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The existence of wildlife in urban areas enriches our environment, bringing a little bit of nature to the bustle of the city. Abundant food and shelter and the absence of natural predators have allowed many wild creatures to successfully adapt to urban life. Although human-wildlife conflicts may occur, understanding the characteristics and needs of animals and birds can help us take a humane approach leading to a peaceful coexistence. Humane treatment of animals involves compassion, excludes cruelty and avoids pain, suffering or injury.
If there is ample food and a place to live, removing the resident animals or birds will just create a vacant territory for more to move into. In the long term, preventive measures are generally less costly and less stressful for both wildlife and the home or building owner than attempting removal or other unacceptable methods.
The first pigeons, or Rock Doves, were brought to North America by European settlers and are now found throughout the United States, southern Canada and Mexico. Pigeons have long been used to deliver messages, particularly during World War I and II. Scientists are baffled by their uncanny ability to find their way home over hundreds of miles.
Pigeons have become proficient city dwellers; however, this often brings them into conflict with homeowners, building owners and city officials as the birds seek food and shelter.
Pigeons are usually gray, but can have several colour phases, including reddish-brown, tan, mottled and white. They generally have two black bars on the wing, a broad black band on the tail, a whitish rump and red feet. Their average weight is 370 grams and average length is 28cm. When pigeons take off their wing tips touch, making a characteristic clicking sound. They feed not only on grains but also on the treats that humans provide such as bread, popcorn, peanuts, cake, etc.
Pigeons are non-migratory, flourishing in large cities throughout the world and other human-inhabited areas. Pigeons are very social birds and although they tend to breed and roost in groups, they are usually monogamous and pair for life unless one partner dies. Under ideal conditions, pigeons may live 15 to 20 years, although in the urban setting, they seldom live longer than three to four years.
A major advantage of city life is the presence of building ledges, rafters, beams, bridges and balconies that provide shelter and nesting sites. Most breeding occurs in the spring and summer months, but pigeons can and will breed in any season of the year. Both male and female birds guard the nest, which is a flimsy collection of loose sticks and twigs. One or two white eggs are laid per nesting and both parents incubate the eggs. Pigeons will raise several clutches per year, using the same nest site. Incubation lasts about three weeks and the nestlings are helpless, blind and down-covered when they hatch. They are brooded for at least a week by attentive parents and then leave the nest approximately four weeks after hatching.
Since pigeons are flock birds, they can become a problem to residents, building owners and urban municipalities. Their droppings can deface and accelerate deterioration of buildings, statues and automobiles. In addition, there are concerns about disease transmission from excrement.
As with all wildlife conflicts, the best solution is prevention. This requires a little understanding of the natural behaviour of the species. Pigeons are seeking food, nesting and roosting (or perching) sites. If these needs cannot be met, the pigeons will be forced to move elsewhere. The abundance of pigeons in cities and parks is largely attributable to people feeding them. These well-intentioned people, who regularly throw bread, birdseed or other scraps for pigeons, encourage more and more birds to flock to the area. As the number of birds dependent on these scraps increases, the individuals provide more food and the situation can quickly get out of hand.
The best approach to feeding is moderation. In situations where massive feeding has occurred, a gradual reduction should be introduced over several weeks. Then, people should be urged to provide only as much food as birds can consume in five to ten minutes. Feeding should not take place regularly at the same time and place as this conditions the birds to flock to the area at these times, making them dependent on this food. If moderate feeding cannot be enforced then feeding may have to be discontinued in order to get the pigeons to move elsewhere.
A common problem is pigeons roosting or nesting on building ledges, apartment balconies, rafters, roofs, eavestroughs, etc. This can be prevented by simply blocking access to these areas or by making them inhospitable. The following are some suggestions for building owners, municipalities and homeowners:
Cleanup: Droppings are not carried away from the nest site, as is the case with many bird species. Cleanup should be done with rubber gloves, a mask covering nose and mouth, and a scraper to avoid the risk of diseases such as toxoplasmosis, histoplasmosis and salmonella. Spray or moisten the dried droppings to prevent dust from floating around and being inhaled. To scrub or scrape soiled areas, add bleach or other disinfectant to a pail of water.
First of all, it is illegal under the Criminal Code to place poison where it can be accessed by domestic animals. Poisons generally cause a lingering, inhumane death with great suffering and, therefore, should not be used at all. Effects of poison on pigeons include general disorientation, trembling, vomiting, severe convulsions, internal hemorrhaging, acute respiratory distress and inability to fly, walk or stand. Since pigeons are part of the natural food chain, poisoning them frequently results in poisoning of prey species such as cats, foxes, owls, hawks, and peregrine falcons (which are endangered). Another serious concern is that poisons are hazardous to the environment.
Killing pigeons by other methods such as shooting is not a solution since this just creates a void for other birds to fill. Nature has its own system for regulating populations, usually much more efficiently than humans can destroy them. When a population is reduced, as long as the food and shelter are still available, other birds will flock to the area and the survival rate of newborns will rise so that the population will rebound.
An extremely inhumane method of pigeon control is the use of an adhesive substance or adhesive strips installed on ledges where pigeons like to roost. As with glueboards used for mice and rats, these devices cause tremendous suffering when the pigeons (or other birds) land on the strips and become more and more coated with glue as they struggle to free themselves. They will peck at the glue so their beaks will also become stuck and they will suffer a lingering death.
As with other wild animals, live trapping is not an effective solution to pigeon problems. Trapping can cause serious injury as the birds try to escape. Also, pigeons’ homing instincts make trapping and relocation efforts almost futile as they will return home from surprisingly great distances.
Prevention of pigeon problems through good property maintenance and management is the only permanent solution. The removal of individual birds without taking steps to eliminate access to roosting sites and food sources will just leave a vacant territory for more pigeons to inhabit.
Pest control companies should be avoided as they frequently recommend poisons, sticky glue and other short-term methods. This industry is largely unregulated and very competitive, so if you have exhausted other options and feel you need to enlist the services of an outside company, do some research first. You should ask for previous work references and check with your local humane society or SPCA and the Better Business Bureau. Ask specific questions about the methods they plan to use and make sure you have a firm agreement that no birds or other animals will be harmed.
If you find an injured pigeon, you should take it to a wildlife rehabilitation centre if there is one in your area. To find out, contact your local humane society, SPCA or the Ministry of Natural Resources. Wildlife rehabilitation centres provide care for injured and orphaned wildlife until the animals can be released back to the wild. They may also offer advice on addressing human-wildlife conflicts. These centres are generally non-profit or charitable organizations dedicated to helping wildlife in need.
The most effective approach to solving pigeon problems is generally a combination of reducing food availability and eliminating or reducing access to nesting and roosting sites. Since a major source of food in urban areas is from people feeding birds, the first step is to inform and educate the public regarding the concerns about pigeon overpopulation and how they can help. The goal should be to reduce the number of pigeons and prevent excessive concentrations of birds, rather than to eliminate them. Remember, as with other wildlife conflicts, removing individual birds merely leaves a vacancy for others to inhabit.
Pigeons and other animals in our cities can be entertaining to watch and give us a glimpse of nature at our doorstep. Please be respectful and patient when problems arise. Do not disturb them when they have young, and employ only the passive methods described in this factsheet to address problems.
Note: If you find a pigeon with a band on its leg, please report it to the Canadian Racing Pigeon Union so that they can try to trace its owner.
They can be reached at:
4500 Blakie Road, Unit 107
London, Ontario M6L 1G5
The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies thanks the Wild Bird Care Centre in Ottawa for their generous assistance in developing this factsheet
© Canadian Federation of Humane Societies 2001