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Justice For Flamingo, Who Did Not Consent To Being Dyed Pink

A domestic pigeon that has been dyed pink with hair dye.
Phyllis Tseng/Wild Bird Fund

I'll start by saying this: The only gender reveal party I will attend is one that's hosted by the person revealing their gender. Some people seem to think gender reveals are for babies, but I would venture to say a baby cannot know their gender nor host a party—just as a pigeon cannot consent to being dyed pink for what appears to be a gender reveal stunt.

On Monday, someone rescued a pink pigeon wandering Madison Square Park and took the bird to the Wild Bird Fund, a rehabilitation center in New York City, Gothamist reported. This pigeon was not a real pink pigeon; that would have made it a Nesoenas mayeri, a wild pigeon with a pink head and brown wings that lives on Mauritius. The rescued bird was a domestic pigeon whose feathers had been stained an unnatural pink by what appears to be hair dye. The pigeon was in rough shape, sporting a torn eyelid and a perfumed scent.

The pigeon, which was named Flamingo by its rescuer, Carlos Rodriguez, appeared to be about five weeks old. "It is also little more than a baby, barely older than fledging age and has probably never flown," Catherine Quayle, social media director of The Wild Bird Fund, wrote in an email. Quayle added that Flamingo is malnourished, with stress bars on their feathers. "So it was likely purchased from a poultry market as opposed to being a pet," Quayle said. Flamingo is a king pigeon, a breed typically raised for food.

The Wild Bird Fund has tried and failed to remove the hair dye from Flamingo, and reported its concerns about the bird's health in a series of tweets. Birds are sensitive to fumes and the strong odor coming off the dye could be harmful, Quayle said. Birds preen to keep their feathers clean and free of parasites, and preening dyed feathers could mean ingesting the chemicals inside the dye. The feathers will eventually molt out, and Flamingo is currently on medication to counteract the toxin.

The Wild Bird Fund has previously received other king pigeons tagged with colors, but Flamingo is the first to be completely immersed in dye.

"It didn't occur to us that this was a gender reveal until our followers started mentioning it," Quayle said. "Ultimately, we don't know the motivation behind this stunt."

Until the person who dyed Flamingo comes forward, I believe the most parsimonious explanation behind the pink bird is a gender reveal party. Aside from the reinforcement of the binary gender system, the erasure of intersex people, and the uncomfortable fixation on baby genitals, the risk of bodily harm has become an almost expected part of gender reveal parties. The pyrotechnic gender reveal that ignited a wildfire that burned through more than 20,000 acres outside of Los Angeles in 2020 and killed a firefighter was not the first gender reveal to cause a wildfire, according to a story in The New York Times. There was the 2017 gender reveal that sparked a 45,000-acre fire in the Coronado National Forest, a 2018 gender reveal that set a car aflame, a 2019 crop-dusting plane that crashed after dumping thousands of gallons of pink water over a Texas field, and the 2019 gender reveal pipe bomb that killed a 56-year-old woman.

In the spirit of etiquette rules, here are mine: Don't dye a pigeon. Don't have a gender reveal party unless it's for your own gender. If you want to celebrate an imminent baby, have you considered eating a nice cake? If you want to share the sex of your baby with friends and family, have you considered texting?

The Wild Bird Fund also offers a few rules of their own. Never dump or release a domestic bird. They cannot survive in the wild, and they will get lost, starve, or be eaten. If you see a white pigeon that seems larger than other pigeons, is not integrated with the rest of the flock, and appears tame or lost, take the bird to a wildlife rehab center or animal rescue near you. "Any bird that can be approached and picked up needs help," Quayle said.

Flamingo will continue recuperating in a stainless steel cage—where at least Flamingo can see their reflection in the walls, Gothamist reported. "If he recovers, he will be sent to a sanctuary with other domestic pigeons," Quayle said. There, Flamingo will be able to fly around without the threat of predators and mature into an adult.

Quayle noted that while The Wild Bird Fund has occasionally used "he" pronouns for Flamingo for clarity, the bird is too young to be sexed. "We cannot know the sex of a pigeon until they reach reproductive age and begin interacting with other pigeons," Quayle said, adding that he, she, or they pronouns are all fine to use for Flamingo. When the time comes for Flamingo to reveal their sex, I hope Flamingo enjoys the utmost privacy and we humans stay out of it.

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