Can I eat a city pigeon?
February 13, 2009 8:44 PM   Subscribe

I live in Phoenix. There are all these pigeons around, including a flock that sits on my roof most days. It seems like I should be able to eat them once in a while. What would be some issues I might need to consider before doing that?

I'm specifically worried about whether disease is actually an issue, and also if there are laws about just grabbing free-range city critters and frying them up. There are probably other things I'm missing.
posted by TheManChild2000 to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
People eat pigeons in a lot of countries. Anthony Bourdain talks about this on the Egypt episode of No Reservations before he chows down on one.

You might want to check this out for basic info, if you haven't already.
posted by fructose at 8:54 PM on February 13, 2009

You would probably get a cruelty to animals charge against you so be discrete.
posted by Iron Rat at 8:55 PM on February 13, 2009

Eat the baby pigeons. They are called squab. And have been eaten for a very long time.
posted by JayRwv at 8:59 PM on February 13, 2009

Response by poster: Just for clarification, I'm not talking about any farm-raised bird. I'm assuming that restaurants selling squab get them from a bird farm.

And I've tried Googling this and come up with a lot of speculation, a lot of discussion about birds that were raised for food, and that Wired article all over the place... but no actual answers.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 9:05 PM on February 13, 2009

Best answer: You may want to chat with the Pigeon Guy. Their comment on health:

There are over sixty bacterial diseases, viruses, funguses and parasites associated with pigeons. The most problematic for humans would be Histoplasmosis and Cryptococcus. In addition there are: Trichomonisasis, Encephalitis, Meningitis, Pasteurellosis, Blastomycosis, Sarcosporidiosias, Toxoplasmosis, Candidiasis, Lisreiosis, Vibriosis, Salmonella and Paratyphoid. The National Institute of Health has reported a potentially blinding eye condition that probably results from the fungus. In some areas such as parts of Illinois, up to 80% of the population is reported to have been infected at some point.

According to the Washington State DFW, pigeons are excluded from the Migratory Bird Act:

Their nests, eggs, young, and/or adults may be removed or destroyed at any time. No permit is required.

And generally what you find about pigeons indicates they are most often treated as a pest and so you have exterminators and wildlife removal services dealing with them. Trapping is probably fine, but of course any type of shooting in an urban area will be a no-no.
posted by dhartung at 9:23 PM on February 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

In addition to the fantastic array of hideous diseases listed by dhartung, bear in mind also that pigeons are frequently the target of major official poisoning campaigns. At least some universities have done this. Also, look up "arizona poisoning pigeons". The first hit is for a Maricopa county program from the '90s, another indicates that it is a legal and approved method of pigeon control in the state.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:41 PM on February 13, 2009

I ate pigeon once while in China. It tasted like... like anything else, really.

Bang for your cluck, I'd just go to KFC if I were you.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:14 PM on February 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In case my point wasn't clear, pigeons that eat the poison don't necessarily die; they can build up tolerances or live with accumulated sublethal amounts in their tissues. So just because a pigeon is alive when you find it doesn't mean it doesn't have something -- chemical or bacteriological -- that you don't want in you. And while cooking really well -- so well that you might as well be eating any overcooked bird for all the flavor you'll notice -- will kill most bacteria and render viruses inert (you hope) it won't get rid of poisons.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:19 PM on February 13, 2009

I thought about this for a while pretty seriously. What finally put me off the idea was seeing them drink out of oil-slicked rain puddles on parking lots and in gutters. Just think of the chemicals stored in their body.

Source: my imagination and supposition
posted by salvia at 10:47 PM on February 13, 2009

They're called flying rats for a reason. They are dirty creatures. This sounds like a bad idea.
posted by gnutron at 11:22 PM on February 13, 2009

I would do it- just don't let some old busybody and their four-year-old see you nabbing a bird, and be sure to cook it very thoroughly.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:10 AM on February 14, 2009

Squab is delicious. But: eating CITY pigeons? No. Freaking. Way. Seriously, don't.

They're called flying rats for a reason. They are dirty creatures.
No animal is dirty in its natural environment. Pigeons are no exception.
posted by _dario at 12:29 AM on February 14, 2009

"Natural" is getting to be a pretty loaded word. We are a pigeon's natural habitat. They've thrived on human society. And they are dirty, because we're dirty. But then, dirty is what you make of it. A vulture sticking its head up a gazelle's ass in the middle of the desert to eat its soft gibblets... that's not dirty, right, that's "natural." But a pigeon who got pepsi all over it in the McDonald's dumpster... that's certainly dirty, right?

My point is you ought to consider what they live on (human refuse) and if that's something you want to eat. Our garbage can actually be pretty unsafe stuff to live on. The little flappers could be toxic to some degree eighteen different ways.
posted by scarabic at 1:06 AM on February 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

I would shy away from it. I knew someone who once ate a seagull in a fit of hunger and... Well, they didn't so much eat it, as have a bite and decide that they weren't that hungry after all. You see, they taste like what they eat. And they eat garbage.

I imagine that pigeons would be about the same. Health advisories (which I would treat seriously!) aside, I can't imagine them tasting like anything but disgusting.
posted by vernondalhart at 1:29 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've eaten pigeon a few times. Delicious. But city pigeons are a different kettle of fish than the pigeons that you get in restaurants/butchers shops (wood pigeons).

Feral pigeons are known to carry some potentially quite serious bacterial diseases like salmonella and psittacosis. I don't think there have been many (any?) confirmed cases of humans contracting these diseases from city pigeons - but then not many people eat them.

To my mind the question totally depends on what your pigeons have been eating. In rural and semi-rural areas feral pigeons are probably no worse than their more appetising counterparts with a diet rich in grains/seeds. In the city though they'll have been eating discarded food (meat, bread, etc.): consequently, I bet they taste awful. If you do go ahead and eat any, make sure you cook 'em properly to kill the bacteria.
posted by jonesor at 6:41 AM on February 14, 2009

This is pure speculation, since I've never eaten free-range city pigeons. But I think you would want to do the same thing with them that is sometimes done with other free-range animals with poor diets: capture, cage, feed a controlled diet for a while, and eat them only when you are convinced that anything yucky has been flushed out. (The caging and feeding serves also to fatten them up, just like small children in fairy tales, giving you more meat for your pigeon pie.)

Pigeons taste really nice, though, and have been kept for food (and manure collection) for many centuries. So there's nothing wrong with eating pigeons in general, though your specific city pigeons may not be the healthiest specimens to choose from. If you did decide to raise a few in a coop (often done on rooftops in cities), there are plenty of farms ready to sell you breeding stock to get your boutique poultry operation started.
posted by Forktine at 6:56 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pigeons aren't subject to the same wildlife-conservation restrictions because they're an introduced species in North America (they're European rock doves).

But the issue is safety and quality control: since you can't control what they eat, you aren't in control of what you eat when you eat them. A food animal's diet does matter. If only it were just human garbage.

Note, though, that just about any animal with a cloaca carries Salmonella; that's a cleanliness-and-contamination issue (it's spread by fecal-oral contact), not a species issue.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:02 AM on February 14, 2009

It's like comparing fish that's farmed in a fresh, clean environment, to a fish that's been living in a sewer chocked river for its entire life. Would you eat the latter? Probably not. Same deal applies to the pigeons.
posted by scarello at 7:23 AM on February 14, 2009

You see, they taste like what they eat. And they eat garbage.

Your intentions and motivations are not entirely clear. If this isn't a poverty issue, you could train your local rooftop flock to rely on the lovely birdseed / stale bread / non-garbage food that you provide in mass quantities.

Wait a couple of months, till there is a nice big flock of healthy plump local pigeons that you are fairly sure have been using your non-garbage food as their main grub. Set up some type of trap / net in the spot they are accustomed to eating.

Release any obviously sick / deformed ones. Kill and eat the plump healthy looking ones.

Bon apetit!
posted by Meatbomb at 7:28 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

my gilfriend and her roommate ate the UVic rabbits while in residence there. if pigeons don't work out there are always other options!
posted by klanawa at 8:16 AM on February 14, 2009

People eat pigeons in a lot of countries. Anthony Bourdain talks about this on the Egypt episode of No Reservations before he chows down on one.
I've eaten pigeon in Egypt. Not a whole lot of meat on one.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:15 AM on February 14, 2009

Echoing what others have said, this seems to me more as an excellent premise for an episode of House than a solid plan for saving at the supermarket checkstand, at least so far as trying to prey on existing urban pigeon colonies is concerned--even if you manage to produce a domesticated flock from them and cull the obviously ill individuals.

You could get your own birds or other animals from a safe source and then raise/breed/keep them--as mentioned--but that's a different thing entirely, as I think the question is motivated by curiousity about using large urban colonies as a self-replenishing food source.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:06 AM on February 14, 2009

Response by poster: Ok, not only am I now convinced purely from a logic point of view, I also got Google to finally turn up some stuff.

This page gave me the following quote:
Milt Friend, a wildlife expert from the National Wildlife Health Center, says that city pigeons are notorious for having large amounts of lead in their bodies. They accumulate lead not only by breathing polluted air, but also by ingesting everything from paint chips to roadside dust, which also includes such nasty stuff as cadmium particles from vehicle tires. (For this reason, the birds have been used to study environmental contaminants in cities.)
The comment about the NWHC led me to their site, and eventually this page (warning: pdf), and eventually this quote:
Chlamydiosis has since become known as a serious disease of domestic turkeys in the United States, of domestic ducks and geese in central Europe, and as a common infection of domestic and feral pigeons worldwide. The feral city pigeon is the most common carrier of Chlamydia sp. within the United States.
So, yeah, the magic combination of lead poisoning and chlamydia is good enough for me to stick to regular ol' farmer-bought bird food product.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 11:10 AM on February 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

People eat pigeons in a lot of countries. Anthony Bourdain talks about this on the Egypt episode of No Reservations before he chows down on one.

I've eaten pigeon before back home in the UK. It was fine and, yeah, it's quite common in a lot of places. None of these pigeons though are caught on a city rooftop etc. etc.
posted by ob at 12:08 PM on February 14, 2009

It's like comparing fish that's farmed in a fresh, clean environment, to a fish that's been living in a sewer chocked river for its entire life. Would you eat the latter? Probably not. Same deal applies to the pigeons.

The conclusion is right but the premises of the analogy are not --

"Farmed salmon have significantly higher levels of PCBs (7x), dioxin, and other cancer causing agents over wild salmon." [sic]

"Wild Alaskan salmon is nearly perfect to eat, with high omega-3 content, low mercury contamination and sustainable fishing practices. Also, smaller farm-raised fish such as tilapia are safe to eat."
posted by salvia at 12:54 PM on February 14, 2009

posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 5:30 PM on February 14, 2009

I wouldn't touch one for the same reason I won't eat fish out of the river in the city I live in. I'll eat wild caught fish when I'm camping but I sure as hell won't eat fish out of the scuzzy heavy metal filled local rivers.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 9:14 PM on February 14, 2009

Have you thought about eating the coyotes instead?
posted by ph00dz at 8:25 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't bioaccumulative poisons tend to get more accumulated the farther up the food chain you go? If those swarms of city pigeons were good to eat, you'd think there'd already be more birds of prey successfully doing so.
posted by roystgnr at 9:09 AM on February 15, 2009

I saw a city pigeon eating paint chips not two hours ago. Confirmation of that Gourmet article. Ew.
posted by doift at 12:56 PM on February 15, 2009

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