Some folks consider them an endearing part of urban life, others see them as an aggravation, but everyone recognizes this familiar wild neighbor. Pigeons may have been the first bird species to be domesticated, possibly as early as 6,500 years ago. The Egyptians used pigeons to carry the news of the coronation of Ramses III — more than 3,000 years before the United States was founded. Pigeons were well-equipped for this job, as they reach flight speeds of 15 to 60 miles per hour!
The rock dove, as the species also is known, is a European immigrant. Pigeons were introduced to North America by early European settlers. You’ll find pigeons in almost any city, town, or suburb on the continent. Their diet consists primarily of grains and seeds, along with insects and some greens — but pigeons aren’t terribly picky, and they’ll happily accept human food scraps and leftovers when available. From a pigeon’s point of view, city living can’t be beat. Food and water are readily available. Predators are few and far between. Plus, there’s plenty of free housing — pigeons like to live in large groups on window ledges, rooftops, bridges, and warehouses as these offer room for whole flocks to rest or take shelter in close proximity.
Pigeons live in groups called “flocks.” Each flock has an equal number of male and female members. A courting male pursues his intended mate on the ground, circling her, with his neck feathers inflated and his tail spread, bowing and cooing all the while. Pigeons mate for life, but if one partner dies the survivor generally will attempt to find another mate.
Pigeons show a strong affinity for human-built structures. Nests, a haphazard combination of twigs, leaves, and a few feathers, are built on window ledges, behind signs, and under bridges. Parents take turns incubating the clutch of one or two white, unmarked eggs for between 16 and 19 days. After the eggs hatch, both parents feed the baby pigeons, or squabs, a crop secretion called “pigeon milk,” which is produced from the lining of the crop, a sac-like food storage chamber located under the bird’s esophagus. The milk is a highly nutritious and an efficient way of feeding young. Squabs fledge at four to six weeks of age but remain dependent on their parents for as long as the adults will tolerate them — generally another one or two weeks. Individuals may be capable of breeding at six months of age.
Pigeons leave their nesting and roosting sites during daylight hours to search for food, but they return at night, as well as periodically during the day when raising young.
Found an injured or orphaned pigeon?
Wildlife rehabilitation centers provide care for injured and orphaned wildlife until the animal can be released back to the wild. In most states, wildlife rehabilitation can be practiced only with a state and/or federal license.
Adult pigeons may suffer from broken bones, parasite infestations, and diseases, some of which may present a human health hazard. Without proper intervention, these birds may die from their injuries or be permanently disabled. Rehabilitators receive the special training needed to assess these problems and offer appropriate aid.
Baby pigeons may be covered with sparse, fuzzy down or spiky, emerging feathers, and their beaks can look rather deformed. Like all other infants, squabs have unique nutritional requirements. Baby bird food available at pet stores may claim to be appropriate for all birds, but this is simply not true. Furthermore, squabs must be fed through a tube inserted into their crop several times a day – a risky procedure even for experienced wildlife rehabilitators. Problems that result from an inappropriate diet, such as metabolic bone disease (also known as rickets), can debilitate an animal for life.
If you’ve found a pigeon in need of assistance, contact a wildlife rehabilitator.
Read more about orphaned or injured wildlife.
POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS
At first glance, the arrangement we have with pigeons appears to be ideal; we provide room and board and in return the birds add a little warmth and color to our cold concrete canyons. So what’s the problem? In a word — droppings.
Not only is pigeon poop unsightly, it can damage buildings, monuments, and automobiles, and if allowed to accumulate, human health problems may arise. A little patience and understanding go a long way toward resolving these problems. Removing the animals in question may seem like an obvious answer. The truth, however, is that results with this approach are short-lived because removal simply creates a vacancy that other animals quickly fill. Humane conflict prevention and resolution is less expensive and more effective in the long run. People can live in harmony with wildlife – you just have to know your wild neighbors!
Roost inhibitors, distress call devices, predator-shaped kites and scarecrows, and netting are effective and humane ways to prevent and/or solve most conflicts with pigeons. Go to our humane exclusion resources page to find vendors that sell these devices.
PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS
Pigeons are known carriers of cryptococcus and salmonella. However, there is little evidence linking pigeons directly to infections in humans.
Information about humane prevention of pigeon conflicts was prepared by Kieran Lindsey, Natural Assets Consulting, and reviewed by Richard F. Johnston, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Natural History Museum, University of Kansas.