A Pigeon Was Dyed. Then It Died. Now the Police Are Investigating.
The New York City Police Department’s Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad said Thursday it was investigating how a white king pigeon, nicknamed Flamingo, ended up dyed completely pink before being found by rescuers. The bird, which was taken to a wildlife rehabilitation organization last week, died earlier this week.
What’s known of Flamingo’s story began last Monday, Jan. 30, when Carlos Rodriguez learned from a Parks Department employee about a bird in need of help in Madison Square Park, in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. Mr. Rodriguez, an avid animal rescuer who lives nearby, said he was used to getting calls from people alerting him about animals in need.
But the call he received that morning about a pink bird abandoned behind the Shake Shack caught him off guard.
Because of its color, he initially thought the bird was a parrot. When he got closer, he realized it was a king pigeon, a domesticated white bird typically bred for food, that had been dyed pink.
“I was perplexed,” Mr. Rodriguez, 59, said. “As soon as I picked it up, I smelled the fumes coming out of him.”
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Mr. Rodriguez rushed the pigeon to the Wild Bird Fund, a nonprofit rehabilitation and education center on the Upper West Side. That night, the organization posted about Flamingo online, where people — many outraged — speculated that it had likely been dyed for a gender reveal party.
“A single pink pigeon found, it suggests that this was a baby girl coming up,” said Rita McMahon, the organization’s director.
Gender reveal parties have become a divisive tradition and a flash-point of debate in recent years. They have also been deadly. In 2020, a gender reveal plan that involved a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” ignited a wildfire in Los Angeles that burned more than 20,000 acres of land and killed at least one firefighter.
The following year, in New York, a man was killed and his brother was injured when a device they prepared for a gender-reveal party exploded in a garage in the Catskills.
In the week after Flamingo was found, the Wild Bird Fund provided one semi-hopeful update — the bird’s condition had stabilized, and workers had been able to remove some of the dye from its feathers, using heat, oxygen, subcutaneous fluids and medication to treat it.
But by Tuesday, Flamingo was dead. An announcement from the rescuers said it had likely died from inhaling the toxins used in the paint coating its feathers.
The bird “was malnourished, barely older than a baby and had no survival skills,” they wrote. “Even without the added complication of the toxic dye, he would not have survived in a city park as a white, helpless bird.”
Ms. McMahon said that when rescuers first encountered Flamingo, they were “horrified” at its condition.
“Someone had dunked it in the dye all the way to the top of his head,” she said. “How that was done, I don’t know. Smelled horribly — a very strong perfume smell — and was very cold. It was unstable and had a cut on its side.”
King pigeons can’t fly very well and are typically raised in cages, she said. But because of their white color, they have been confused for doves and used in releases at events.
At a 9/11 memorial event in 2002, what was supposed to be a tribute with flocks of doves released over the Hudson River ended when the birds, king pigeons, ended up plunging into the river and hitting windows on buildings and cars.
“In basically all cases,” Ms. McMahon said, “it’s such a nasty turn on what one’s trying to celebrate.”
The organization rescued 55 king pigeons last year. Because they can’t be released to the wild, they’re sent to a private sanctuary once rehabilitated.
Both Ms. McMahon and Mr. Rodriguez said that a detective had reached out to them in recent days. The police department did not answer questions about what the investigation into Flamingo’s death will entail.
Mr. Rodriguez, a dog walker in the Flatiron area who frequently rescues animals — he even got kicked out of an Uber once for riding with an anxious squirrel that had been poisoned — said he hoped whoever dyed Flamingo was caught soon.
“I never expected this thing to go viral,” he said. “But I’m glad it is because I want this to bring attention to people that animals are not props.”