Dada Masilo

There's a Pigeon Sanctuary That Saves Sick Birds Near Notts

22 August 19 words: Lily Petkova
photos: Emma Richardson

Ah, the common pigeon. We all see them around town, eating our scraps, pooping on our heads, chasing those of us with a more nervous disposition. But how much do we really know about them? People often treat them like pests - sky vermin sent to make our lives dirtier and more full of poo - but they’re so much more than that. Never has a bird been quite so misunderstood. However, one Nottingham organisation has seen the beauty in these much-maligned creatures and is trying to make the world a better place, one rescued pigeon at a time. We headed over to the Derby and Nottingham Pigeon and Farm Bird Rescue to see what they’re all about...

Quietly, humbly and without expecting any recognition, the Derby and Nottingham Pigeon and Farm Bird Rescue have dedicated themselves to a cause many struggle to understand, and to an animal disliked by most. In this day and age, with much of life being played out on our screens, there’s something gloriously noble and increasingly rare in doing something not because of how it will be perceived, but because it is good and kind. 

And so, the story of the rescue begins with one small boy who found himself drawn to pigeons from the tender age of five. As his mum would get the family allowance from the Post Office, he would sit outside watching them. “The more time I spent sat outside, the more I became intrigued with the birds,” he tells me, after we agree that his interview will remain anonymous - the focus, he tells me, should be on the birds and the Rescue Centre, not the individuals in charge of it. Fast forward a few years and he was able to get up-close and personal with the birds, as his best friend’s grandfather kept racing pigeons; “Seeing the way they acted with him made me even more adamant that it was something I wanted to do”. 

Eventually, he’d badgered his parents enough and took in some pigeons of his own. Like most people, his family originally saw them as flying rats, but in a testament to the misunderstood bird, “within a short space of time they went from hating pigeons to - not being obsessed - but having a sort of love towards them”. The rescue itself essentially started around this time, as it took in its first rescue bird: a baby wood pigeon. The seed, which would eventually grow into the sizeable rescue centre that exists today, was planted. 

Nowadays, the Rescue has grown to an impressive size. In 2010, they relocated from a council estate to a new home on an old farm site. “The animals encouraged us to move,” he tells me, “it got to the point where I was taking in as many as I possibly could with the space I had’. With the extra land, they were able to increase the number of animals helped. It’s currently home to not only pigeons, but chickens, ducks, geese, peacocks, pheasants and some goats. There are two free-flying magpies that come and go as they please, and it’s even housed a few quail. 

Despite the staff enjoying every minute of it, it isn’t an easy ride. The work itself is hard: you’ve got the normal feeding, watering, cleaning out and treating for mites and worms. On top of that, the injured and sick birds involve a lot of care, “You’ve got to remember which birds need to be medicated, what times they need to be medicated and stick to that routine”. Plus, there’s the added difficulty of figuring out which pigeon is which. Baby pigeons also often involve hand-rearing, which can mean feeding every two or three hours. 

The emotional attachment that comes with the job is also something you have to harden up to. Even watching the healthy birds leave the metaphorical nest is emotional, “Watching them fly off six months down the road, knowing you’ve done that, is such an achievement. I think it’s one of the biggest achievements of my life.” Financially, things aren’t any easier. Although the trustees fundraise, there isn’t a great outcome, “It is literally just struggling by and doing what we can: we beg, borrow and steal from family members”.

After being a fashionable pet in Victorian times, pigeons were bred extensively to meet with the demand. But, after falling out of favour as a domesticated pet, this overbreeding left pigeons hanging around in the cities, searching for food and living off scraps, which in turn makes them unwell; “If a person isn’t getting the right nutrients, they’re going to fall ill. It's no different for pigeons.” Because they’re so prevalent in cities, people see these ill pigeons and assume they’re dirtier and more annoying than any other bird, “Realistically though, they’re the same.”

These feelings are misplaced because, in reality, they’re pretty damn incredible. They’re smart, they mate for life, they co-parent (which is a concept some of us humans are still struggling to grasp), and they’ve got an incredible sense of navigation. It’s important, now more than ever, for us to look after and stick up for those who have no voice of their own, especially in the face of adversity and cruelty. That’s exactly what this badass rescue has been doing for years and will hopefully continue to do so for years to come.

Derby and Nottingham Pigeon and Farm Bird Rescue, Barrow-Upon-Trent, DE73 7HH

Derby and Nottingham Pigeon Rescue website

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