A young mother has taken two street pigeons as her pets and even treats them to infrared therapy and air showers twice a day.
Zoe Thor keeps the two pampered pigeons in her apartment in Pyrmont, inner Sydney, that she shares with her husband Jay and 12-year-old daughter Clarice.
Every day Walter, a feral pigeon or rock dove, and Charlie, a mix of fancy pigeon breeds, get treated to more affection and attention than most pet cats or dogs.
When the birds wake up at around 7am, they bask under a special avian light for 30 minutes, before they are then dressed in their custom bird nappies, or ‘flypers’.
They cost up to $99 a pair and Ms Thor owns about 50 sets.
The pigeons then hop into their ‘air shower’ machine which has settings to lavish them with infrared and ionic treatments.
Zoe Thor says she never realised pigeons made such great pets. She is pictured with Charlie, a mix of fancy pigeon breeds
While pigeons don’t need to be exercised, most days Walter and Charlie get walked in this custom pet backpack. Pictured, Zoe Thor with Charlie (left) and Walter (right)
Charlie (white) and Water (grey) relax during their morning air shower, which includes an infrared treatment designed to promote good health
Clarice, 12, with Walter the pigeon she adopted after her pet mouse Tommy passed away
Ionic care is an alternative therapy that uses negative ions to cleanse the body of toxins, but on pigeons helps smooth their feathers..
The infrared therapy is for good health to help reduce pain and inflammation.
The air shower removes their pigeon dandruff and disinfects them, with the pigeons given the treatment every morning and afternoon.
Ms Thor said the pigeons stay in the air shower for as long as they want with Walter leaving after about 10 minutes and Charlie staying for as long as 30 minutes.
The pigeons are then fed a hand-made breakfast in different parts of the apartment to stop them pecking each other while eating.
Walter eats seeds, pellets, lettuce and blackberry, while Charlie turns his beak up at vegetables – preferring pellets and pigeon seed mix.
One of the reasons pigeons make great pets, Ms Thor says, is their soft beaks.
The birds are also ‘really cute’, don’t need to be exercised, recognise their owners and even play with them.
Walter, rescued by Ms Thor and Clarice as an injured fledgling last November at Wynyard, likes to bury his beak between his adoptive mum’s fingers for fun.
‘They fly to you, they stick to you sometimes. Charlie sits on my husband’s shoulder and Walter follows me around, even when I go to the bathroom,’ Ms Thor said.
‘When I close the door he stamps his feet or flies around noisily until I open the door.
‘Walter is so close to me.’
While pigeons don’t need to be exercised, most days Walter and Charlie get walked.
They are transported around Sydney in a ventilated perspex pet backpack, which gives them unbridled views of the bustling CBD.
The pigeons can snack on pigeon treats while staying in the backpack and accompany Ms Thor to her osteopath appointments three times a week.
They go with Ms Thor’s daughter to her art and dance lessons as well.
On the way home, Ms Thor stops to let her pigeons out on Pyrmont Bridge.
‘They seem to have very good appetite when we get home which I assume that means they’re happy,’ she said.
Ms Thor said the family used to keep pet mice, but the tiny mammals only live to about two years of age, meaning they had several heart-breaking funerals for them.
After their last pet rodent passed away – the family had ‘Tommy’ the mouse cremated – a distraught Clarice was comforted by a friend with the gift of a toy pigeon named Walter.
A few days later they spotted the grey rock dove they now own wandering around the tram tracks at Wynyard but unable to fly.
They adopted him, named him Walter and spent $800 on a vet bill to bring him up to good health.
Ms Thor admits the birds have become a substitute for the time with her daughter, who is about to turn 13, as is busy with her own things.
Walter and Charlie’s wardrobe of imported fashionable ‘pigeon pants’, which cost between $15 and $99 a pair
Charlie sporting a bow tie and a pair of pigeon pants aka ‘flypers’, which contain liners to collect droppings. Pigeon droppings potentially contain diseases
Walter was the family’s first pigeon. He’s a common feral pigeon, also known as a rock dove
‘I used to play dress ups with my daughter but most days she locks herself in her room, she’s going to be 13 soon,’ Ms Thor said.
‘Now I can dress up my pigeons. It’s like I have another daughter.’
After years keeping pet mice and having to bury them every 18 months because of their short lifespans, the family has fallen in love with the pigeons.
Ms Thor thinks the nickname ‘rats with wings’, a term coined by Woody Allen in the 1980 film Stardust Memories, is unfair.
‘I don’t think they’re like rats, pigeon are very clean,’ she said.
‘If they have access to a bucket of water pigeons will bathe themselves every day.’
Murdoch University researchers found that drug resistant Escherichia coli (E. coli) is present in 10 per cent of feral pigeons, which they believe receive the bacteria from seagulls.
The biggest problem with feral pigeons, according to Brisbane business Peter The Possum and Bird man, is their droppings, which can contain serious diseases including Cryptococcosis, a fungal lung infection which is a cause of meningitis.
Histoplasmosis and Psittacosis are also potential problems and Campylobacter or Salmonella poisoning.
Ms Thor says her family has had ‘no problems’ with Walter and Charlie, but she is careful about how she collects their droppings.
‘I did lots of research when I first got him, whether pigeons are suitable as apartment pets. They are,’ she said.
‘Even if they coo, its not as loud as a parrot.
‘Parrots are more beautiful, more colourful and you can teach them to talk, but if you don’t entertain them they shout really loud and disturb the neighbours.’
Pigeons are also deceptively smart as they not only recognise faces, but patterns and words too.
A Japanese study found they could be trained to tell a Picasso painting from a Monet, while American researchers found they could detect cancer at a rate most oncologists would be proud of.
After two weeks of viewing images of microscope slides of either benign or malignant breast tissue, 16 pigeons achieved an 85 per cent accuracy in identifying malignancies.
Zoe Thor and her husband Jay Chiew who share their Pyrmont home with domesticated pigeons Walter (left) and Charlie (right)
Clarice, 12, with Charlie and Walter, whom she helped to rescue when he couldn’t fly
‘The birds were remarkably adept at discriminating between benign and malignant breast cancer slides,’ said lead author Prof Richard Levenson, from the University of California, Davis.
What’s far more well known is that pigeons can be trained to successfully messages and race, returning to the home coop with remarkable speed and accuracy.
Ms Thor’s research into pigeons was simpler. She wanted to know how to care for them at home.
Her main sources of information came from pigeon groups on Facebook. Sydney Pigeon and Dove lovers has 1,900 followers, but the Melbourne pigeon community page is over 8,000.