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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.

:(


The following is a very good website with information and advice about pigeon fanciers lung: British Pigeon Fanciers Medical Research

Please read about a condition that may affect you if you work in close contact with pigeons. It is the only real threat to us pigeon lovers. The overall message is to wear a mask and protective clothing as a preventive measure when cleaning out your loft or aviary.

PIGEON FANCIERS LUNG FAQ

WHAT IS PIGEON FANCIERS LUNG?
It is an allergic reaction which affects the air exchanging parts of the lung and causes shortness of breath, cough and feverish illness.

WHAT CAUSES IT?
Sensitivity to Pigeon Protein. The commonest source is the bloom but droppings and other dust in the loft may be important.

IS IT COMMON?
It is more common than people think. World wide studies indicate that from 6% to 22% of fanciers have symptoms following exposure to pigeons. In British Pigeon Fanciers, 31% were found to be sensitised and 16% to have symptoms.

HOW DO I KNOW THAT I HAVE IT?
Breathlessness, dry cough, “flu like” feelings, headache and aching joints, sweating, exhaustion 2-6 hours after contact with pigeons. Weight loss. With high sensitivity, the reaction can occur more quickly and people can be very sick.

A blood check for reaction to pigeon protein would show raised levels.

WHAT DO RAISED BLOOD LEVELS MEAN?
a) The normal body defence systems have responded to contact with pigeon protein.
b) Everyone will tend to make antibody reaction to pigeon protein, but some people make much more than others.
c) People with high reaction levels are more likely to get chest trouble than those with low levels
d) If levels are raised, then there is a real risk of problems.

DO I HAVE TO GIVE UP MY PIGEONS IF I HAVE IT?
The answer in the main is NO, although for some people, unfortunately this is the only solution. It is entirely a personal decision and there are no hard and fast rules about it. WEAR MASK, CAP AND COAT at all times when you are in the loft to reduce the amount of bloom you breathe into the lungs.

IF I HAVE CHEST TROUBLE FOLLOWING CONTACT WITH PIGEONS WILL MY ANTIBODY LEVELS BE HIGH?
YES – Those with severe symptoms have higher levels than those with minor problems.

IS IT FATAL?
NO – if untreated however, it can cause chronic ill health and lung damage and this can eventually be fatal if neglected.

CAN I PASS IT ON TO MY FAMILY?
NO – It is not an infectious disease. (It is NOT the same thing as “Psittacosis” which is infectious )

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I THINK I HAVE IT?
Go and see your Doctor. The British Pigeon Fanciers Research Fund covers the cost of a blood test. All that is needed is to send a 10ml sample of clotted blood in a plain container to us, the details for this are on the contact page.

Your Doctor can contact Kenneth Boyd who can put him/her in touch with Dr. Boyd directly, should he/she wish to discuss any matters with him.

CAN ANYTHING BE DONE ABOUT IT?
YES -People react to the condition in different ways. Some have one or two attacks and then have no more trouble. Others have severe disease and must keep away from pigeons altogether. The acute illness can be treated by drugs.

PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE – WEAR MASK, CAP AND COAT WHEN WITH YOUR BIRDS.

CAN IT BE CURED?
The only true cure is to keep away from pigeons altogether. Only a few people have to do this because the condition varies very much in its severity and most people only experience problems from time to time, which if treated, does not progress.

HOW MUCH CONTACT WITH PIGEONS DO I NEED BEFORE I AM LIKELY TO GET IT?
The answer is not known for certain but studies, so far, indicate that the occurrence of disease is related to:

  • The age of the individual
  • The number of birds kept
  • The average weekly exposure to pigeons
  • The number of years in the Fancy
  • The individual’s own inborn reaction. (some are very sensitive and others are not).

IF I REDUCE CONTACT WITH PIGEONS WILL THE DISEASE PROBLEM IMPROVE?
YES -This is very important until the illness settles. Sometimes treatment is needed. Attacks can often be prevented by avoiding excessive contact with the bloom or dust e.g. by avoiding cleaning the loft personally or by wearing a mask, cap and coat.

IS PIGEON BREEDERS DISEASE MORE LIKELY?

  • With racing pigeons or with show pigeons - NO
  • In overcrowded lofts – YES
  • In poorly ventilated lofts – YES
  • With deep litter – NO
  • With more than normal contact with pigeons – YES

e.g.

  • Study of eye signs.
  • Use of eyeglass to examine pigeons.
  • If many youngsters are hand reared.
  • Hand and mouth feeding of squeakers.

IS THERE ANY PROBLEM RELATED TO PIGEON MANAGEMENT THAT MAKES IT MORE LIKELY TO CAUSE PIGEON LUNG?
e.g.

  • Separated cocks/Separated hens
  • Paired cocks/Paired hens
  • Pigeons on natural/Widowhood systems
  • Different strains – e.g. inbred, outcross
  • Short/Middle/Long Distance birds

NO

N.B. Fanciers using the “Widowhood” system may be more at risk than those using the natural system because the loft is fully enclosed.
PEAK INCIDENCE – END OF RACING SEASON/MOULTING SEASON

IS THERE ANYTHING IN THE FEEDING OF THE PIGEONS WHICH MAKES THEM MORE LIKELY TO CAUSE A REACTION IN MAN?
None found.

WHAT MASK SHOULD I WEAR?
CAUTIONARY NOTE:

  • All Fanciers should use a mask when cleaning out.
  • Pigeon fanciers with symptoms of Pigeon Lung of any degree should use a mask, cap and coat every time they are with birds, even at Shows and Marking Stations.
  • Fanciers with pigeon Lung should be very careful after an absence from the birds (e.g. after being on holiday). An increased reaction may be experienced on their return to the birds. A mask is essential.

The pigeon bloom, which is the main source of inhaled pigeon protein, is an extremely small dust particle (<5 microns). It is, therefore, important that the correct filter mask is used. Any mask used must comply with the appropriate European standard (or equivalent – in other countries)

The standard is EN149:FFP1 (S) for disposable masks and EN143:1990 for the Replaceable Filter Mask.

Please see our dedicated mask page, for detail of specific masks.

(From: http://www.pigeon-lung.co.uk/faq.html)


I think this documentary about pigeons and disease needs to be posted on its own so that you all get a chance to view it. You may find parts of it hard to watch, however, it is a really informative documentary and well worth the watch.


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:


Nearly everyone has seen an ill, injured or orphaned pigeon in their life – be it in a city, town, park or a garden. There are a lot of predators, disease and harmful things out there that affect pigeons, and sometimes people don’t know what is the right thing to do when they come across a baby pigeon or an injured or ill pigeon.

First, let me just say that pigeons do not carry millions of diseases that humans can contract. That is just scaremongering, mainly from pest control companies (that are out to make money) and ignorant people (who either hate pigeons or are afraid of them). All living beings carry disease – humans included! – and some do pass on to other species, however, if everyone just used a bit of common sense, such as good hygiene measures (e.g. wash your hands after coming in from outside), then this myth that pigeons are infested with disease that will kill you and your family wouldn’t be as big of a problem as it is. You can contract disease from a dog or a cat but are they hated as much as feral pigeons? Makes little sense to me.

A pest or vermin is defined by people as any animal that is unwanted or destructive, such as rats, mice, pigeons, foxes and racoons, but this term could very well be attributed to cats, dogs, parrots and songbirds, depending on which country and area you are in. ‘Pest’ and ‘vermin’ are not synonymous with ‘disease’.

The following website supplies good points on the subject (particularly the last paragraph): Pigeons and disease

Ok, back to what to do when you come across an injured, ill or orphaned pigeon.

First, after you have correctly assessed that the pigeon is indeed in need of rescuing (a broken wing or foot is pretty easy to recognise, however, read the following about Recognising a sick pigeon and Rescuing a baby pigeon), you need to safely capture it and place it in a box, cat carrier or other secure container (make sure there are air holes!). Put an old towel, cloth or tissue paper in the box so that the pigeon can grip onto something and to also keep it warm.

After you have the pigeon in a secure box and put it in a warm, safe place (not outside!), contact your local animal rescue centre or wildlife hospital and ask if they can help. Unfortunately, some places do not treat pigeons (since they may consider them as pests) so you need to find a pigeon friendly rescue centre. The best place to find your local rescue centre is to search for it on the internet or look in a phone book. Your local vet or pet shop may also know of an animal rescue centre in the area.

You can take the rescued pigeon to a veterinary surgery, however, many will simply euthanise the bird unless you are willing to pay for its treatment and care. Ask before handing the pigeon over. Some veterinary surgeries will transfer the pigeon to a wildlife rescue centre.

Please read the information on these websites as they contain good instructions on pigeon rescue and first aid: Pigeon and Dove Rescue, Pigeon Aid UK and Pigeon Recovery.

The following link contains a list of wildlife hospitals, sanctuaries and veterinary surgeries around the world that are pigeon friendly: Matilda’s List

This website lists pigeon friendly places in the United Kingdom: Pigeon Friendly Rescue Centres in the UK

The main thing is to not panic. Find someone who can give you advice and help you and the pigeon. Hopefully you’ll feel good about rescuing a pigeon in need. :)

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Editors note: Due to various commitments I am unable to check messages and comments frequently, so if you have an injured or orphaned pigeon please search the internet for your nearest pigeon friendly rescue centre or vets that can give you advice and help (some helpful links are already on this post).

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Feral pigeon caught in netting. Photo courtesy of Dave Risley.

P1060418

Baby feral pigeon – few days old

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2 baby feral pigeons – few weeks old