The common pigeon was introduced into the United States as a domesticated bird, but many escaped and formed feral populations. The pigeon is now the most common bird pest associated with people. Pigeons inhabit lofts, steeples, attics, caves, and ornate architectural features of buildings where openings allow for roosting, loafing, and nest building. Nests consist of sticks, twigs, grasses, and their feces clumped together to form a crude platform.
Structures inhabited by pigeons can sustain damage from droppings and can harbor disease. The droppings can also make structural surfaces slick and hazardous to walk or climb on. Washing acidic accumulations of droppings to prevent structural damage can cost in excess of $10,000 per year. Droppings, resulting in expensive replacement costs, can adversely affect the longevity of industrial roofing materials. Employee health claims and lawsuits resulting from diseases or injuries attributed to pigeons can easily exceed $100,000.
An integrated pigeon management program incorporating non-lethal and possibly lethal control techniques is well worth the investment when considering the economic damage and health threats caused by large populations of pigeons.
Pigeons have a feeding range of 2-3 miles on average. They live 3 to 15 years. Captive pigeons have lived 30 years. Hawks, Owls, and Man are their major predators. A population of pigeons usually consists of equal numbers of males and females. In urban populations, pigeons seldom live more than 3 or 4 years. Natural mortality factors, such as predation by mammals and other birds, diseases, and stress due to lack of food and water, reduce pigeon populations by approximately 30% annually.
Pigeons (Columbia livia) typically have a gray body with a whitish rump, two black bars on the secondary wing feathers, a broad black band on the tail, and red feet. Their body color can vary from gray to white, tan, and black. The average weight is 13 ounces (369 g) and the average length is 11 inches (28 cm). Pigeons have a 30 inch wingspan. When pigeons take off, their wing tips touch, making a characteristic clicking sound. When pigeons glide, their wings are raised at an angle.
Pigeons are monogamous. The male provides nesting material and guards the female and the nest. 8 to 12 days after mating, the females lay 1 or 2 eggs, which hatch after 18 days. The young are fed pigeon milk, a liquid-solid substance secreted in the crop of the adult (both male and female) that is regurgitated. Pigeons double in size the first week and are full size in 28 days. They can fly at 37 days and adults fly 36 mph on average and up to 60 mph. The young leave the nest at 4 to 6 weeks of age. More eggs are laid before the first clutch leaves the nest. Males can breed at 3-4 months of age; females at 6 months. Breeding may occur at all seasons, but peak reproduction occurs in the spring and fall. One couple can produce 2 to 12 pigeons per year.
Pigeons are highly dependent on humans to provide them with food and sites for roosting, loafing, and nesting. They are commonly found around farmyards, grain elevators, feed mills, parks, city buildings, bridges, railroad tracks and other structures.
Pigeons are primarily grain and seedeaters and will subsist on spilled or improperly stored grain. They also will feed on garbage, livestock manure, insects, or other food materials provided for them intentionally or unintentionally by people. In fact, in some urban areas the feeding of pigeons is considered a form of recreation. They require about 1 ounce (30 ml) of water daily and eat about one pound of grains and seeds per week. They rely mostly on freestanding water but they can also use snow to obtain water.
Pigeon droppings deface and accelerate the deterioration of buildings and increase the cost of maintenance. Large amounts of droppings may kill vegetation and produce an objectionable odor. Pigeon manure deposited on park benches, statues, cars, and unwary pedestrians is aesthetically displeasing. Around grain handling facilities, pigeons consume and contaminate large quantities of food destined for human or livestock consumption.
Pigeons may carry and spread diseases to people and livestock through their droppings. They are known to carry or transmit pigeon ornithosis, encephalitis, Newcastle disease, cryptococcosis, toxoplasmosis, salmonella food poisoning, and several other diseases. Additionally, under the right conditions pigeon manure may harbor air-borne spores of the causal agent of histoplasmosis, a systemic fungus disease that can infect humans.
The ectoparasites of pigeons include various species of fleas, lice, mites, ticks, and other biting insects, some of which readily bite people. Some insects that inhabit the nests of pigeons are also fabric pests and/or pantry pests. The northern fowl mite found on pigeons is an important poultry pest.
Pigeons located around airports can also be a threat to human safety because of potential bird-aircraft collisions, and are considered a medium priority hazard to jet aircraft by the US Air Force.
Feral pigeons are considered noxious birds. Federal law does not protect feral pigeons and most states do not afford them protection. State and local laws should be consulted, however, before any control measures are taken. Some cities are considered bird sanctuaries that provide protection to all species of birds.