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Many people don’t know what a baby pigeon looks like. This is not surprising since pigeons usually nest in secluded spots away from human sight (read Invisible babies). What is surprising is how many people, when finding a baby pigeon, think that the squab is a… wait for it… duckling.

Now please excuse me if I offend anyone, but even if you are a city dweller and have never been on a farm before, you should surely know what a duckling looks like! Ducklings are everywhere: on TV, in childrens books and on toys and clothing. Usually ducklings are depicted as all yellow, however, wild ones are generally yellow and brown or black.

When queried as to why they thought the pigeon squab was a duckling, the usual reply is, “It has such a big beak.”

Ok, fair enough, the beak in a squab is large and out of proportion (especially in woodpigeons), however, people are overlooking a very important factor of the make-up of a duckling: webbed feet!

All ducklings are born with webbed feet. So if the bird you find hasn’t got webbed feet, then it isn’t a water-bird.

I will post a few photos so you can see for yourself how a pigeon squab looks nothing like a duckling. I apologise if I have offended anyone with this little rant, but I’ve been so amazed by people’s lack of knowledge. We had one man say to us, upon hearing that the “duckling” he brought us was in fact a 5 day old woodpigeon squab, “Oh, I’m glad I brought it to you then. We were thinking about putting it onto the lake to join its mother.”

And now I must apologise to all the pigeon lovers out there, but another important distinction between a duckling and a pigeon squab is people’s reaction to them: People react with “aaahs” and “how cute” when seeing a duckling, but more often than not, when seeing a pigeon squab, they say, “oh, how ugly”. (For the record, I think baby pigeons are adorable looking.)

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MALLARD DUCKLING - notice its webbed feet!

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COLLARED DOVE SQUAB - notice its feet: no webbing!

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MALLARD DUCKLING

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WOODPIGEON SQUABS

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MALLARD DUCKLING

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FERAL PIGEON HATCHLING

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SHELDUCK DUCKLING

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FERAL PIGEON SQUAB


Baby pigeons are brought to my work for different reasons: human interference (e.g. building or tree work), cats taking them out of their nest, or bad weather causing them to fall out of their nest. Sometimes the babies are unharmed and only need to be hand-fed until they are old enough to feed for themselves, other times the pigeon squabs are injured and need special attention.

We had one such latter case last month. A little woodpigeon that not only had a hole in its crop but also a scalped head (with the scull showing). :(

Poor little thing. He was very hungry and begged me for food. We feed baby pigeons on Kaytee Exact Hand Feeding Formula in a liquid form, however, if there is a hole in the crop then all the liquid food pours out. So we had to switch to emergancy feeding: defrosted peas and sweetcorn and balls of Kaytee Exact. Being solid, the food thankfully stayed in the crop. It does depend where the hole is, though; if it is further down in the crop then the food will fall out, however, if it higher up then the food has a chance to stay and be digested (as was the case with this little woodpigeon).

At first we thought we’d ask our vets to stitch the hole up, however, after assessing the size and location of the hole, we decided that it wasn’t necessary and that it would be better for it to heal naturally. The vets were concerned about the scalp injury, however, we reassured them that it wasn’t a problem at all and that it would heal quickly (we’ve had quite a few scalped birds before). We decided to take photos of the woodpigeon because it can be quite dramatic to see the quick healing.

Dermisol cream was applied every day to the hole as well as the scalped head. Antibiotics were given to fight off any infection. The crop hole healed up nicely and we were able to switch to liquid Kaytee Exact. I didn’t take photos of the hole because it was too hard to keep the pigeon still. Trying to take a photo of his head was hard enough! He kept “beaking” my fingers for food and flapping about (which is why my hand is in the photos – to try to keep him still for a second).

And here they are:

27th July – 2nd day with us:

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28th July – With the dermisol cream on his head:

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2nd August – Skin regrowing:

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3rd August – The scab fell off:

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9th August – The skin has grown back over his scalp:

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15th August – Completely healed, needing only new feathers to grow back:

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This little woodpigeon is now ready to be in the aviary for flight practice and muscle toning. :)

We are of course so happy for his speedy recovery and happy that there is such a good cream as dermisol cream to help with healing!


I’m being swamped at work. There are so many woodpigeon babies coming in – all squeaking for my attention, for me to feed them. I find it hard – oh so hard – to resist cuddling them. Thankfully I have a pair of white pigeon squablets that I can cuddle and kiss to my heart’s content!

Their mother was sadly killed by a sparrowhawk and the owners of the white pigeons didn’t know how to feed the babies. Since they come from an aviary, they’ll be returned when they are old enough, so I can talk and tame the white pigeon babies with unrestricted joy. (And we’ve told the owners how to protect the aviary from further sparrowhawk attacks.)

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White pigeons, only 3-4 days old - 19th July

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The two white pigeons tickle a baby woodpigeon - 26th July

Woodpigeons actually drive me a bit mad. Some babies can be very sweet and beg for food, others don’t want anything to do with you and huff and puff away like a little dragon, chest swelled out to look bigger (filled with air!) and wing slap you when you go to pick them up. Then they’ll jump about to get away from you, knocking the gavage tube from your hands and tipping over the food pot, spilling it all over the bench. After the fifth woody has done this I’m ready for a break. I’m only trying to feed them so they can grow to be big handsome woodpigeons!

I’m going to have to invent some sort of restraining vest while I hand-feed the baby woodies (cut a hole in a sock and pop their head through?). Most of the time the babies realise I’m not going to hurt them and calm down but some never do. The day they start eating seed for themselves is a joyous day for me. I can get them out into an aviary and let them feather up till release!

(Just realised I haven’t got many photos of woodpigeons. Gotta get my camera ready for tomorrow and have a woody-photoshoot! :) ).


In the last few weeks at work we’ve had in our first batch of baby feral pigeons of the year. Baby pigeons are found for different reasons, for example, they fall or get pushed out of their nest, cats catch them or building work disturb them. The lucky ones are taken to a pigeon friendly rescue centre where they will receive care and attention, and hopefully they are healthy enough to be released when they are older.

Our first baby was Hooper. He was found on the ground at a Hoopers Department Store by one of the staff. Hooper is now old enough to be out in an aviary with other feral pigeons. He’s flying about strengthening his flight muscles and eating greedily.

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Hooper

The second baby pigeon was Valentine, brought to us on Valentine’s Day. Valentine was found on the ground and taken to a vets who then contacted us. Valentine is growing steadily.

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Valentine

The third baby was Monday, thus named because it was on a Monday when he came to us. He’s another pigeon that was found on the ground. As soon as we’ve determined that he’s healthy he’ll be paired up with Valentine for company.

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Monday

And today another special little squab was brought to us. I’ve named her Maggie, after the volunteer driver who brought her to us from the vets. Little Maggie is a bit traumatised and scared, and has some small wounds around her beak and face. Hopefully, she’ll soon relax and start squeaking eagerly for the food I give her. Maggie has some interesting colouration and I look forward to seeing her grow up into a beautiful pigeon.

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Maggie


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:

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Valentine pigeon. 14th Feb 2011

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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:

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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:

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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.


In pigeons, both the mother and father feed their babies crop milk. It is amazing to watch these dedicated parents lovingly feed their babies:


Some videos from WysInfo Docuweb (more videos on their website: Life of a Baby Pigeon and A New Sibling Squab).

1 day old:

5 days old:

6 days old:

16 days old:


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)


A special little birdie arrived at my work in the beginning of September: A tiny newly hatched baby collared dove that we weren’t sure would survive the first night – he was so small!

We popped him into a nest in an incubator for warmth and he received regular but small amounts of food throughout the first few days  – and much to our pleasure he survived and grew slowly but surely.

We call this special little guy Widget. :)

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Widget - only about 5 days old

After being a week with us Widget received a friend – a bigger and older collared dove who immediately fell in love with him. The two keep each other company and love to be snuggled up together in their nest.

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Widget (left) and his new brother/sister

At the moment both Widget and his new brother or sister are very friendly and have an adorable coo to attract our attention for food. With time both shall grow into healthy independant collared doves and will be released with other doves when ready.