Pigeons are among the most widespread and familiar of all birds. Everyone knows what a pigeon is. While they are just a normal piece of the background in just about any major city in the world, they do not belong there. Most of the pigeons that you see on a day to day are not truly wild, but feral.
What is a Feral Pigeon?
A feral animal is an animal that is descended from a domestic species but has reverted to living in the wild without the aide of humans. Pigeons were domesticated from rock doves several thousand years ago, originally as a meat source. Native to parts of Europe, Northern Africa, and South Asia, as humans spread across the globe they brought their domestic pigeons with them. Over time, birds would escape and establish breeding populations. As a result, there are nearly 30 million in Europe alone. Pigeons were first brought to North America in 1606.
Why Pigeons Like Cities
Pigeons thrive in human environments. They naturally roost on cliffs, for which rooftops and gutters make excellent substitutes. Their diet consists mostly of seeds, berries, and insects, all of which are commonly found around human habitation. However, being generalists they are quick to take advantage of human leftovers. Many people like to feed pigeons pieces of bread or birdseed.
Feral pigeons do, unfortunately cause issues for people. Being an invasive species, they do potentially compete with native species for resources, although there is little evidence to show they cause major issues for other species. Many consider pigeons to be dirty animals and they do carry a variety of diseases, including psittacosis, salmonella, and paratyphoid fever. In areas where pigeons congregate in numbers, the droppings cause pollution and their claws can cause considerable property damage.
Dealing with Feral Pigeons
Several methods have been used in an attempt to keep the feral pigeon population in check. Poison is typically ineffective as pigeons breed extremely quickly and their numbers do not usually decrease. Poisoning campaigns also often cause collateral damage as other species eat the poison. Some cities have actively introduced some of the pigeons’s natural predators, such as the peregrine falcon, into urban areas. Perhaps the most successful way to control pigeon numbers is to control their food supply. Many cities have limitations or bans on feeding birds and research has shown that this does have a negative effect on their population. Other techniques have included raiding nests and replacing the eggs with decoys, and the use of avian contraceptives.
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For info on other feral and invasive species, check out our Living With Wildlife Center!
For info on how feral and invasive species are affecting native wildlife, check out our Endangered Species Center!