Tourists in Thailand are paying people to scare pigeons to create the perfect Instagram shot

Emma Cooke
Would this photo be possible without a 'pigeon spooker'? - getty

Scroll through pictures of Tha Phae Gate, an ancient wall in Chiang Mai, Thailand, known for its flocks of pigeons, on Instagram and you’ll see scores of apparently candid photos.

People jumping, twirling and skipping in effortless movement, as the aforementioned flocks take to the air around them - a moving feathery frame.

Pretty magical, right? 

Except that these pictures may not be as spontaneous as they appear. 

In yet another glimpse behind the curtain of Instagram photos, a real ‘job’ exists in Thailand for people helping the birds take flight so that they flutter prettily around tourists as they pose.

Pigeons: not that active unless food or fear is involved Credit: getty

A popular tourist destination, Tha Phae Gate draws those looking for a good photo for social media like a lodestone.

Rather unfortunately, the pigeons have other plans, tending to remain on the ground and not around people's heads. 

Enter: the pigeon spooker. This new job opportunity in Chiang Mai involves stomping your feet and waving flags to startle the pigeons into more photogenic movement, for about 20 baht (52p) a go. 

On the one hand, you’re paying for the experience of having hundreds of pigeons flapping around you (can this be anything other than traumatising?). On the other, it's a cheap price to pay for the sweet, delicious taste of Instagram validation. 

Of course, no one’s talking about the true victims in all this: the pigeons.

The poor winged population just hanging around minding their own business, being startled on a near-constant basis all for a photo opportunity. 

How is one meant to finish one’s discarded sandwich if there’s always someone swooping in, arms flailing, to frighten you into flight? 

Not to mention that the local government is hardly on the side of the pigeons either.

Council officials in Chiang Mai may be cracking down on the bird scarers, but this is all part of a larger plan to decrease pigeon numbers in the area. 

Pigeon numbers have been increasing as vendors and tourists feed them Credit: getty

The lure of Instagrammers paying for pigeon-filled photos is so great that vendors are scattering feed to draw greater numbers of birds to photoshoot areas - only for the birds to then fall prey to being spooked. A cruel ruse indeed. 

This in turn has led to worries - among other things, like pigeons being disease-carrying pests - about the effect of the birds’ "waste products" on the historic city walls. Clearly, in the face of flag-filled terror, holding onto your bird seed breakfast is harder than it might seem.

Despite previous warnings, a number of vendors have since been caught in raids by police and government officials. 

A fine has been instituted for anyone caught selling bird-feed in the area, which was raised to 20,000 baht (£521) last month.

Maybe best not to start your career as a pigeon spooker just yet. 

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