News & Politics

A Pigeon Pooped on Her Head—and Scored a New Home

A local animal shelter helped the unusually friendly bird

Ciardi and Valley. Photograph by Brooke Ciardi.

Recently, there was an unusual occurrence at an animal shelter in Montgomery County: A rock pigeon—the gray kind with a green iridescent neck—landed on the shoulders of a staff member and hitched a ride inside the building. The pigeon wasn’t banded, so she didn’t seem to belong to anyone, and since she was healthy, the staff gently shepherded her back outside. Yet no matter how many times she was escorted out, she’d land on someone’s head or shoulders and invite herself back in. Finally, the staff decided she belonged among people, so they embarked on finding her a home. 

Apparently, of the 20-30 pigeons that pass through Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center each year, no other bird has so persistently demanded a berth. “She’s really one in a million,” Brooke Ciardi, the shelter’s outreach coordinator, says. Since Valley is so friendly, she’s likely an escaped or abandoned pet. “I thought it was so funny how determined and smart she was. She just wanted so badly to come inside.”

Ciardi, in fact, is the one who brought Valley in for good. This was last Wednesday, when she was outside photographing adoptable dogs. Valley—who had been nagging other staffers for days—landed on Ciardi’s head and perched there for the duration of the shoot. “No matter what dog came up to me or how hard it started raining, she just would not get off my head. And I finally radioed our intake and I was like, ‘I know we keep putting this bird outside, but can we keep it?’ And everyone was like, ‘Yeah, bring it in.’”

Ciardi and Valley. Photograph by Brooke Ciardi.
Valley at the shelter. Photograph by Brooke Ciardi.

The staff was delighted to have her. “She made everyone’s day,” Ciardi says. “When she kept coming inside, people were cracking up, talking to each other over the radio, like, ‘Oh, the bird’s back.’” And once settled into her kennel, Valley remained a charmer. Over the past week, she socialized with potential new families, ate fruit out of various staffers’ palms, perched atop an adoption counselor’s shoulder during a meeting, and even pooped on Ciardi’s head. (“It was very cold that day and all of a sudden I felt really warm.”) “She just has this really big, funny personality,” Ciardi says. “She didn’t care about any of the chaos of the animal shelter. She was just like, ‘Who’s going to take me home?’” 

While Valley was adopted quickly, Ciardi says that pigeons can be tough for the shelter to place. They’re “underrated pets,” she insists—often sweet, personable, and smart. They also have an interesting history. People have been domesticating pigeons for millennia; they’ve been used to carry messages in wartime, and—oddly—to detect breast cancer in images from mammograms. (“The birds proved to have a remarkable ability to distinguish benign from malignant human breast histopathology,” one scientific paper claimed.) 

Ciardi says that knowing Valley was an extraordinary experience. A couple of years ago, she’d visited France and seen a woman covered in pigeons. “And the whole time I was in France, I didn’t care about the Eiffel Tower, I didn’t care about the Arc de Triomphe—I wanted a pigeon to land on me.” It didn’t happen during her trip to France. But when Valley landed on her head last week, she says she thought, “Wow, I just checked off my bucket list item—I got a pigeon on my head.”

Ciardi and the other staff will miss Valley, who is apparently an “exceptionally wonderful bird.” They often have other birds available—pigeons, turkeys, parakeets roosters—but Valley was one of a kind. “She really lifted everyone’s spirits,” Ciardi says. “She was kind of this mascot superstar for the week she was here.”

Photograph by Brooke Ciardi.

Sylvie McNamara
Staff Writer