patagioenas leucocephala, is a species of bird not often used in research. This may be related to its anxiety during normal human interactions, such as with cage changing. Our institution acquired a single, male, white-crowned pigeon after the unsuccessful completion of a study related to the behavior of this specific pigeon species. The pigeon, Mr. Grey, would become stressed and flap around the cage, causing feather loss and injury to himself. To improve the wellbeing of this pigeon, we decided to train him to help decrease his stress as well as increase his adoptability to various avian sanctuaries. A behavior plan was designed that involved increased enrichment, housing space, human interaction, as well as audio nature sounds. Following the outlined training plan, no self-injuries were reported after the first month of training. The pigeon’s behavior progressed from a fearful bird to a calm, neutral bird, not asking for contact. Using the slow hand approach method, the bird accepted physical contact, starting with his feet and progressing to breast strokes and strokes between the wings. The bird also began to display species-typical behaviors, including vocalizing, grooming, and eating in front of trainers. A key environmental enrichment device was the addition of a mirror to his cage. The behavioral plan can be adapted to other institutions attempting to rehabilitate an undomesticated species for transfer to an avian facility.