Pigeon Family Life
Pigeon Recovery is a very small group collecting and caring for injured, sick and baby pigeons in the London area. Most of our casualties are the familiar street pigeons, but we also deal with wood pigeons, collared and stock doves and racing birds. We hope the information on this site may be helpful if you encounter a pigeon in distress. These details are aimed specifically at the feral pigeon but can be applied safely to any species of pigeon
To the ears of the city pigeon, the roaring traffic in our busy streets may sound rather like the thunder of the sea. These adaptable and intelligent birds (along with fancy doves and racing pigeons) have one common ancestor, the Rock Dove (Columba Livia) which once lived on British coastlines. Several centuries of domestication have produced variations in plumage, and now hundreds of the dove"s descendants live on man-made cliffs to the delight or annoyance of their flightless neighbours.
Family Life:Pigeons lay two white eggs on any available ledge. In just under three weeks the babies hatch and are fed on special pigeon"s milk which is a curd-like substance produced in the crops of both parents. Gradually the familiar grey feathers replace the yellow down which covered the newborn pigeon (or squab). Because pigeons favour high, sheltered nest-sites, squabs are seldom seen. They become independent at about 2 months old. Any baby pigeon found on the ground who appears small, still has yellow tufts visible or who squeaks for food or in fear, is in great danger from cats or traffic etc. When it is very young and still needs to be provided with warmth the parents will not abondon the nest to care for the one that fell out in favor of the one remaining in the nest. If you can get to the nest please replace the young pigeon as the parents then will continue to provide for it.
Also you may find pigeons breeding on your balcony, workplace or roof space. If possible, allow the parents to rear the squabs until they leave the nest before netting off the area, if their return is undesirable. however, Please note, however, that pigeons will start another brood, even before the exisiting babies have fully fleddged, so you will need to remove the new eggs as they are laid. Please persuade those in authority not to ring the pest control until all juveniles are safely accounted for. This will probably include you offering to clean up their dropping on a regular basis so as not to offend the easily offended.
Rearing Young: Most importantly, keep any orphaned babies you may find warm, using artificial heat if necessary. If the squab is completely without feathers (only has yellow down), a ventilated box containing a red light bulb is needed, (hot water bottles do not last through the night.) If one is available, ring a bird rescue centre as soon as possible. If the baby is fledged, then a cardboard box lined with kitchen paper in an airing cupboard is adequate. If you want to rear the bird yourself, detailed instructions are found on the Pigeon Cote"s tube feeding page
Unlike garden birds who gape when hungry, it is necessary for the squab"s beak to be gently opened to receive tiny pellets of food that should be pushed into the back of the throat. Feed until the crop feels plump or the bird loses interest. Food can be moistened, but do not squirt water into the mouth as baby birds can choke or actually drown this way. Small seeds like millet can be added gradually until the youngster begins to feed itself. When the squab is old enough to begin to peck at seeds, provide a shallow dish of water and cage bird grit.
Once it is well feathered (appearing last under the wings), keep the youngster outside in some sort of cage safe from cats during the daytime. This will get it used to other birds: encourage it to pick up it"s own seeds and grains and gain beneficial sunlight. Ideally it should spend some time in a rehabilitation aviary. but if this is not possible, do ensure the bird can fly properly and eat by itself before release, allowing it to strengthen and try it"s wings in a bedroom or garage.
When you are satisfied that it is able to fend for itself, let it go in fine weather in a safe area near to where you found it or perhaps a town or city park where pigeons are appreciated where it can join a regularly fed existing flock who have all year round access to water.
All baby birds are frail. Please do not blame yourself if the little one dies, even after initial success. Any period of cold weakens their ability to thrive, and infant mortality in nature is always high.
Sick Pigeon: Pigeons suffer from a variety of ailments peculiar to themselves, the most likely to come across being the Paramixo virus, Coccidiosis, Paratyphoid, E-Coli, colds, canker and parasites. A sick pigeon will fluff out it"s feathers as if it is cold, but in winter a healthy bird will not allow you close enough to pick it up. Instinctively, the patient hides, perhaps under a park bench or in a doorway, and is seen on the ground at dusk when it"s fellows have flown up high to roost. The droppings may appear green and watery, and signs of bullying by other birds may be visible around the head. Sometimes, when a pigeon is very ill, it has little chance of survival. But you will be doing a kind service to an individual by sparing it a slow and pitiful death, and to the flock by removing a source of infection, if you rescue it. An injured pigeon may be in shock, limping badly, drooping a wing or bleeding.
However, ill pigeons must be kept separate from other birds for at least 6 weeks. As with dealing with any animal, please observe common-sense hygiene remvoing fecal matter, particulary from feed and water sources. Canker or Trichomoniasis seems most common in adult collared doves and young feral pigeons aged between 2 and 5 weeks. It is detected by a swollen throat, wet or bad smelling discharge from the beak and unwillingness to fly. Please do not attempt to scrape away the white growths unless they are severely restricting breathing, as this may damage the lining of the throat.This complaint is fatal if not treated with a drug such appropriate drugs such as those found on the fomulary page. Tube feeding may be necessary while healing is underway.
An injured pigeon may be suffering from shock. This means that blood vessels become inflamed and restrict the blood supply, particularly to the toes. These feel cold. To counteract this. keep the bird warm ie. in a box with a wrapped hot water bottle. The condition should not last longer than 3 hours. Bach"s Rescue Remedy is helpful. Use the same technique if you know the bird is concussed ie. it flew into a patio door or car. Keep the box away from noise.
Pigeons are easier to catch than most birds because they are semi-tame. They also see very poorely at night making them even simpler to catch in the dark. The flock to which the patient belongs can be attracted with corn or unsalted peanuts. A soft cloth, coat or towel is often helpful. Throw it over the bird from behind whilst it"s attention is distracted. The first attempt is the most important since pigeons (being preyed on in the wild) quickly become wary of notice.
Pigeons very rarely bite and even if they do their beaks cannot cause injury. Line a cardboard box with something soft and make a few air holes in it. Pigeons will not die of fright through such confinement. On the contrary, a warm dark environment is vital to overcome shock. One may be fearful of causing further pain or stress by a clumsy catch, but if you leave the pigeon where it is, a cat with no such qualms will almost certainly find it.
Fractures: A pigeon limping or favouring a leg which may be twisted out of shape should be taken to a wildlife centre or vet who can Xray and set it. If this is impossible one can use the diagram below as a guide. Fractures in the upper part of the leg are best seen by an expert.
Extend the leg and wrap it in wadding to protect the skin from pressure. Cut a straw to a length that is shorter than the wadding so the sharp ends do not cut the skin. Slit the straw lengthwise, fit it over the wadding then cover with adhesive bandage. Leave in place for 2-3 weeks, longer if necessary.
Birds bones are hollow and very frail. Fractures near joints do not mend well, and compound or multiple fractures need experienced attention. The diagram below shows how a clean break to a wing can be treated.
Fold the fractured wing into it"s natural position. A figure of 8 bandage holds a broken wing in place then another bandage is wrapped over the damaged wing, around the body then under the sound wing. Leave for about a month.
Wounds: One day our society may ban weapons of any kind, but until then one may find a pigeon who has been shot. Sadly, this foul practice is not uncommon because pigeons receive no legal protection.
A puncture wound is generally painful and may bleed. Only a vet can tell if the pellet is still present and remove it to prevent infection. Part the feathers and clean the area with iodine. If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure for a full minute with a finger, swab or cotton bud. This is vital since all birds have a small blood volume and movement accelerates blood loss. Keep the patient still. Heavy panting or laboured gasping may mean imminent death.
Contrary to popular belief, pigeons, as other birds, are commonly caught by cats. Typical injuries are scratches or holes under the wings or on the back with considerable feather loss. In all cases, even if it seems recovered, antibiotics from a vet are necessary since cat"s teeth carry bacteria. The formulary page may provide your vet with some assistance in determining dosage. Clean the wounds with TCP, saline solution or antiseptic spray. Half an aspirin can be given if the pigeon seems in pain. Warmth and quiet are essential before seeking professional advice. Bells on cat"s collars and keeping pets in at night help to reduce casualties.
Exhaustion: Exhaustion generally applies to racing birds who have gone beyond their endurance. If one comes down in your garden etc. it will appreciate some food. Most wild bird type foods, dried peas and wheat very work well. . A pinch of sugar in water would also be of benefit. In most cases the fatigued pigeon recovers in a day or two and will leave on it"s own. If the breast-bone can be seen or easily felt, there is muscle wastage and the bird is suffering from malnutrition it needs longer help. If it is roosting out of danger, it is best to leave it be. If not some sort of shelter should be provided which allows ingress and egress if possible.
Recreational feeding: Many of us enjoy feeding birds, and feral pigeons are no exception for many of us who do not follow the trend of pigeon persecution. Feral pigeons have always exploited our generosity and wasteful ways. But, it is in the pigeon"s interest not to feed them where notices prohibit it, such as railway station forecourts etc. Doing so will attract a large flock and consequently adverse attention from authorities who can and will take action to the pigeon"s detriment. Safe sites are open spaces and parks where pigeons and others birds and wildlife are encouraged. It is best not to feed near gutters or other heavily trafficated. If you can, feed mixed corn (from pet shops). It is nutritionally superior and is quickly consumed with less risk of crusts being left to encourage rats and still more unsympathetic notice. Feeding is especially appreciated in the winter months, and water should be provided in gardens as all species drink freely and enjoy bathing.
Pesecution: To appreciate and understand pigeons as living sentient creatures instead of as a "problem", it is helpful to know something of their past. The feral"s ancestor, the Rock Dove, lived a difficult life nesting on cliffs or in caves, avoiding ferocious falcons and gulls, foraging on the shore and inland, as well as enduring extreme weather conditions, and this created, over the centuries, a very intelligent and resourceful bird.
Sadly, as early as Roman times, people recognized an opportunity to abuse the Rock Dove and stole them from their natural habitat to be kept in specially designed breeding units. One can still see medieval examples of these cylindrical structures where the baby pigeons were reared for winter meat.
However, when farming practices changed, most of the dovecots were abandoned and many birds escaped. Although semi-domesticated and bred with several plumage variations from the original blue-grey, white rump and two black wing bars, a lot of these were still as adaptable as their coastal cousins. They sought refuge on man-made escarpments, and learned to monopolize on the wasteful habits of humans.
Until more recently they were tolerated. Samuel Pepys mentions that they refused to desert their young during the Great Fire of London, and Victorian feral pigeons were allowed to clean up under the nose-bags of draught horses. But as man became more extravagant with food, the pigeon population has increased.
Human beings are ever blind to their own shortcomings, always preferring to condemn another species for situations directly brought about by indolence or neglect. As a result the pigeon, merely taking advantage, as would we all, of a chance to survive, is persecuted under a law which permits local authorities to reduce their numbers by extreme and violent means.
Culling: All methods of culling involve cruelty and are a misuse of funds because all they achieve are a temporary gap asking to be filled by other pigeons moving in from surrounding areas. After a cull, more food is available to those remaining; hence more pigeons are fit to breed and less succumb to infant mortality. With these advantages they can replenish their numbers at an astonishing degree, to again be the scapegoats for inefficiency, and victims of misguided priorities and wasted resources.
A given pigeon population will level off to a density rate that the food availability can sustain. When that point is reached, less robust pairs will not reproduce and natural losses tend to stabilize flock numbers. So basically, if left alone the flock will not grow ad infinitum, but regulate itself without the unnecessary savagery of drugs, poison, falconry, traps and guns.
If their presence is justifiably unwanted, the only sure (and most humane) way to deter feathered opportunists is to reduce the amount of refuse we produce and net off roost sites. As long as mesh is maintained no pigeon should suffer, and the flock will be stronger and more resistant to disease. This solution is cheaper, permanent and does not employ armies of mercenaries who poison the public"s mind with ill-informed scare-mongering propaganda merely to ensure an easy salary.
Too many people accept this ridiculous disregard for life and money, because they choose to believe "experts" who have a vested financial interest in promoting deplorable myths about these birds.
What any honest vet will tell you is that feral pigeons are no more a risk to human health than any other bird or animal species and it is doubtful than any outbreak of ill-health has ever been traced to pigeons. Another common myth is that pigeon"s droppings corrode buildings, but these droppings are neither acidic nor alkaline and cannot corrode building materials. But pigeons are a convenient visible target for anyone who would rather pin the blame on them rather than the sulphur dioxide of car exhausts and acid rain.
Contrary to popular notions, pigeons do not carry fleas which bite humans. They play host to certain parasites, but this they have in common with all wild creatures, and not even the most hysterical devotee of hygiene would want every species wiped out because they harbour a few lice. Oh, and yes, lice are very species specific and the lice that do infect pigeons do not infect us. In fact the only real "crime" pigeons commit is leaving an unsightly mess (biodegradable to a greater degree) in a few corners in our towns and cities, for which they are sentenced to death eventhough cleaning up the dropping would be no more difficult than cleaning the sidewalks and parkways from the debre that is continously being discarded by none other than us.
So are we really justified in labelling the pigeon as a destructive element? In all fairness, we owe a debt to pigeons if only as a means of righting a terrible wrong. Before we attach the word "vermin" to any creature, let us learn to consider ourselves not as the dominant and all-powerful dispenser of malevolence or mercy, but as fellow beings who display the same desire to preserve our existence in a state as near approaching happiness as possible.
Amazing Pigeons: Pigeons and doves belong to a large and successful family of 289 species, ranging in size from the Diamond Dove which is approximately 12cm long, to the Crowned Pigeon which is as big as a female turkey, and in colour from the many-coloured Fruit Dove to the soft grey Wood pigeon. Our familiar feral pigeon of the streets has been known by man for 6000 years. They were sculpted on Egyptian tombs, carried messages for King Solomon, helped Julius Caesar conquer Gaul and won many medals for bravery in both world wars. Several poets including Shakespeare have written about the qualities of pigeons. They are truly amazing birds, for they can;
live everywhere except Antarctica
suck water the way we do
can differentiate between classical and modern painting
navigate up to 1000 miles
sense the Earth"s magnetic field
fly as fast as 75 miles per hour
see colours including ultra-violet
feed their babies "milk" even if they are male
Also, many pigeons lose toes or legs because of discarded tackle or threads, and can be injured by fishing hooks. Please pick up such dangerous debris and dispose of it safely. Bird feet can be disentangled using nail scissors and antiseptic spray from any chemist applied to the area afterwards.
Finally, listen out for any plans to cull pigeon populations and write, urging them to adopt the many compassionate alternative deterrents and anti-roost devices, and emphasise the fact that killing is always a cruel, unnecessary and short term solution.
To the friends of feral pigeons they are trusting companions in the sterile, lonely concrete messes that humans make. To many they are a symbol of Peace, Love and the Spirit of God. To us at Pigeon Recovery they are creatures in need and we hope that one day they will simply be allowed to get on with the business of living unhampered by blame and bigotry.
Pigeons are gentle, beautiful birds who need and deserve all our kindness and respect.