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We received a wonderful Valentines present at work this year: a little pigeon squab!! So of course I had to name him “Valentine”. It was love at first sight. Actually, it was love at first squeak! I could hear him through the box he was transported in. A little “squeeaak, squeeaak”. The volunteer driver said that the baby had been talking to him throughout the journey.

I peered into the box and there sat a fat little dumpling, yellow fluff on his head, light grey feather quills sticking out like a pin cushion:


Valentine pigeon. 14th Feb 2011


14th Feb 2011

Valentine received lots of love and attention, was fed and put in a cosy nest in an incubator and he’s been steadily growing into a fine looking feral pigeon:


Valentine on the 18th Feb

We’ve kept talking and cuddling to a minimum because we want him to remain as wild as possible so we can release him when he’s ready. Valentine has a teddy bear to cuddle up to though, so he’s got some soft comfort when he’s not being fed.

Today another baby pigeon (a bit older) arrived so once we’ve established that he’s healthy, he’ll be put with Valentine for company. That way they will both retain their pigeon identity and be releasable. :)

I’ve been feeding Valentine a bird rearing formula in liquid form, however, I wanted to provide him some solid food to aid his growth, so I gave him some seed from a jar:



I got the idea when I saw the following website: Bottle Feeding A Baby Pigeon and I have to say it works a charm! :)

Valentine new immediatly what to do when he felt the seed against his beak and started gobbling it all down. He became very excited and flapped about in joy:

We all love this little fella and are eager to see him grow up into an adult pigeon. I’m particularly interested to see his colouring because at the moment he’s very light grey with only a bit of black on the wing tips and a bit of white near his rump. He’s very beautiful. I’ll keep you updated on his progress! :)

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.

At work we have our fair share of baby pigeons that I have the responsibility of hand-feeding. And I must say that whilst some mornings I cannot see past the flapping wings and hear through the intense squeaks, I enjoy feeding them immensely. Baby pigeons – squabs or squeakers as they are called (depending on their age) – are irresistibly cute and crave your attention for food and comfort. It is hard not to fall in love with them.

Note: Just to be clear here – I work at a wildlife rescue centre so all hand-reared pigeons are released once they are old and healthy enough. We aim not to tame them because they need to be released as wild birds.

There are two little darlings that spring to mind now and I want to share the following video clips to demonstrate how adorable baby pigeons can be. Although they are still begging for food from me they are perfectly able to eat seed on their own, which you can see in the videos:

I love the way they put their wings over each other’s back and pat them on the back! Funny!

What darlings! :)

As for feeding baby pigeons, there are many different methods (see end of paragraph for links). At my work we use the ‘gavage’ or tube-feeding method – it is clean and easy once you know how to do it safely. Other methods lean towards a more natural way of feeding them (and I love that idea!) – I think these are good if you only have a few pigeons to rear, since these methods can be a bit messy and more time consuming. The trick is finding which method suits you best – all are good ways to hand-feed pigeons!

Tube feeding a pigeon

Syringe method

Caring for a baby pigeon

Bottle feeding a baby pigeon

I recently tried the latter method (bottle feeding) to help boost the food intake of the baby pigeons with seed instead of just formula and it works really well – as long as the pigeon isn’t afraid of you. If they are then they won’t start eating from the jar – a little encouragement and patience is needed.

What I am about to write may ruffle a few feathers in the bird/pigeon world, however, I feel I must address the issue. I apologise if anyone is offended – this is not a personal attack on anyone, just a subject I have been meaning to write about for a while now. I will try to be as objective as I can, however, emotion will also govern my opinions.

Is it right to hand-rear a pigeon on its own and therefore potentially cause them to become imprinted on humans?

Some people might not know what imprinting means, or know the difference between imprinting and taming. Imprinting is very different to taming.

  • Taming is the process in which an animal is regularly exposed to humans and thereby becoming used to their presence and trusting them. The animal keeps their identity but simply chooses to become friendly with humans. Not all animals can become tame. Some are just too wild.
  • Imprinting means that an animal identifies itself as the same species as to that which reared him, e.g. a human being. Not all animals will become imprinted. It mainly occurs in bird species, especially ducks and other precocial birds (i.e. birds that are born with feathers, able to walk and to feed themselves shortly after hatching).

Although pigeons are not precocial, rather altricial (i.e. born helpless and greatly dependant on their parents), they can become imprinted on humans if reared on their own without any other pigeons to interact with. An imprinted pigeon will identify itself as being human and will not socialise properly with other pigeons and cannot be released into the wild (since it would not survive out in the wild if left to its own devices).

Not all lone hand-reared pigeons become imprinted – some just become tame. I don’t know why some do and some don’t. I guess it’s just down to their individual experience and personality.

An imprinted pigeon would need to live with humans its whole life since it will identify a human as its mate (since pigeons pair for life this is a great commitment). However, how much of their needs can we satisfy as humans? We cannot lay eggs and incubate them. Breeding is very strong in pigeons and they’ll want to mate with you and make a nest.

Over time an imprinted pigeon may learn to be a pigeon – if kept in the company of other pigeons and has limited human contact (I haven’t tried this so I cannot say for certain) – however, the welfare of the imprinted pigeon would need to be assessed constantly – is the pigeon happy living with other pigeons? Is it forming a friendship with them? Is it on its own looking depressed?

I totally understand how someone might decide to raise a baby bird if they find one orphaned – since they can be very cute and endearing. Baby pigeons are particularly sweet because they squeak and waggle their wings at you at a young age. Who couldn’t resist raising one? However, the fact is that unless you are prepared to give the pigeon a home for the rest of its life (and you can expect an average of 15 years in captivity) it is best if a pigeon-friendly animal rescue centre rears the pigeon. That way the pigeon has the best chance of knowing it is a pigeon and being released when older.

Ok, so say you are prepared to give the imprinted pigeon a home for the rest of its life. Does it still make it right to imprint an animal? You’re basically warping their self-image and making them think they are something they aren’t. I guess it all comes down to how you view animals (non-human animals that is) and what role you believe they play in human society.

I know this all might sound very hypocritical of me since I have two imprinted pigeons living with me – however, I didn’t raise them – only acquired them after the ‘damage’ had been done. This is not to say that imprinted pigeons are totally damaged and have no quality of life because they think they’re people. Not at all. Both Elmo and Georgie are healthy, happy beings and other imprinted pigeons I’ve seen have been too. People just need to be aware of the problems they may have on their hands if they imprint an animal and then try to release it into the wild, thinking that it can survive and will be happy. That is animal abandonment and in some countries a prosecutable offense.

I hope what I’ve written is food for thought. Many of us love animals and want to do the right thing. If you have an imprinted pigeon on your hands and need to give it up for some reason then please take the time to find him or her a good home to live in.

Please note that the above can also be applied to tame pigeons – as was the case with Dora – however, more on this later.

Note: Elmo is definately imprinted. Georgie is imprinted but I think she’d like another pigeon if they would give her a chance. Both Dora and Minnie are tame not imprinted.


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.