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Yesterday I wrote that we were expecting Georgie to lay an egg any minute now, and lo and behold, she did!

The whole day George was restless. She didn’t want to nest in her guinea-pig nest, nor even in the pink and white fleece! For some reason Georgie was rejecting them. I didn’t know what she wanted and nothing I did seemed to please her. Georgie kept moving about without settling.

In the end we found that she’d laid the egg on the floor. She didn’t seem interested in it at all. Poor dear.

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We left the egg in Georgie’s cage today when we left for work and returned to find her incubating it. Hooray! (By the way, Georgie’s eggs are never fertile.) We now await the appearance of the second egg, which should happen tomorrow.

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This is a video of Georgie laying an egg earlier this year:

Georgie has had an 8 month break since the last time she laid eggs, which I think is good because as you can imagine, egg production and laying takes a lot of energy and calcium. It can take its toll if birds lay eggs continuously, a condition called “chronic egg-laying”. I’m happy that George made the decision to not lay eggs for a while, thus giving herself a break. Now, however, an egg has appeared and who knows if she’ll continue to lay eggs every month from now on. I hope she doesn’t.

Chronic egg-laying can cause a number of serious health problems for birds, and can ultimately lead to the death of the female if left untreated.

“Chronic egg-laying in the pet bird poses a significant threat to the health and behavioral well being of many pet birds. When a hen lays repeated clutches or larger than normal clutch size without regard to the presence of a normal mate or confined breeding season, a myriad of secondary problems can follow. Ultimately, functional exhaustion of the reproductive tract poses risk of metabolic and physiological drain on the bird, particularly on calcium and energy stores. All of these ultimately predispose the hen to egg binding, dystocia, yolk coelomitis, oviductal impaction, oviductal torsion, cloacal prolapse and osteoporosis.” Ask an Expert: Chronic egg laying by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM.

This article – Chronic Egg Laying from AvianWeb – has some good advice on how to combat chronic egg-laying (mainly aimed at parrot species). Please go to the article to see the full explanation of the points below.

Things you can do to discourage / stop your bird from laying eggs:

  • Do not remove eggs which she has already laid.
  • Remove possible nesting sites and nest-making material.
  • Mimic “Shorter Days”.
  • Limit food access.
  • One vet recommended turning day into night.
  • Discourage breeding behavior in your bird.
  • Rearrange the cage interior and change the cage location.
  • Give your bird optimal nutrition.
  • Provide full spectrum light.
  • If necessary, separate from “mate”.
  • Ask your veterinarian about hormone injections.

The following article has good advice about egg-binding (one of the problems of chronic egg laying):

“Calcium is used by the body to not only form the shell of the developing egg and maintain strong bones, but is also crucial in the proper functioning of the muscles. While it does take a large amount of calcium to form an egg shell, the hen also needs calcium for the muscle action needed to expel the egg.

“Vitamin d3 is crucial in the absorption of calcium. Without it, all that good calcium we offer our birds passes right through the body without being absorbed. In outdoor flights, our birds are able to produce d3 via a chemical reaction to sunlight. In indoor flights, they are unable to do this. Sunlight through a window is not sufficient. The ultraviolet light needed does not pass through window glass. Full spectrum lights can help but some studies have shown that the ultraviolet is only at sufficient levels at less than one foot from the light source. For inside birds, a d3 supplement is almost always helpful.” Egg Binding by Carol Heesen


Bird droppings (guano, dung or manure) consists of both faeces and urine since birds excrete through the cloaca, a single opening, in contrast to mammals that excrete through two separate openings. You therefore see a darker section (the faeces) and a whitish section (the urine) in a typical bird dropping (Loon, 2005).

While some bird species keep their nests clean by removing or eating their chicks droppings, pigeons and doves don’t go to such lengths – rather both the adults and the chicks deposit their droppings right in and around the nest. Seems unhygienic, however, this practice is thought to serve an important function, as stated by Loon (2005, p.181): “They act as cement to bind the flimsy twig nest together, a structural improvement that becomes increasingly important as the chicks get bigger.”

When looking into the subject of using pigeon droppings as fertiliser, I came across the usual ignorant and prejudice remarks in certain Q & A websites, such as, “No, never use pigeon droppings! Pigeons are diseased and dirty.” You get my drift. Don’t listen to these people. They don’t know what they’re saying.

Side note: Pigeons pose no serious health risk. If you doubt me please go to: Pigeons Do NOT Present a Health Hazard to Humans and Feral pigeons and disease – do pigeons carry disease?.

Pigeon guano was in fact commonly used for centuries as a prized fertiliser. It was also used to manufacture a critical ingredient of gunpowder: saltpetre (Blechman, 2006).

I did find many gardener and organic growing websites that praised the use of pigeon dung as fertiliser. In fact, pigeon dung rates higher than other manures, with 4.2% nitrogen, 3% phosphorous, and 1.4% potassium (see: Using Manure to Fertilize Your Garden).

Steve Harris (2010) states in his article (see references): “In addition to food, pigeons produced valuable guano so rich in nutrients that one load of it was worth 10 from any other species. In many countries, pigeon dung actually played a key part in agricultural development.”

So why is it not as valuable today? Well, commercially other manures seemed to have become more popular and sold as fertiliser (because of availability), and nowadays pigeon dung is considered more of a health hazard and aesthetic nuisance. Due to the acidic nature of pigeon dung people are becoming upset that it will corrode buildings and monuments where pigeons congregate in large flocks, especially in cities (Blechman, 2006).

Now I must add the usual caution here (just to cover my back). If you are going to deal with large quantities of pigeon droppings (or any faeces for that matter) then please use some common sense. Wear a mask and gloves. However, there is no reason to become hysterical. Please have a read through the folllowing two websites that clearly state that it is extremely unlikely that you will catch any diseases from pigeon dung (unless you have a compromised immune system, in which case you shouldn’t be handling any type of droppings): Facts about pigeon-related diseases, Pigeon Droppings and Cleaning pigeon droppings.

So while seeing statues and buildings splattered with pigeon droppings might be unpleasant to the eye, maybe there is a peaceful solution? Remove the droppings and use it as fertiliser! :)

* * * * * * * *

References:

  • Blechman, Andrew D. (2006). Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird. Grove Press, New York.
  • Loon, Rael and Hélène. (2005). Birds, The Inside Story. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Harris, Steve. (2010). BBC Wildlife magazine. Feral pigeon: flying rat or urban hero? [online]. [Accessed 4th December 2010]. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.bbcwildlifemagazine.com/british-wildlife/feral-pigeon-flying-rat-or-urban-hero

Last night I realised something – I’ve never seen a nature programme about pigeons. You know, a National Geographic or BBC nature documentary that shows the life of a woodpigeon, feral pigeon or collared dove. Sure, we’ve all seen the peregrine falcon chasing a pigeon to eat it – but usually the programme is about the predator not the prey.

I’ve seen numerous documentaries about the busy period of spring, with blackbirds, robins and blue tits feeding their young – but where are the shots of pigeons feeding their young? Why don’t they deserve any screen time?

So I did some searching on the net and found loads of videos about racing pigeons or about predators and pigeons, and some documentaries on feral pigeons in the city (e.g. are they pests?) – but what I’m really looking for is a full length nature programme about the life of pigeons: their beauty, their dedication as partners and parents, their adaptability and life in the wild.

Maybe my internet searching skills aren’t up to scratch, because the only proper programme I found is this, Brilliant Beasts: Pigeon Genius, courtesy of The Pigeon Nest (thank you!). Each video runs for about 10-14 minutes.

Although I didn’t like the voice of the narrator, nor his style (I prefer Sir David Attenborough! I grew up watching his programmes), it is an excellent documentary about feral pigeons – truly championing the pigeon! It shows how pigeons are one of the most adaptable, productive, loving and intelligent species in the world! Who’s with me in thinking that they will one day rule the world?!

In the second video – at 08:39 – they state that “Pigeons are perfect parents! … And it starts with a kiss!” – Love it!! :)

If you do not feel like watching all 4 videos then please watch the second video starting from around 08:14 about pigeons being parents. It will make your heart melt!

Now I really want to see a nature programme about woodpigeons, collared doves and other pigeons of the world!


Whenever I see Georgie or Elmo doing something funny or unusual then I usually rush to capture it on camera for everyone to witness. Failing that, I’ll quickly scribble down what I’ve seen for future reference.

Here’s a few things that I’ve jotted down in my notepad:

  • Georgie slurps!! – She’s a very noisy drinker; slurping up the water in a very uncivilised manner. What will the neighbours think?! :)
  • Elmo loves trouser tie cords! – He’ll spot them if you’re sitting next to him. He’ll look at them intently. Then he’ll peck at them and hold them in his beak and either try to take them with him to his nest, which isn’t possible because the tie cords are attached to your trousers, or he’ll try to swallow them! No idea why.

Other things I’ve written:

101 pigeon uses (tried and tested):

  1. Handheld brush: Hold pigeon in hands, tilt them so they fan out their tail feathers for balance and use the feathers to sweep up any mess.
  2. Fan: Perch pigeon on hand, then move your hand up and down to make the pigeon flap its wings, and hey presto, you have your own personal fan!

… That’s about as far as I got with that list. Any other suggestions?

And finally, I found the following thought:

“I guess the difference between having a pigeon and having a cat or a dog is that rarely, if ever, does a dog or cat view you as their mate. Therefore, you won’t get the same kinds of interactions and behaviours from a dog or cat that you’ll get from a bonded pigeon. A pigeon will love you like a partner.”

Not entirely sure where that thought came from, but it was most likely after having witnessed Elmo trying to feed Richard and then try to mate with him (for videos of this: January 14th). Not quite the same as seeing a dog hump your leg.

Ps. Please don’t get me wrong, I love dogs and cats. I’m in no way saying that they are any lesser than pigeons, just different. Obviously.

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Mr Puddy-cat, who lives with my dad and little sister

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Osku, a cairn terrier, who lives with my Finnish grandparents


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Such a handsome pigeon!

Racing (or homing) pigeons are bred to fly home in a race against time. Some get lost and land in gardens, tired and hungry. Some get attacked by sparrow hawks and are found injured.

I love racing pigeons. They’re big, chunky birds with lovely faces. The ones that I have seen are mostly healthy and just tired and hungry from getting lost. I’ve also seen ones that have been attacked by sparrow hawks and have injuries and feather loss. A few I’ve seen are seriously ill and thin and require longer care.

The saddest case that I’ve come across was a racing pigeon that appeared with a feral pigeon to the garden at my work. At first glance it looked like it was a healthy lost racer that had paired up with a feral and come down for food and water. But after watching them a moment I realised that the racer had a horrific injury to its crop – a gaping hole from which all the seed the racer picked up fell out of. It was horrible to watch. We set up a humane cage trap to capture the racer, and after a day and a half we finally caught it. The crop injury was too big and the vet was unable to repair it so the poor racing pigeon was put to sleep. I was very upset about it because I kept thinking about how much the racer had suffered: it had been so hungry and kept trying to eat but the seed just fell out as soon as it was swallowed.

The guidelines for finding a racer is to check the numbers on the leg band and contact the owner. It is their pigeon and should be returned – if they want it back, that is. Some racing pigeon owners want their lost or injured pigeons back, but some don’t. If you find a racer and have contacted the owner, please let them know that you will find an alternative home if they don’t want the pigeon back (e.g. at a pigeon friendly rescue centre). Give them that option. Some people say that the owners will just kill the pigeon if it is returned because an injured racer or a racer that gets lost is not worth anything (since it did not or is not capable of winning the race). Other people say that the owners will give the racing pigeon a second chance (e.g. it may be a young pigeon that needs more training). Since I have only ever once personally spoken to a racing pigeon owner (who did want his bird back), I cannot state anything as a fact – only what I have heard from others who have had contact.

This post tells a positive tale: Pigeon Rescue

The following racing websites advise you what to do if you find a lost racer:

http://www.homingpigeons.co.uk/straypigeons.htm

http://www.homingpigeons.co.uk/lostpigeon.htm

http://www.pigeonbasics.org/lostbirds.php

I am intruiged about racing pigeons – about the race and how they train them, etc. And I guess I would visit a racing pigeon loft and meet the people behind it all – just to see for myself what it’s all about. On the one hand I can understand the fascination, dedication and interest in the art of racing pigeons, on the other hand, however, I don’t like the exploitation of the birds. Are they racing them solely for money and prestige? Or do they really like pigeons and want to be with them? I guess, as with any hobby, activity or venture,  it can be either, neither or a little bit of both. It takes all sorts.

But, as I said in the beginning, I love racing pigeons because they are big and chunky with lovely faces. And they usually have a great personality to match. Some are feisty and tell you off, and others I’ve held just sit calmly in your hand with not a care in the world. Wonderful creatures!


This blog is called “Pigeons as Pets”. I just want to clarify what we mean by this.

We are not advising or advocating taking pigeons from the wild and keeping them as pets in an aviary or cage. Not at all! Healthy, flight-abled pigeons in the wild should be left to live their life naturally.

If, however, you find a baby pigeon that needs hand-rearing then of course this needs to be done (preferably by the experts) – with the aim that it can be released as a wild pigeon when it is ready. This is not always possible, as many of you know. Sometimes the baby is injured and cannot be released because of it; sometimes the baby becomes tame and bonded to humans and therefore unreleasable (especially if it has no predator avoidance instincts). In these cases the baby pigeon would need to be housed in a safe and suitable environment for the rest of its life. This also applies to adult pigeons that are disabled (e.g. blind or cannot fly).

  • Safe environment = safe from predators such as cats, dogs and sparrowhawks. Safe from the elements (e.g. severe weather).
  • Suitable environment = an area where the pigeon can fly (if it physically can), walk about, have suitable food and access to drinking and bathing water. Also, preferably, an area where it can have a mate. Pigeons are gregarious and require company.

Disabled adult pigeons may learn to tolerate your presence or they may become tame over time. Each pigeon is individual in its behaviour and character. The key is to understand what it needs and to not force anything.

  • Feral pigeons are one of the most common pigeons you’ll see and are perfectly capable of living in the wild in a variety of environments around the world. They can become very tame around humans if fed regularily.
  • Fancy pigeons are human bred pigeons and many would not know how to fend for themselves in the wild. Some have physical features that make them dependent on humans.
  • Racing pigeons are also human bred but if they become lost and hungry they usually find food in people’s gardens and may even join a feral pigeon flock instead of flying back home.
  • Wood pigeons are a completely wild species and adult woodies generally do not cope well in captivity (there are always exceptions). Hand-reared wood pigeons may remain tame and friendly.
  • Collared doves are also a completely wild species and are in many ways similar to woodies in their relationship with humans.

Since pigeons are largely monogamous, if a flight-abled pigeon bonds with a non-flighted one then it will stay with its mate despite its disability. Some people would be tempted to release the flight-abled pigeon, however, you would then be seperating two bonded pigeons, which I consider to be an unkind act. Most feral pigeons are happy as long as they have a mate, food, water, shelter, room to fly and a place to nest – whether this is in the wild or in captivity. This does not mean that you can justify taking pigeons from the wild – I stand by my belief that healthy, flighted pigeons should live in the wild in their natural state. What I am trying to say is that if you have nursed a flight-abled pigeon back to health but it has bonded with a disabled pigeon then you can keep the two together in a safe and suitable environment.

Then there is the question as to whether you should release a flighted tame pigeon. I think the answer to this is whether the tame pigeon knows enough about predators and has predator avoidance instincts. If it does not then it should not be released since it would be easy pickings. Some tame hand-reared pigeons have no predator awareness – some don’t even know what a predator is.

So what do we mean by “Pigeons as Pets”? We mean tame, imprinted or disabled pigeons that would not otherwise survive in the wild.


I’ve never seen a King pigeon before – in fact, I didn’t even know about this breed of pigeon until seeing a link to a King pigeon rescue blog (I don’t think there are many King pigeons in the UK – but I could be wrong). After reading about them from the below websites I can see how such beautiful pigeons would make lovely pets – either indoors or in an aviary. They sound like gentle giants.

Originating in the US, the King is a dual-purpose breed – used for squab production (for their meat) as well as for exhibition. The King is large in size and can be found in a variety of colours – however, the white strain is found in the squab production pigeons. These ones have no survival instincts if released and will often die from predator attack, starvation or being hit by a car. If found and taken to a rescue centre a permanent home is needed to house these non-releasable birds.

The following websites tell the tales of many King pigeons – please have a read (and help if you can):

MickaCoo! – “a division of Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue dedicated to the rescue of doves and pigeons, a sadly overlooked segment of the avian companion population.”

The Rescue Report – a blog about rescuing and rehoming King pigeons

You can also find them on Facebook: MickaCoo Pigeon & Dove Rescue

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why have a pigeon for a pet?

Originally published in the
Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue Newsletter, July 2009

I had never considered having a king pigeon (or any pigeon) as a pet until I met a tame one, Gurumina, who had been surrendered by her owner to SF Animal Care & Control. I was there doing my volunteer shift socializing the rabbits and rats and guinea pigs and she kept bouncing up and down in her stainless steel cage. She sounded like a bowling ball in a clothes dryer. Shelter volunteers usually don’t handle the birds but Gurumina wanted attention and when I opened up the door to her cage, she stepped out on to my arm, surprising me both with her weight and her charm. Rather than let Gurumina be euthanized (which is what usually happened to king pigeons), I decided to find her a home. At the time, I had two parrots, two cats and a dog and was feeling full up (ah- the good old days), but figured I could foster her until I found the right adopter. With Mickaboo’s help, I did. Her adopter, Shafqat, has this to say, “Having a king pigeon is a nice alternative to having a more demanding pet. My Gurumina is low maintenance and independent. She quietly follows family members around the house while we go about our business and is lovely to look at on top of that. I’m very glad I have her in my life, she’s a peaceful and pleasant presence.” Since meeting Gurumina, I’ve adopted six and fostered almost one hundred pigeons. So beware, pigeons can be addictive.

Kings pigeons are domestic and can’t survive in the wild. They’re bred to be eaten as squab and so are big-bodied for maximum meat yield and white (white feathers are a byproduct of the pink skin consumers prefer in meat birds). Bay Area animal shelters get quite a few in (several a week in SF) because they get away from backyard breeders or people see them for sale in live food markets, feel sorry for them, buy them and set them ‘free’- a gesture most don’t survive (and that only rewards the breeders). Once free, king pigeons stand around, not sure what to do or where to go and are quickly killed by hawks, dogs, cats, and cars. The few lucky survivors make it to shelters where adopters are scarce and euthanasia likely.

As a breed, king pigeons are calm and very adaptable. They’re alert but not prone to panic. Their energy level is much lower than that of parrots and they tend to have really great leisure skills- lounging and napping and watching more than being busy, busy, busy. I think of parrots as being hot and spicy while pigeons are cool and mellow, maybe even boring to some. Pigeons will interact with you and some like ringing bell toys or adopting cat toy balls as surrogate eggs. They don’t talk and while they are flashy strutters, I don’t know of any that dance. Pigeons are quiet with the male courtship cooing/moaning being the main vocalization. They do coo or trill at you sometimes but they never scream or yell. While quiet and mellow, they are still full of opinions and personality and each is an individual. Like when adopting any bird, you have to accept them as a cherished guest in your life and not try to change them or force them to be something they’re not. Most of my pet pigeons will give me some quality snuggle time when in the house but prefer not to be handled when they’re outdoors (like it’s our little secret). Louie, who I’ve had for almost two years, does not want to come indoors or be handled ever and I respect that wish. I leave her be and am content to love her from afar.

If you keep your pigeon indoors as part of the family, two or even one alone, given enough attention, is fine. They need a home base such as a large dog crate, flight or Amazon-size cage. The less ‘out time’ they get, the bigger their home base needs to be. They’ll walk around more than fly (and never climb) but will likely pick out a high perch or two (atop kitchen cabinets is a favorite) as well. Poop can be managed (especially on hardwood or tile floors) with meal feeding and some designated hangout places or controlled with pigeon pants. Pigeons ‘hold it’ while sitting on their eggs and so have the potential to be potty-trained. Pigeons don’t bite (though they may peck or pop you with a wing if they have a point to make) and they don’t chew so your woodwork and walls and electrical cords are safe. They do seem to love walking on keyboards (Note to self: Buy an old keyboard or two on next thrift store visit).

Frances, a sick and terrified shelter king I brought home to nurse a couple months back, surprised me by becoming completely tame. I’ve nursed lots and would have swore he was an aviary-only bird but he now spends his days outdoors in my backyard loft but his mornings & evenings in the house with me, three cats, a dog and three small parrots. Usually he gets along fine with everybody but once in awhile he’ll get in the mood to attack the cats (!) and I have to put him in his crate for a time-out so they aren’t terrorized. I absolutely adore hearing Frances pitter-pattering around the house. He’ll do his own thing for a while (like deciding to take a bath in the dog’s water dish) and then comes looking for me and always brings me a smile when he comes.

It’s extremely easy to keep king pigeons as outdoor pets. They can’t be safely flown (they are easy targets for hawks and cats) and so must be protected in an enclosure. Kings are birds of leisure though, and don’t need a lot of flight space (they do, of course, need room to move around). They require a safe, predator-proof enclosure with some protection from weather extremes but, because they are soft-bills, it is safe to contain them with wood and galvanized wire- no stainless steel required. If kept outdoors, it’s nice to have a small flock of four to eight birds and I highly recommend a walk-in aviary because it’s easier to clean and fun to go in and interact with them. They say no one ever wished for a smaller aviary so plan it to be as big as possible. Minimum size for four birds would be at least six feet long (horizontal space is most important) by four feet deep and five feet high and the bigger the better. They’ll spend their time bathing (pigeons love water), preening, lounging in the sun, eating, watching the sky, napping, socializing and courting. Every four to five weeks, couples will lay a pair of eggs (which should be replaced with fake for pigeon birth control) and take turns sitting on them. Pigeons are extremely devoted to their family and usually (though not always) mate for life. They adjust well to life in the human world and make really easy, sweet pets. I highly recommend them!

Elizabeth Young, MickaCoo Pigeon and Dove Coordinator

(From: http://www.rescuereport.org/2008/09/why-have-pigeon-for-pet.html)


Is there a difference between a dove and a pigeon? Technically, no. There is no difference. “Dove” and “pigeon” are just names used to call the different bird species of the Columbidae family. In the simplest understanding, smaller species are called “doves” and the larger species “pigeons”, however, this is not a hard and fast rule.

The word “dove” has purer connotations, whilst “pigeon” can arouse a variety of reactions, ranging from indifference to disgust, fear to hatred. This is a shame since they are one and the same. But as Dr. Jean Hansell so nicely put: “People just don’t make the connection between the dove of peace and the pigeon in the street.” *

(For many people, though, the word “pigeon” will make them smile with love.)

It is quite funny how the so called “white dove” can be considered cleaner and nicer than a feral pigeon – considering that the white dove is in fact simply a white coloured racing pigeon. These white pigeons are commonly released at events such as weddings and graduations. (Not to be confused with the white ringneck dove species that has no homing instinct and should never be released at events!) It may simply be that the colour white is associated with kindness, purity and cleanliness in people’s minds – regardless of what type of bird it is.

Some people make a difference between racing pigeons, fancy pigeons and the common feral pigeon, however, when you strip away their seperate names, you’re simply left with a pigeon – albeit ones bred for different purposes. But neither type are better than the other. Some come in fancy shapes and colours, some can race, and some can clean up the food litter dropped by careless humans. They all deserve respect and in many cases, admiration.

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Some may call this a dove, others may call it a white pigeon

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Diamond dove

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Feral pigeons - in many different colours

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Collared dove

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Stock dove

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Archangel breed of fancy pigeon

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Some may call this a dove due to her petite features, others may call her a fancy pigeon

* Blechman, Andrew D. (2006). Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird. Grove Press, New York.


How do pigeons think? What’s going on in their little brains? It is a mystery that can induce controversy in the scientific realm, however, it is a mystery that we love to wonder about. Do pigeons think like us humans – with words? Or do they think with pictures of objects and memories? Like a movie reel across their mind?

How they think is a question I cannot answer, but what they think of? Well, I can answer that to some extent. There is no doubt in my mind what Elmo is thinking of when he walks across the room, hops onto the sofa and makes a beeline to the peanut jar. There is no hesitation, no pause – Elmo is thinking of peanuts and he’s going to get them. He knows where the peanuts are kept and nothing is stopping him from eating them.

It is actually quite remarkable to watch. One minute Elmo is on the floor exploring the flat when suddenly his head will shoot up, he’ll freeze for a moment, and then he’ll turn towards the sofa and head that way. Peanuts have entered his mind.

Georgie is a little harder to read, however, I can usually tell when she wants a drink. Her body language and movements tip me off, and I know Georgie is thinking of a nice cool drink of water.

Sometimes I wonder what Georgie and Elmo are thinking of when they drift off to sleep on our laps. They look so content and serene – all puffed up in their relaxed way. Are they thinking of how wonderful it is to be safe and warm with their loved ones? Are the images of the day playing through their mind – the best bits making them smile? – I like to think so.

I hope they have many good memories to think about – and there will hopefully be many more to come.

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Georgie having a nap.

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"All mine," thinks Elmo.

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"Mmm, peanuts!"


People who dislike or fear pigeons often say that pigeons carry disease that can be passed on to humans. This is their main argument – that pigeons are dirty and diseased. However, what truth is there to this? And what is the real issue?

First of all, all animals – humans included – carry diseases. This is just a fact of life and most people are happy to live their life without worrying that they’ll catch something from another person or their pet dog. Yes, dogs and cats in fact can carry the same number of diseases as pigeons!

The real question is can these diseases be transmitted to humans? Infectious diseases that are transmitted to humans from non-human animals and vice versa are called zoonotic diseases. The answer to the question above is yes, some of the diseases that pigeons may carry can be transmitted to humans, however, the method of transmission is not straight forward. So rest assure – you’re very very unlikely to catch a deadly disease by touching a pigeon! (Please continue to read – quotes from experts on this matter towards the end of this post!)

Let’s put a couple of things into perspective: Human beings carry disease, and there are too many human diseases in the world to count. I haven’t got any medical books to reference, so I cannot give you any figures, however, I’m sure that if you research human diseases you’ll find more than you can stomach.

Here are a few of the zoonotic diseases and parasites that can be caught from cats: Feline cowpox, toxoplasmosis, toxocariasis, ringworm, roundworm, hookworm, feline conjunctivitis, pasteurellosis, salmonella, cat scratch disease (cat scratch fever, bartonellosis), helicobacter pylori, mycobacteria turburculosis, rotavirus, rabies, chlamydia and giardia.

A few from dogs: Brucellosis, campylobacter, hydatid disease, pasteurellosis, rabies, ringworm, roundworm, hookworm, toxocariasis, zoonotic diphtheria, rotavirus, cryptosporidia, giardia, leptospirosis, sarcoptic mange or scabies and fleas.

And here are some zoonotic diseases that pigeons can carry: Chiamdiosis, psittacosis, histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, chlamydia psittaci and campylobacter jejuni.

In an article by Robinson and Pugh called “Dogs, zoonoses and immunosuppression”, they state that “dogs are the source of a wide range of zoonotic infections that pose a significant threat to human health.” Robinson, RA and Pugh, RN. (2002). Dogs, zoonoses and immunosuppression. The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health 122: 95-98

What a statement! But you don’t see many of us panicking about dogs and disease! Rarely do I hear someone say “Dogs are diseased and dirty.” However, pigeons are viewed by many in a very unfair light – just because they can potentially carry disease, much like any other animal out there in the world.

The real issue is whether pigeons pose a threat to the public and your health. This is very easy to answer: No, they do not. (See quotes below from the experts!) I think Steve Harris put it very nicely in his article about pigeons on this subject: “Many websites list the diseases recorded in feral pigeons. How very scary. But let’s put this in context – many more diseases are known in people and their pets. Moreover, all animals carry diseases: the key issue is how often they transfer to humans, and there is little evidence of this happening with feral pigeons. Plus, domestic pigeons often come into contact with feral pigeons but stay perfectly healthy. In other words, feral pigeons simply do not pose a significant health risk. It’s a non-issue.” Harris, S. (2010). BBC Wildlife magazine 28 (10): 52-57

“It’s a non-issue” – something I wish would catch on. … So why all the bad press? Why are pigeons viewed as diseased birds that will kill you if they touch you? Unfortunately it is all down to greed. Pest control companies see pigeons as a continuous resource of money (since pest control methods are highly ineffective in the long term) and have spread misinformation and exaggerated things – thus spreading fear and ignorance in the public.

In turn, local councils have also been fed this misinformation and are trying to deal with the ‘pigeon problem’ in many towns and cities. In many council websites there is usually a page on pigeons and disease and they always state the fact that pigeons pose a health risk, however, I don’t see much in the way of scientific research or references backing up their claims (the same goes for websites for pest control companies).

Guy Merchant, the founder of the Pigeon Control Advisory Service (PiCAS), states, “We are the only independent source of unbiased information out there. By comparison, the pest control industries are only motivated by greed. They invest millions of dollars each year on anti-pigeon propaganda and misinformation. It’s entirely unethical. In fact, there are no ethics involved at all. Believe you me, the world hates pigeons because of them.” Blechman, Andrew D. (2006). Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird. Grove Press, New York.

Here are what the experts say (from Do birds spread disease?):

  • On the subject of pigeons and disease, Dr. Nina Marano (an epidemiologist) states that “Pigeons are no more filthy than any other wild bird or animal,” while Dr. Arturo Casadevall (an expert in pigeon faeces) states, “Pigeons are no different than other animals. When it comes to spreading disease, they don’t stand out.” Blechman, Andrew D. (2006). Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird. Grove Press, New York.
  • Mike Everett, spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said, in The Big Issue Magazine, February 2001: “The whole ‘rats with wings’ thing is just emotive nonsense. There is no evidence to show that they (pigeons) spread disease.”
  • The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, when addressing the House of Lords in 2000 on the issue of intimate human contact with the then 7,000-8,000 pigeons feeding in Trafalgar Square, was asked if this represented a risk to human health. The Chief Veterinary Officer told The House that in his opinion it did not.
  • Charlotte Donnelly, an American bird control expert told the Cincinnati Environment Advisory Council in her report to them: “The truth is that the vast majority of people are at little or no health risk from pigeons and probably have a greater chance of being struck by lightening than contracting a serious disease from pigeons.”
  • Guy Merchant, Director of The Pigeon Control Advisory Service (PiCAS International) says, when talking about the transmission of disease by pigeons: “If we believed everything we read in the media about the health risks associated with pigeons, and the farcical propaganda distributed by the pest control industry, we would never leave our homes. The fact of the matter is that there is probably a greater risk to human health from eating intensively farmed supermarket chicken and eggs, or having contact with domestic pets such as cats, dogs and caged birds, than there is from contact with pigeons.”
  • David A Palmer (B.V.Sc., M.R.C.V.S) said in an article entitled ‘Pigeon Lung Disease Fatality and Health Risk from Ferals’: “Obviously, since all these Allergic Extrinsic Alveolitis disease syndromes rely on the involved person having a very specific allergy before any disease, involving respiratory distress and very unusually death, can possibly be seen, it really makes absolute nonsense for a popular daily newspaper to suggest that pigeons present a health hazard and presumably need eliminating for the well-being of the nation’s health.”
  • David Taylor BVMS FRCVS FZS: “In 50 years professional work as a veterinary surgeon I cannot recall one case of a zoonosis in a human that was related to pigeons. On the other hand I know of, and have seen, examples of human disease related to contact with dogs, cats, cattle, monkeys, sheep, camels, budgies, parrots, cockatoos, aquarium fish and even dolphins, on many occasions.”
  • The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the New York City Department of Health, and the Arizona Department of Health all agree that diseases associated with pigeons present little risk to people. “We have never documented a pigeon to human transmission in the state of Arizona,” said Mira J Leslie, Arizona’s state public health veterinarian.
  • In response to questions about the effects of pigeons on human health, in 1986 the Association of Pigeon Veterinarians issued a statement that concludes, “…to our knowledge, the raising, keeping, and the exercising of pigeons and doves represents no more of a health hazard than the keeping of other communal or domestic pets.”

As you can see, pigeons pose little threat to us. However, if you aren’t convinced, please visit the following websites: http://www.picasuk.com/index.html and http://www.urbanwildlifesociety.org/zoonoses/

The following video is an excellent documentary on feral pigeons, disease and pest control. Some scenes are distressing to view, however, it is well worth the watch because of the information relayed: