Wellington SPCA has removed homing pigeons inhumanely tied up with Christmas decorations from a house, more than three years after concerned members of the public started reporting similar sightings.
Following the 2015 fledgling season, the SPCA started getting calls about pigeons and sparrows with decorations ranging from wine glass charms, tinsel, cloth, bows, metal clamps to plastic bag material attached to them.
"It's actually most odd – it’s something that we’ve never come across before and we’ve been trying to deal with this case for three years now and we’d like to get to the bottom of it because it is incredibly distressing but totally bizarre and it’s really upsetting the members of the public as well," SPCA central region general manager Ros Alsford said.
Ms Alsford said in the most recent incident reported, a fledgling sparrow had died after tinsel wrapped under its wing had restricted its blood flow.
She said the SPCA thinks the decorations are being used for identification.
When the birds try to remove the decorations, Ms Alsford said their beaks or feet get tangled in the decorations causing more distress and in some cases, a painful death.
Reports of decorated birds spiked during the 2018 Christmas period, with up to 30 calls being made to the SPCA about sightings in the suburb of Kilbirnie, an SPCA spokesperson said.
SPCA officers have gone door-to-door on two streets where the birds were reported in the suburb, and handed out flyers, but have never had a lead.
Today 1 NEWS saw pigeons with Christmas decorations attached to them in an aviary at a property in the area.
People living at the house wouldn’t come to the door but did speak to SPCA welfare officers when they arrived at the property.
Seven decorated homing pigeons, some with painted wings, were removed from the aviary by the SPCA.
Chief inspector Ritchie Dawson described the removal as a "great breakthrough."
"Absolutely stoked, it’s been three years, we’ve had stuff in local media, Facebook pages, flyer drops, everything and we’ve had no information whatsoever come back so it’s really good and hopefully we can get some traction and sort it out completely," he said.
"It’s been great to be able to get them and get these things off these birds before they cause more harm or even death."
The decorations were tethered to the pigeons in a harness-style arrangement, which can stop the birds being able to move, cut into their muscle and impact natural waterproofing, Mr Dawson said.
The flock were in a distressed state but otherwise healthy, nurses reported.
The aviary had an opening for the birds to enter and exit.
Mr Dawson said the birds will be returned to the aviary as there were eggs there, as well as young birds.
Inspectors will interview those living at the property and are considering whether a charge of wilful ill-treatment to an animal causing unnecessary pain, suffering and distress should be laid, he said.
A spokesperson for SPCA said the charge has a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment.
Mr Dawson said it’s too early to say whether the decorated sparrows are linked to the case, which is now under investigation.
"If anybody has any further information regarding pigeons with decorations on or garden birds and trinkets please contact us so we can look into that information as well," he said.