A number of panicked Russians have contacted the authorities to report concerns over the bizarre behaviour of pigeons in Moscow.
Locals have dubbed the birds “zombie pigeons” after a strange change in their behaviour swept the city – leaving the birds extremely lethargic and seemingly fearless.
Speaking to Europe Radio Liberty, a Moscow resident named Umid said: “When I walk to work I usually see pigeons running and jumping around. But recently they haven’t been reacting to anything at all”.
He added: “When a person walks past them, they used to fly away. But now they just sit there in a kind of funk and don’t even pay attention to you. They’re just not normal.”
Umid went on to say: “I’ve seen some pigeons behaving very strangely, turning around in circles”.
Officials have dubbed the birds “the pecking dead”, and say their condition is likely to be a combination of an intestinal infection that has left a large number of pigeons dead over the last few years, and various other parasite-based diseases.
Hundreds of worried Muscovites have already taken to Twitter to share stories about the “zombie pigeons”, branding the epidemic a “bird apocalypse”.
One user reported a pigeon losing its balance and falling through an open window frame, while others described birds resting their beaks on the ground or walking round and round in circles.
Moscow’s deputy Mayor Leonid Pechatnikov moved to allay fears by declaring the pigeons’ odd behaviour harmless, adding that the intestinal disease could not be caught by humans.
This was seemingly contradicted by the Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Inspection Unit however, who said the birds are likely to be suffering from Newcastle disease – a highly contagious illness that can cause eye infections and flu-like symptoms in people.
Russia’s Vetinary Committee added a third theory, claiming lesions on the dead birds’ livers and intestines seem to indicate salmonella poisoning, which can, of course, also be passed to humans.
For the time being, locals are advised to stay away from any pigeon that is behaving strangely and to call the local authorities if they come across a dead bird.
Russia’s chief health inspector Gennady Onishchenko, who last month banned Ukrainian chocolate as a potential health hazard, said the country has no plans to investigate the reports however.
Mr Onishchenko went on to reveal his somewhat prejudicial views on pigeons, saying: “In the hands of Pablo Picasso a pigeon became and embodiment of peace… but in fact, in a sanitary sense, they are one of the dirtiest stupidest birds there are”.