Case Study: Hand-rearing a fledgling Yellow-footed green pigeon (Treron phoenicoptera)

Devna Arora

Devna Arora - Yellow-footed green pigeon fledgling

This baby was found as a fledgling (approx. 2 months of age) in Sep. 2009 in Pune, Maharashtra. He (unsexed) was kept in a closed box by his rescuers with his wings pinned so he wouldn’t fly. He was surrendered after two days when they repeatedly failed to encourage him to feed except when forcefully feeding him. The bird came with a lot of stress due to rough handling.

There was no other physical problem and although I scanned the entire area (on the 5th day that is when I could gather sufficient information) where he was found in the hope of reuniting him with his family, there was absolute no visible movement of green pigeons there. Green pigeons migrate locally in Maharashtra in search of fruiting trees and they had perhaps already moved. The fledgling was found in the city where movement of the species is infrequent, perhaps en route their journey to better feeding grounds, and was found fallen on the ground being harassed by crows.


Devna Arora - Yellow-footed green pigeon fledgling

He was rehabilitated from an indoor room of about 250 sq. feet which allowed him adequate flight practice. He was initially kept in a confined space with low perches while he would barely lift a few feet into the air. He was initially returned to a basket at night but preferred to sleep on the perch at night in two weeks’ time once he was more comfortable and confident. He started lifting higher by the third week – higher perches were put up in the room for him at that time.

He was housed next to a rock pigeon for the first couple of weeks assuming that the sight of other similar birds would calm him but every time he approached that pigeon, she aggressively chased him and he rarely ventured near her for another two weeks until he was stronger and bolder.

Diet and feeding

Due to the high stress from bad handling, he took 3 days to settle down and begin readily accepting food and had lost a considerable amount of weight in the meanwhile. Although he seemed to have eaten a small amount on the first day, he refused to eat anything for the next two days which made me resort to hand-feeding him on the 4th day. Fortunately, he didn’t require excessive fiddling or force-feeding. He just needed to get started with the first few pieces of fruit which were placed in his mouth and he soon started opening his beak to be fed. Pieces of fruit were typically offered to him by hand and his beak cleaned after his feed.

He was hand-fed 4 times a day at this point and there was always some fruit in a plate for him to eat in case he chose to pick up a few pieces on his own. Diet at this time was roughly 15-20 pieces of fruit (about 2 tablespoons) per feed. A bowl of drinking water was available to him at all times.

Diet when hand-feeding: Pieces of banana, chiku (sapodilla), papaya, figs (both cultivated and the ones plucked from trees), pears, apple, sprouted mung beans and some ground soaked almonds, equivalent to the quantity of two almonds a day.

In two weeks’ time, he started feeding on his own. At first he would pick up a few pieces of fruit from the plate and then wait to be hand-fed but thereafter began feeding independently in two days. At this point, he also became selective about his diet. His absolute favourite was chiku and it had to be perfectly ripe and sweet – there were times when I have been all around the city just to hunt for a few juicy chikus!! He would also consume ripe bananas but only once the chikus were over (and the season ended) and occasionally some shredded apple. Other seasonal fruits were offered but they were all rejected by him.

Daily diet at this point was equivalent to 2 medium-sized chikus and an equivalent amount of banana. He would feed from sunrise to about 10 pm at night. Fresh food was available for him through the day (offered 3-4 times as cut fruit goes off quickly) and he would typically consume a bit of fruit 6-7 times in a day. Probiotic supplements – Bifilac was added when required. After my experience with other birds, I would now recommend Gutwell – I have used it effectively with other birds or better still and if available, avian probiotics.


I’m sorry I don’t have pics but dropping were much like those of any frugivorous baby bird – looped rings with very little white in them.

Growth and activity pattern

He was fairly inactive and would mostly just sit fluffed up all through the day for the first couple of weeks but became more energetic, stronger and muscular over the first few weeks itself. His colours deepened and the contrast in the plumage increased by the end of Oct. He was very active, feeding well on his own and had also started vocalizing at the same time. He was most active early in the mornings and would jump from perch to perch to exercise his wings – this was typically when he also vocalized with glee.

Observations and special considerations

Green pigeons are extremely sensitive birds. Although they are very easy to maintain, handling must be extremely gentle. More so than any other birds under rehab, exposure to unfamiliar humans is very stressful for them and MUST be avoided at all costs. It happened twice that my maid entered the room in my absence and he got a fright, stayed high up on the perch and refused to eat all day. Changing caretakers again must be avoided or they must be gradually introduced to them.

A worrying behavior was observed in him towards the end of Dec. when he would jump off his perch in the middle of the night, typically around 2-3 am and aim straight for the window. He would of course fall to the ground and flutter desperately out of fright. Unable to see in the darkness, he would not be able to lift again until I turned on the lights, after which he would return to his perch. A simultaneous dip in his appetite was observed at the same time. But as the days went by, the level of panic appeared to be less and there was more maturity and patience when he fell. This behavior continued well into the beginning of Jan and then he stopped jumping off his perch. His appetite too then returned. Perhaps this was an innate response to some migration instinct! Release was planned once he had stopped jumping off his perch at night as he likely wouldn’t have survived that behavior in the wild.


He was released towards the end of Jan. 2010, at about the age of six months, in the Western Ghats where green pigeon movement is frequent. Although he survived very well and was seen 2 months after release [seen alone at the site of release and recognized by his behavior; he also acknowledged my call], he was still seen alone – return migration of the species had only just begun. Perhaps more effort to integrate him with a wild flock of green pigeons would have benefited him better but this would have meant holding on to him for another couple of months.

Case Study published in 2014.

First and foremost: if the animal is injured, it would be very obvious but is the animal truly orphaned? Please ensure if the animal is truly orphaned and not receiving parental care before you decide to pick it and take it home.

The second step would be to reach the animal to a rehabilitator or rescue center. If you are unaware of any in your vicinity, you will be able to get guidance from your local veterinarian, zoo or forest department.

This is not an uncommon situation to find yourself in. Although there are innumerable rescue centers and rehabilitators around, there may be times when there are none in your vicinity or you are unable to reach anyone in time for help. It may be best to prepare yourself to care for the animal in such an instance.

Much information on many topics and species is readily available online. Try to narrow down some pieces of information you can work with for a start. Also, get in touch with rescue centers or rehabilitators via phone or internet. Exchange digital photographs where necessary – it barely takes a few minutes. Even if unable to help you directly in person, any person or center will surely be willing to guide you through the care of the animal and help you in choosing an appropriate protocol for its care and rehabilitation.

It is a common myth that any baby (or adult) bird or mammal that has been touched by human hands will be killed by the rest of its group. This belief has most strongly been associated with baby birds, making people extremely reluctant to pick up and leave babies back in their nest even when the parents are around.

Over innumerable years, we have reunited many youngsters successfully, and inevitably, they have all been handled by human hands for several hours or days before being reunited. The key factor in the acceptance of the animal by the parent and other group members seems not to be the smell of human touch on the animal, but the actual process of reuniting.

A common mistake that most people make while attempting to reunite an animal is that they linger on too close and in turn, frighten the parents away. When trying to place an animal back in its nest, you must always keep a safe distance from the nest and the rest of the group so as not to scare them away. It is easy to get impatient and want to return to the animal after short intervals, but you must refrain from doing so, rather, observe from a distance. Success is more likely than not. I can hardly believe any parent would refuse to accept its own child just because a ‘human’ has touched it!

Some people have suggested the use of gloves to prevent direct contact with the animal. Although you may not always have gloves on you when you need to handle an animal and it isn’t completely necessary to have them when handling a rescue, you may choose to use them if you prefer to.

Yes, in all probability. But, no animal can be simply picked from captivity and released – that is when they will not survive. Animals need to go through a period of rehabilitation before they can be release. The technique and timeframe of rehabilitation will depend upon the species and individual in concern. Guidance on rehabilitating your animal can be sought from an experienced rehabilitator.

Wild animals belong in their natural habitats. Their true glory and happiness can only ever be seen in nature. As much as the babies will be attached to you and need you when they are young, they will soon outgrow their dependence on you and their heart will yearn to be outside, in the wild – where they belong.

Rather than waiting too long and releasing an animal that is not completely prepared, it is wise to plan the release, rehabilitate the animal and release a strong and prepared animal that will surely be able to survive in the wild.

If you truly love them and want what’s really best for them, I trust you will do what is best for your little one.

You can work with any species you are more comfortable with or all species that you come across. Often, we just work with animals as they come along but if you don’t feel particularly confident with any species, it might be better to transfer it to someone more confident. If you prefer to work with a certain species and feel your hands are better adapted for that species, you may specialize in it – its’ your call.

It takes lots of time, deep commitment and a genuine interest in the wellbeing of another animal’s life to enter the field of wildlife rehabilitation. Experience and knowledge are paramount as there are many that cannot be written or explained to you but those that you will learn through your own experience. Wildlife rehabilitation is a painstaking and time consuming task requiring your complete dedication and lots of sacrifices.

In a nutshell, the following are the basic qualities required to be a rehabilitator:

1. Genuine interest and concern

2. Dedication and sacrifice

3. Commitment to work in the best interest of the animal

4. Willingness to learn

5. Willingness to ask and look for help

6. Willingness to go the extra mile

7. Willingness to let go at the time of release

Many small animals, esp. urban species, can be rehabilitated and released from home as long as they have a natural distribution around your home. Many of these animals come back for visits until they are completely independent but sometimes for longer as they are closely bonded to the caregivers. Often, the animals may completely cease to return after release or some days after release. Although this seems disappointing, it a good sign demonstrating that the animal is completely independent and capable of surviving on its own without any assistance from you.

As rehabbers, our aim is always make the animal independent so it doesn’t feel the need to keep returning.

Yes, we can definitely attempt to help every animal that needs our help. But unfortunately, we may not always be able to cure every animal and restore it to its desired health status. As rescue workers, we come across a disproportionately disadvantaged population of animals, some of which are beyond human help. There may be times when it is in the best interest of the animal to euthanize it. But it is our duty and responsibility to make an informed choice and always work for the betterment and highest quality of life for the animal in concern.

Euthanasia, commonly known as ‘mercy killing’, is the act of killing someone to relieve it from unbearable and incurable suffering. Needless to say, euthanasia is always the very last resort after all other means to help the animal have failed and purely done to relieve an animal of unbearable pain and suffering. Euthanasia can be easily carried out by a veterinarian by means of an injectable drug – a quick and painless process. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the same. Ensure you have the appropriate permission to do so when dealing with protected species.