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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.

I think baby pigeons are so beautiful! And they are such darling little creatures that would melt anyones heart with their affections. :)

Two clips of some of the baby pigeons and other birds at my work – a small glimpse of the hectic world of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation:

How many of us used to wonder (or still do) where baby pigeons come from? I’ve heard from many people how they never see baby pigeons – how there are just loads of adults about. In a way this is true. You see, the reason why you generally don’t see baby pigeons is that pigeons tend to nest in secluded spots (you’re more likely to hear them squeaking to be fed) and when baby pigeons leave the nest they look almost identical to adult pigeons. To the untrained eye a flock of pigeons all look alike and seem to all be adults, however, those in the know can identify those pigeons that are juveniles and have just fledged. The trick is looking at the cere – the fleshy bit on the top of the beak. If it is soft and the same colour as the beak (or greyish) then it is a juvenile pigeon, if it is hard and white in colour then it is an adult.

Baby pigeons, or squabs, grow extremely quickly and can almost double in size overnight. At 3 weeks of age they attain near-adult weight and leave the nest at under 2 months of age. For photos of this rapid growth go to the following websites:

Pigeon Recovery, a London based pigeon sanctuary, have produced a guide about pigeons that have good information on baby pigeons: Pigeon Pages: How to be a friend to the feral pigeon (scroll down to the bottom of the webpage for the guide).

If you do find a baby pigeon (that small, prehistoric looking creature) on the ground then it most definitely needs to be taken to a pigeon friendly rescue centre for care and hand-rearing. Once on the ground and away from the nest it won’t be able to get back to the nest and the parents won’t be able to retrieve it. They may try to feed it on the ground but the baby will be vulnerable and will most likely die from exposure or predator attack. (See Pigeon Rescue: what to do with injured, ill and orphaned pigeons).

Please never try to feed a baby pigeon any kind of milk, meat or worms – it is not good for them. For the first 2-3 days of their life baby pigeons are fed ‘crop milk’ from their parents. As they get older the parents feed them regurgitated seed mixed with the crop milk, then later simply regurgitated seed (after day 7-9). Crop milk can be replicated by mixing a bird rearing powder with water (such as Kaytee Exact or Tropican baby bird rearing formula). See the following websites for more about feeding baby pigeons: Feeding the Pigeon

Please also don’t try to put water down a baby pigeon’s beak – it can easily go down the wrong way and drown them.

Here’s some photos of the prehistoric looking creatures:




A review of the book “Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird” by Andrew D. Blechman (2006).

I must admit I had high hopes for this book. I’ve read a lot of books in this style and have liked them, but this book let me down a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it had some good information and writing in it – touching on a wide range of pigeon related subjects, such as pigeon racing, pigeon fanciers, pigeon shooting and pigeon control, however, it didn’t quite hit the mark with me. Maybe it is because I’m so pigeon crazy that I couldn’t help notice the lack of emotion on the author’s part. Maybe I’m wrong in saying this, since I know that his involvement with this book and pigeons has turned him into a pigeon advocate – and I love that!! However, this book feels more about the people who love and hate pigeons, rather than about pigeons themselves – therefore the title of the book is a bit misleading.

I felt that there were a few things that could have been left out of this book – particularly the chapter in which the author tries to talk to Mike Tyson about pigeons. That was a useless chapter; more about celebrity chasing than about pigeons. And although I was horrified to read about squab farming and how they are killed (I think the image the author has pushed into my brain will stay with me forever. It brings tears to my eyes now thinking about how these helpless birds are killed) – I think it is necessary for readers to hear about the horrific practice of squab farming. However, I think it was very tasteless to add a recipe on pigeon pot pie at the end of the chapter.

The author got some good quotes from pigeon people, such as the one by Dr. Jean Hansell, “People just don’t make the connection between the dove of peace and the pigeon in the street.” How true is that?! If everyone simply realised that a dove and a pigeon are one and the same then maybe they’d not view feral pigeons as vermin and dirty. I thought it is interesting how some pigeon fanciers think feral pigeons give their fancy pigeons a bad name. Fancy pigeons came from ferals so where’s the logic in that?

Then one of the pigeon fanciers, a man nicknamed Dr. Pigeon, states that maybe pigeons don’t feel pain since pigeons often don’t act like they are in pain after being hurt. No offence, but that’s a ridiculous statement. Pigeons have to have a strong survival instinct because of all the dangers in the world and cannot show weakness when hurt, so they don’t make a fuss about it. A lot of animal species are like this. Just because they’re not wailing and crying out in pain doesn’t mean they don’t feel pain.

One breed of pigeon I hadn’t heard of before I read about them in this book was of Parlor Rollers. These pigeons are bred to somersault backwards on the ground. People compete to see which pigeon can roll the furthest and the longest. I’ve seen a few videos of this on the net and have taken an instant dislike for such practices. Why breed a pigeon that has a need to roll on the ground for no purpose whatsoever? What’s the attraction? On top of that, I think it is inhumane. Poor pigeons – humans have bred this trait in them to the extreme. They don’t have much choice in the matter.

One good thing about this book is how he highlights the cruelty and uselessness of pigeon shooting. You can really see the ignorance and small-mindedness of the people who consider pigeon shooting as sport. I will never understand how the minds of these people work. How can someone consider shooting an animal as a victory?

As well as writing about pigeon shooting, the author writes extensively about pigeon pest control and the ineffective and inhumane methods pest control companies use. He talks to two prominent people who fight against these methods and promote humane and realistic methods of pigeon control. One such person, Dave Roth, who runs the Urban Wildlife Society, says something (talking about his loving relationship with one of his pigeons) that I wholly agree with: “If everybody could experience this kind of relationship with a bird, then we wouldn’t have all the problems we have today with the pigeon haters.” This is exactly how I feel about my pigeons.

Another pigeon advocate is Guy Merchant, the founder of the Pigeon Control Advisory Service (PiCAS). He 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.”

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.” Good solid statements that they can back up since they are the experts. Hooray!

The author writes about the dangers of over-feeding pigeons, how we can do more harm than good. I do agree. By supplying huge amounts of food we are helping pigeons breed in vast numbers that attract unwanted attention. That’s when pest control companies are called out. Good intentions can also be the problem.

I’m not sure I can describe why I am disappointed with this book, it could be because of the horrible things people do to pigeons that he’s written about. It’s left me feeling sad and maybe that has tainted my feelings about the book. If I am to be objective then this book has a good array of information of the positive things about pigeons and the negative side of humans, however, reading it may leave you a bit depressed if you are against animal-abuse and exploitation because the author has written about these more than anything else. Maybe a bit more about pigeon loving should be in the book.

Ps. Some might view this post as an attack on pigeon shooters, fanciers, etc., and I admit it is (although a much restrained attack). These are my views and many pigeon people might not like them but my interests in pigeons have nothing to do with how fast they can fly, how ‘pretty’ they look, how long they can roll or how good they might taste. I love pigeons simply because I have the good fortune to know that they are unique in character, have wonderful personalities and have a rich and diverse social life. They are unique beings and should be loved for just being themselves – not how much money they can make us.

Note: All quotes in this post are from the book: Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird, by Andrew D. Blechman, 2006.

Some brilliant videos of woodpigeons – parents and their young:

Georgie – For some reason George doesn’t seem to understand that the right side of the sofa is Elmo’s territory (see A complicated relationship). For the past week or so she has been constantly walking over to that side of the sofa, which annoys Elmo to no end. He chases her away and then a bit later she’ll try again. Sometimes it is to get to the peanuts (which I sometimes need to put in the middle of the sofa so that she can eat them in peace), but most of the time I think Georgie’s got some secret agenda.

Elmo – His blood blister is no longer soft but has dried up a bit. It doesn’t seem to bother him or cause him any pain. We don’t think we need to take Elmo to the vet because the blister seems to be going away, albeit slowly.

Dora – Today Dora’s babies (yes, I know, more babies! I try to keep on top of the situation but I just can’t keep up with Dora and her egg laying. She’s so sneaky!) came out from under the hutch when I fed the pigeons at work and were squeaking at her and the other pigeons. They are so adorable. I just love pigeon squabs! I watched Dora feed them and then they went back under the hutch to have a nap. I’ll try to get photos and a video of them next time.

Minnie – I was told today that Minnie is trying to start a family but thankfully her new carer has sneakily switched Minnie’s eggs with fake ones. One type of pigeon contraception at work! Since Minnie is so small I do wonder what her babies would look like. Would they be like her or more like Minnie’s mate who is of normal size? Maybe one day she’ll have a few oops babies and we’ll see.


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.

Mummy Dora raised two beautiful squabs with her mate, Pidge.

The babies grew quickly and healthily, however, about a month and a half after they had hatched I had to remove them and mix them with other young pigeons in another aviary because the adult pigeons were starting to have a go at the babies when they started to venture out of their nest. Poor Dora and Pidge had to say a quick goodbye and good luck to their big darlings.

P1010136Dora’s babies quickly settled in with the other juveniles and are now waiting to be released as a flock once the weather gets better (so much snow, rain and cold weather this winter in Kent). The group will be released at a place where there is another pigeon flock and where there is food for them.

Dora is already trying to start another family. She’s so maternal!


Dora and Pidge on the right and their babies on the left.

First installment of our Video Fridays, when we’ll post a different pigeon videoclip that we’ve found on the net. Enjoy!

This is wonderful:

So sweet. :D