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Today six fantail pigeons were brought to my work. The gentleman who owned them didn’t want them anymore and after having problems finding homes for them he was directed to my work to see if we could help. Although my workplace is a wildlife rescue centre and does not take in domestic animals, occasionally we take in fancy pigeons in need of care or rehoming if domestic rescue centres cannot help – which was the case with these six fantails.

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Upon opening the boxes I found four young adult fantails and two baby fantails. Apparently the father of the two babies was amongst the four adults – so I put the two babies and their father in one aviary and the other three fantails in the aviary next to them.

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I have to admit I initially found these fantails very dopey and clumsy. They didn’t seem to have mastered the art of flying and found it hard to fly to the top perches in the aviaries. But my heart melted when I watched the father fantail feed his young – the babies squeaked and shrugged their wings – and the father fed them with the usual gusto you see in parent pigeons. Since I fell in love with pigeons from having been in contact with feral pigeons not fancy ones, I find ferals to be prettier and more interesting than the fancy breeds. (Am I a feral pigeon snob?!) But I think the fancy breeds are starting to seep into my thoughts. … And these fantails are a good start! :)

When I got home I searched the net for a bit more info on fantails (I knew these ones aren’t show fantails). It seems the name for them is “garden fantail doves”. I’ve never seen these type brought to my work before, usually the white garden doves are brought in (are they more popular than the fantails?). Although breeders and enthusiasts state that they are suited for dovecotes and can fly well and evade predators, I have my doubts about the four adults that we now have. I’ll have to watch their behaviour a bit more before we decided if they are to be in an aviary or free flying.

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Rock dove picture from www.rspb.org.uk

Most of us already know that feral pigeons are descendants of the rock dove. Although the rock dove and feral pigeons are essentially the same species (both bear the scientific name Columba livia), the name feral pigeon is given to those pigeons that inhabit towns and cities and come in a variety of colours (see Pigeon poster), while the rock dove in its pure state lives mainly on rocky mountainous slopes and coastal cliffs and are uniform in colour (see picture).

On the Natural History Museum’s website they state that there are 3 types of pigeons:

  1. rock pigeons – which are natural
  2. domestic pigeons – which are artificial
  3. and feral pigeons – which are outlaws

While I don’t really agree with calling feral pigeons ‘outlaws’ their website has some interesting information on it: Columba livia (rock pigeon)

Domestic pigeons are generally quite tame due to being handled often by people. Feral pigeons in cities and towns can also be quite tame when their fear of humans disappears and they become bolder in nature in their search for food. Piazza San Marco in Venice is a very famous example, although they have now banned the feeding of pigeons there (since May 2008). If you search on YouTube for ‘pigeons Venice’ loads of videos come up. Here’s one:

The pigeons at Trafalgar Square in London are also famous; however, they have also banned the feeding of pigeons there (since 2000).  For more info go to: http://www.savethepigeons.org/index.html

Now to get to my main subject: how to tame a pigeon.

(“At last!” you say! :) )

Taming feral pigeons, in my opinion, is fairly easy. All you need is time, patience and enough food. Simply feed the pigeons at regular times in the week, keeping still and remaining non-threatening, and eventually the pigeons will gain confidence and realise that you’re not going to harm them. Soon you’ll have pigeons flocking around your feet to feed and you will be able to enjoy their company in the garden/patio/balcony without them flying off every time you turn your head or take a step.

Obviously some pigeons will take longer to trust you than others since all animals are individuals and have their own unique nature and experiences with people, but as long as you don’t harm them they should eventually trust you. The day one flies onto your hand to take seed from it will be a joyous day for you.

Some people will hand-rear a squab from birth to tame them (either they took one from a domestic breeding pair or they found an orphaned feral pigeon squab). Hand-rearing an animal is usually a sure-fire way to make them tame as long as they are treated with love and affection and hand-reared in the correct way (this only applies to domesticated animals or animals predisposed to be tame. Hand-rearing wild animals doesn’t always mean they will be tame). If this is something you want to do then please seek expert advice before hand-rearing a baby pigeon. Too many things could go wrong (e.g. you can easily get food down the wrong hole while hand feeding them if you haven’t been shown how to feed them the correct way).

Once you have a tame pigeon on your hands you might find yourself addicted for life! So those who want such a ‘novelty’ pet – beware! The average lifespan for a pigeon in captivity is said to be 8-15 years (however many people have reported having pigeons living into their early 20′s), and will require the same love and care that any other animal needs.