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We’ve recently had a few people (racing pigeon people by the looks of it) contact us on our YouTube account who are critical of us and our two tame, disabled pigeons, Elmo and Georgie.

We have been told to get homer pigeons instead since they are smarter and better looking than Elmo and Georgie (who are feral pigeons).

How superficial!! As if we care what pigeon is the best looking or the smartest. We love our pigeons because of their loving nature and amazing character.

We have also been told that our pigeons are not as happy as we think they are because they are ill.

Let me first state that neither Georgie or Elmo are ill. They both were affected by disease when they were babies – 11 years ago in Elmo’s case and 4 years ago in Georgie’s case – but are now perfectly healthy. However, according to one man (who has 34 years of experience keeping racing pigeons), our pigeons are not happy, we are spreading disease and we should euthanise them.

Our pigeons are very happy. I may not have decades of experience, but I do know my two pigeons. Georgie I have known since she was a baby; I’ve cared for her and learnt to read her behaviour and needs. Elmo is an open book. We can see the contentment and love in his eyes when he’s snuggled up to us – there is absolutely no doubt in our minds.

I find it hard to understand how anyone who views our videos of Elmo and Georgie can possibly think that they are unhappy. For someone who has 34 years of experience keeping pigeons he’s not very perceptive.

I will not engage in further conversation with these people since I have found them unwilling to listen, so I won’t get upset and drawn into a protracted argument, however, it does upset me to a degree to know that there’s someone out there who thinks I should put my pigeons to sleep because, according to them, they are unhappy and diseased.

:(


Many people don’t know what a baby pigeon looks like. This is not surprising since pigeons usually nest in secluded spots away from human sight (read Invisible babies). What is surprising is how many people, when finding a baby pigeon, think that the squab is a… wait for it… duckling.

Now please excuse me if I offend anyone, but even if you are a city dweller and have never been on a farm before, you should surely know what a duckling looks like! Ducklings are everywhere: on TV, in childrens books and on toys and clothing. Usually ducklings are depicted as all yellow, however, wild ones are generally yellow and brown or black.

When queried as to why they thought the pigeon squab was a duckling, the usual reply is, “It has such a big beak.”

Ok, fair enough, the beak in a squab is large and out of proportion (especially in woodpigeons), however, people are overlooking a very important factor of the make-up of a duckling: webbed feet!

All ducklings are born with webbed feet. So if the bird you find hasn’t got webbed feet, then it isn’t a water-bird.

I will post a few photos so you can see for yourself how a pigeon squab looks nothing like a duckling. I apologise if I have offended anyone with this little rant, but I’ve been so amazed by people’s lack of knowledge. We had one man say to us, upon hearing that the “duckling” he brought us was in fact a 5 day old woodpigeon squab, “Oh, I’m glad I brought it to you then. We were thinking about putting it onto the lake to join its mother.”

And now I must apologise to all the pigeon lovers out there, but another important distinction between a duckling and a pigeon squab is people’s reaction to them: People react with “aaahs” and “how cute” when seeing a duckling, but more often than not, when seeing a pigeon squab, they say, “oh, how ugly”. (For the record, I think baby pigeons are adorable looking.)

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MALLARD DUCKLING - notice its webbed feet!

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COLLARED DOVE SQUAB - notice its feet: no webbing!

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MALLARD DUCKLING

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WOODPIGEON SQUABS

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MALLARD DUCKLING

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FERAL PIGEON HATCHLING

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SHELDUCK DUCKLING

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FERAL PIGEON SQUAB


I have to have a little quasi-rant now about how feral pigeons are portrayed in sitcoms and cartoons. Three come to mind:

  • Frasier – Season 11, Episode 12 – “Frasier-Lite”
  • The Simpsons – Season 22, Episode 7 – “How Munched is That Birdie in the Window”
  • Outnumbered – Season 3, Episode 4 – “The Pigeon”

SPOILER ALERT!

My rant will reveal what happens in the above episodes.


First off, why do writers feel the need to continue the ignorant and untrue potrayal of pigeons as “flying rats”? It’s starting to get really old. Seriously writers. Do your research!

In each of the above episodes the characters refer to the pigeon as being “diseased”, “unclean”or “flying rats”. (On the plus side, though, the characters try to help the bird.)

Secondly, why do the writers feel the need to kill the pigeons?

In each of the above episodes the pigeon dies. Is it funny? No. Is it necessary? I don’t think so. But I guess the writers thought that the story couldn’t develop or wasn’t interesting enough unless they kill the pigeon off.

Is it too much to ask to see a feral pigeon in a sitcom or cartoon (or movie!) being rescued, cared for and then released?! What’s wrong with that story line? Is that boring?

Every time I see a feral pigeon in a programme I think, “Oh no, what are they going to do with that pigeon?” I know that it won’t have a good outcome, but I still hold out the hope that it will. Maybe one day attitudes will change and we will see some nice story lines about pigeons.


As many of you may know, I work at a wildlife rescue centre. The animals we receive are either injured or orphaned (or both) and need our help to recover and grow up for release. It is hard, continuous work. Feed, clean, feed, clean, medicate, feed, clean and more cleaning. The wildlife in our care depend on us and we have a responsibility to ensure they are clean, comfortable, stress-free and receiving the best care we can provide. The ultimate aim of all this: release back into the wild in tip-top condition for best chance of survival in the big bad world!

Sometimes we receive horrible cases of cruelty: pigeons and doves that have been shot! :( :(

Pigeons (ferals included) are protected by law in the UK. It is illegal to kill any bird unless a licence is held or if the person (or pest control company) isn’t following the criteria of the general licence. Please go to the following websites for more indepth information: PiCAS: The Law and Is it legal to shoot pigeons?

It is hard to see these beautiful birds with shot wounds, knowing that the bird is suffering because of a fellow human being. On the 4th April we received a white pigeon that had a horrific infected shot wound in her chest. The hole was very large! The photo is shocking to look at and I have to admit, I didn’t think the pigeon would live.

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Shot white pigeon - 6th April

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6th April

We immediately gave her medication to fight the infection and relieve her of any pain and kept her in the intensive care unit (I.C.U.) for observation and care. Every day her wounds were checked and cleaned and medication was given. She wasn’t happy about the situation and soon became quite restless. She wanted to get out but we couldn’t put her in an aviary where flies could lay their eggs in the open wound. So the dear girl had to stay in her cage in I.C.U.

Slowly, very slowly, the wound started to close up (as you can see in the photos).

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Her wound is dressed - 2nd May

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25th May

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All healed! - 14th July

One day a thin feral pigeon was brought to my work and he was placed in a cage near the white pigeon. The male pigeon started cooing, calling, testing her reaction. They couldn’t see each other easily, only through thin slits at the side of the cages, but they could hear each other and they began to flirt. First the male pigeon said his piece and waited. Then the white female pigeon responded. The male pigeon twirled and cooed joyfully in response to what she had said. You get the picture! Sure enough, the two fell in love. I made the mistake of putting them opposite each other one day and they had an unobstructed view of one another. They cooed and danced all day (no kidding, ALL day!), the little flirts!

The day we could put the two together in an aviary was a very happy day for them. They started kissing and prancing about like the newly-weds they were. They were released together on the 15th July. What a wonderful result!! :D

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White pigeon and her new mate the day before their release - 14th July

Ps. Now you may be wondering why I hadn’t named the white pigeon. I try not to at work for two reasons: 1) the animal is a wild animal and not a pet, and 2) not all the injured and orphaned wildlife live to be released, and since giving the animal a name forms attachment it can be tough on us humans if the animal dies. Sometimes, though, it is hard not to become attached to an animal, and equally hard not to cuddle and talk to the animal, but when it comes to working with injured/orphaned wildlife, you have to remain distant because you want the animal to remain wild so that it can be released (since you cannot release tame or imprinted wildlife!).


Everyone has their day and today, the 13th June, should be the day that we humans appreciate pigeons.

Why? some of you may ask. Well, to put it simply, why not?

Pigeons are beautiful birds that have their place in this world just like any other creature. They don’t deserve the negative views (that are often founded on incorrect information) some people have of them.

Pigeons are:

  • Complex – they have a rich social life, bonding to each other, often for life. They are dedicated parents; both male and female look after the young. Pigeons also bond easily to humans.
  • Intelligent – they are one of the most intelligent birds around, being one of only six species (and the only non-mammal!) able to recognise their own reflection in the mirror. Scientists have also shown that pigeons are able to carry out tasks on the level of a three-year-old child.
  • Beautiful – not only are feral pigeons beautiful with their various colourations and patterns, but other pigeon species come in a multitude of colour as well. (Check out: Dove identification. Ps. Doves and pigeons are the same. There is no scientific difference.)
  • Clean - pigeons are not disease-ridden and do not spread disease wherever they go. That is simply a myth propagated by greedy pest control companies. (For more info on the subject: Feral pigeons and disease.)

You’ve got to admire the fact that feral pigeons are taking over the world. They are highly adaptive to different environments. They are found almost everywhere in the world (except for Antartica).

Pigeons can be highly amusing and playful. They can be friendly yet aloof, however, once you begin to observe them you’ll see that they are full of character. They are complex beings with rich social and emotional lives. Give them a chance to live their life peacefully without our prejudice.

So today is a day to celebrate pigeons all over the world!

Why not have a pigeon party? Invite the local pigeons down for peanuts, sunflower hearts and other nutritious treats, then sit back and watch them gobble it all up with true pigeon vigor and enthusiasm! :)

HAPPY PIGEON APPRECIATION DAY EVERYONE!!


The other day when we were walking about in town we saw a lady feeding the feral pigeons on the high street. We walked past with a smile on our faces – someone else was being kind to the pigeons.

Then we heard another lady walk past saying, “Ew, she’s feeding the pigeons,” in a tone that suggested her distinct disapproval of the activity and of the species.

That left us thinking about the situation. The lady who’s feeding the pigeons is possibly doing it out of kindness and love. Feral pigeons that live in towns and cities will eat whatever edible thing they can find. It can be a tough life. As a species, us humans that is, we tend to litter and somehow miss the trash bins provided in towns. Sometimes it’s an accident – the sandwich or crisps fall out of your hand, however, sometimes it’s simply laziness and carelessness and the food item is dropped so that the pigeons or the human street cleaners can sort it out – whoever gets to it first. So people really shouldn’t complain about pigeons. They clean up after us.

So the lady is helping the pigeons in their quest for food, giving them an easy meal. But does this help the negative perception some people have of pigeons? They see the lady feeding the pigeons as something wrong. “Don’t encourage the pigeons, they carry disease, etc. etc.” All that nonsense.

Would it be better for the lady to feed the pigeons in a less busy place, away from negative eyes? Out of sight, out of mind. With less pigeons on the streets maybe people would stop thinking badly of them. Wishful thinking? I think so.

However, there is some truth in the above thought. The more times the pigeons are fed in a town centre or by busy shops, the likelihood of them sticking around and breeding more often is there – thus the population increases and you get hundreds hanging about. That’s when people start calling pest control and the ban on pigeon feeding is enforced.

Then again, a lot of people are attracted to the activity of pigeon feeding. With hundreds of friendly pigeons about and landing on you with that unmistakable “Where’s the food?” look in their eyes, people seem to enjoy the experience and tourists appear simply to see the spectacle and to participate. This is when people may start to view pigeons in a more positive way. They get up, close and personal and see for themselves that pigeons are magnificent.

So the question remains: Do you feed them in towns or not? Do you encourage them to breed more in the cities and potentially ignite the hatred of those ignorant pigeon hating people? Or would it be better to invite the pigeons to feed in your garden, away from the eyes of the general public (and hoping that your neighbours are pigeon friendly)?


The following information is from a fantastic book about hand-rearing birds. It includes rearing guides for a variety of different species.

Hand-Rearing Birds

by Laurie J. Gage and Rebecca S. Duerr

2007, Blackwell Publishing

Chapter 20: Pigeons and Doves by Martha Kudlacik and Nancy Eilertsen

The number and variety of hand-feeding diets being used in rehabilitation and captive breeding are such that they cannot all be covered in a short chapter. The underlying principle is to mimic the natural diet as much as possible.

The first 2-3 days of life, columbids are fed crop milk, which is high in protein and fat. About day 3 or 4, small amounts of regurgitated seed are added to the milk; crop milk production ceases about day 7-9 and regurgitated seed is fed throughout the fledging period.

Table 20.1. Mourning Dove tube-feeding schedule (weights based on California population). Feed hatchling diet to chicks of weights in bold. Birds on the hatchling diet may not require as frequent feeding as is listed. Check the crop at the interval and feed when crop empties.

Weight (grams) Quantity (ml) Hours between Feeds
10 1 1
15 1.5-2 1-1.5
20 1.5-2.5 2
25 2-3 2
30 2.5-3.5 2
35 4 2
40 5 3
45 5 3
50 6 3
55 6 3
60 6-7 3

Above 65 grams, skip meal if any seed in crop

65 6-7 3-1/2

Newly admitted juvenile mourning doves over 70 grams will usually self-feed unless debilitated, emaciated, or otherwise compromised.

70 8 4
80 8 4

Above 90 grams, do not tube-feed unless bird is debilitated. Healthy juveniles will almost always self-feed at 90 grams.

90 9 3x/day
95 9-10 3x/day

Expected weight gains of hand-reared Mourning Doves and Rock Pigeons.


This is a question I’ve often wondered. The way pigeons walk was the first thing that attracted me to them when I was a little girl. I love the head-bobbing and strut of a pigeon. It entertained me endlessly while I would wait for a bus to take me home after school.

Firstly, I want to explain what the so-called “head-bobbing” movement really is. It is characterised by a rapid forward movement, called the thrust phase, which is followed by a hold phase. The backward movement is in fact an illusion. As stated by Necker (2007) “the head position is kept stable with regard to the environment while the body moves continuously forward. In this way head movements during walking are characterized by a hold phase and a thrust phase.”

So in layman’s terms: as a pigeon walks it thrusts its head forward and holds it while its body walks past that point and the pigeon then thrusts its head forward again. To us this looks as if the pigeon is moving its head forward and backward as it walks.

Most birds, pigeons included, have poor stereoscopic vision or depth perception (pigeons have lateral eyes with only minor binocular overlap). So, “during the hold phase [of the head-bob] the image of the surrounding world is stabilized for a short while on the retina, which increases the time to recognize and identify objects, especially moving ones” (Necker, 2007).

I think Wedderburn (2009) put it nicely when explaining why pigeons head-bob: “…it allows them to more clearly observe their surroundings for predators. The relative head holding phase provides a more stable picture; it would be far more difficult to identify very subtle movements of a cat if the bird’s eyes were moving relative to their surroundings.

“The head bob offers another advantage to birds: since their eyes are on either side of their heads, they have little binocular overlap (where both eyes can see the same object) resulting in poor depth vision. When head-bobbing, objects further away will seem to move more compared to objects that are close-up. … This is called ‘motion parallax’ and it allows birds to judge distances more effectively.”

The head-bob is not just a pigeon thing. Other species do it too.

The Orders of head-bobbing and non-bobbing species (well known species in brackets).

Head-bobbing: Columbiformes (pigeons, doves), Galliformes (chickens, pheasants, quails, peafowl), Gruiformes (cranes, rails) and Ciconiiformes (herons, storks, ibis).

Non-bobbing: Sphenisciformes (penguins), Phoenicopteriformes (flamingos), Pelicaniformes (pelicans, cormorants), Anseriformes (ducks, geese, swans), Falconiformes (hawks, eagles, vultures), Strigiformes (owls) and Psittaciformes (parrots, cockatoos, budgerigar).

Mixed: Charadriiformes (gulls, plovers, puffins) and Passeriformes (crows, starlings, sparrows).

Please go to the following website for more details on head-bobbing. It has videos and graphs to explain head-bobbing: Head-bobbing of walking birds – a review

It is not really known yet why some species head-bob and others do not.

The following publications are an interesting read, but good luck as a few are quite long! :)

Another interesting article on head-bobbing:

Why do hens and pigeons walk with bobbing heads?

By Pete Wedderburn

Last updated: June 25th, 2009

When I met a specialist  in biomechanics at a social function recently, I asked him if he knew the answer to a puzzle that has intrigued me for years: why do some birds bob their heads backwards and forwards as they walk? Pigeons and chickens are the best examples of this odd behaviour. Were their necks connected by sinews to their legs? What was going on?

He had no immediate answer for me, but like all good scientists, he has an appetite for knowledge and the determination to find the truth. He did some research, and this week, he sent me an email that explains what’s going on with this head-bobbing birds.

The subject was analysed by a Canadian scientist in 1978, using a high speed camera to measure the movement of a pigeon’s head, breast, wingtip and foot, when: (i) walking on the ground, (ii) when walking on a treadmill, and (iii) when being carried by a person who is walking along.

Firstly, by closely examining the bird walking on the ground, he confirmed the precise nature of the movement involved. This rhythmic action of the head bob involves a rapid forward ‘thrust’ of the head and what appears to be a slower backward movement. However, the backward movement of the head is an illusion, as the head in fact stays stationary relative to the bird’s surroundings, while the body actually ‘walks past it’. This backward moving phase would be better described as a ‘relative head-holding’ phase, where the head is held (almost) stationary relative to the bird’s surroundings.
When the pigeons walked on a treadmill (which must have taken some time to train) the head bobbing stopped, since the pigeon’s body was not moving relative to its surroundings.

When the person carried the pigeon while walking, the thrust and relative head-holding phases reappeared as the pigeon was again moving relative to its surroundings.
Other scientists took this work further, training birds to walk on the ground when blindfolded. These birds did not bob their heads, further confirming that the head bob is prompted by seeing the surrounding environment moving relative to the bird.

So why do birds use this thrust and relative head-holding action? The best guess is that it allows them to more clearly observe their surroundings for predators. The relative head holding phase provides a more stable picture; it would be far more difficult to identify very subtle movements of a cat if the bird’s eyes were moving relative to their surroundings.

This is easy to show. Ask a willing assistant to stand with a bright object in their hand (representing a predator) while you stand 10m away. See if you can detect when your assistant moves the object just a few centimetres (about 5 cm is observable). Ask them to repeat this while you are running parallel to them and you will see it is nearly impossible to identify when the bright object is being moved this small amount.

The head bob offers another advantage to birds: since their eyes are on either side of their heads, they have little binocular overlap (where both eyes can see the same object) resulting in poor depth vision. When head-bobbing, objects further away will seem to move more compared to objects that are close-up. (Try holding your finger in front of you and move your head from side to side, and you’ll see what I mean.) This is called “motion parallax” and it allows birds to judge distances more effectively.

I thought that it would impress readers if I could duplicate the scientific research in my own back garden, so last night I took some video footage of one of my own hens walking on her own, then being carried by my daughter.

It’s a good demonstration of the walking head bob, but it’s less easy to see the bob when the bird is being carried.

Scientists are willing to study anything; they are sometimes driven simply to understand, even if there appears to be no real benefit to us. And now you too know why hens use that much-mimicked head-bobbing chicken-walk.


A year ago today my husband created this blog to brag about our darling pigeons, Elmo and Georgie, and to help advocate pigeons as the fantastic species they are.

I was left in charge of the writing side of things whilst my hubby took care of the design and maintenance aspects. The goal was to post something every single day, without fail.

I have to admit, at times it has been hard to come up with subjects to write about (especially if I was ill) and often I cheated by simply posting an article I had seen or by posting videos on Fridays. To my dismay it was harder than I thought to find pro-pigeon videos to post. Thankfully, our wonderful pets kept us entertained with lots of adventures to write about and I’ve been busy throughout the year taking photos and videos of them.

We are very fortunate to have connected with other pigeon lovers in the world and share with them our experiences. I cannot thank you all enough for all the advice, fun and love we have received!! It has certainly been an adventure! :)

During this year of blogging we have learnt so much from our own two pigeons as well as from watching the wild ones in our garden and in town. Elmo and Georgie give us so much love and we have been trying to spread that to others.

I hope to continue this blog with lots more adventures and interesting stories about pigeons. It may not be every day now – it has been a marathon of blogging! – but I’ll certainly try to keep up a steady flow of posts.

Thank you all for following and sharing the pigeon love!!

We wouldn’t be here doing this without your support! :)


What do pigeons feet tell us about them? Well, different bird species have different shaped feet and toes according to their diet and the environment they live in:

From: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Zoo_p050.shtml

Pigeons are somewhat classified as a perching bird. They have a classic anisodactyl toe arrangement: three toes pointing forward and one long toe pointing back (the hallux). Because they spend much of their time foraging on the ground their toes are widely splayed, which is better for walking.

Toe arrangements: a = anisodactyl (e.g. pigeon), b = zygodactyl (e.g. woodpecker), c = heterodactyl (e.g. trogon), d = syndactyl (e.g. kingfisher), and e = pamprodactyl (e.g. swift) (as illustrated in Proctor and Lynch 1993).

Birds actually walk on their toes (called digitigrade) instead of on all of the foot bones (as humans do). To help resist the wear and tear of walking and perching, the bones and flesh of the foot are covered with a tough plating of scales which strengthens the foot (Proctor and Lynch, 1993).

I love pigeons’ feet. They’re just so odd and scaly. Feral pigeons have different coloured feet: some are red or pink, and others are more grey or brown.

George’s feet are a healthy bright red. Very vibrant!

Elmo’s feet are more maroon – rich and full. He’s older so he looks more established. :)

I managed to take a photo of Dora’s lovely pale pink feet, however, she was more interested in sitting on her nest and defending it against my intruding hands, so it came with a struggle!

I don’t think the colour of their feet show clearly in these photos but you can see some difference in colour:

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Georgie's feet

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Elmo's feet

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Dora's feet

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Pidge's feet (Dora's mate)

Often a pigeon will have a nap with one foot tucked up against its body under its feathers. When that foot later emerges it is very toasty! I love touching George’s feet when she does this. One foot will be lovely warm, the other cold.

It seems that older pigeons have thicker legs and toes than younger ones (from the birds I’ve been comparing). They also have richer coloured and darker legs.

Then you have feathered feet! They’re just amazing! While some fancy breeds have short feathers on their feet, others have really long ones, which can cause problems with their walking as well as hygiene (they need to be cleaned often to prevent build up of droppings stuck to the feathers). Some examples: Fancy pigeons at work

* * * * * * *

References: Proctor, Noble S. and Lynch, Patrick J. (1993). Manual of Ornithology, Avian Structure and Function. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.