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!
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- 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