Animal rescuers reveal dark truth behind viral photos of pigeons wearing cowboy hats

The mystery behind one of this year's strangest viral stories has finally been solved — but it's certainly not the happiest discovery.

Last week, a number of Las Vegas residents spotted at least two of their city's pigeons donning red cowboy hats. The rodeo-attired birds quickly became a viral sensation, with countless social media users discussing the strange phenomenon and even going on elaborate hunts to find them.

But now one animal rescue group has uncovered the truth behind the internet's beloved birds — apparently, their stylish hats had been "badly" glued onto their heads, causing them what seemed to be a considerable amount of harm.

Mariah Hillman, co-founder of the Las Vegas-based rescue group Lofty Hopes managed to track down one of the birds, recording her discovery on Facebook. After laying out a trap, Hillman and her organization managed to find one of the known "cowboy pigeons," which they'd named Cluck Norris.

"Here is when we assessed how badly Cluck Norris' hat was glued on and looked for any damage underneath the hat that may have needed immediate attention," Lofty Hopes posted. "For those of you who have questioned whether or not this is cruel, these pics ought to clear up any questions."

The post went on to explain that thankfully, Cluck Norris seemed to be OK following the hat's removal. But photos of the pigeon, and those of a second bird that the organization found later, showed damage to the animals' heads.

Posts on Lofty Hope's Facebook page went on to explain that the glue on the second bird, known as Billie the Pidge, required "immediate attention." Both birds were reportedly taken to a local veterinarian.

"It's definitely a concern," Hillman told CNN on Tuesday, adding that she plans to continue hunting for the other known cowboy pigeon, who's been named Coolamity Jane.

It's still unclear how and when the pigeons had the hats glued to their heads, or how many there are remaining — besides Coolamity Jane. Thankfully, Hillman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the two pigeons she has found seem to be recovering well.

"They’re both doing well," Hillman said. "They’re happy to have their hats off."