Pigeon Problem
November 11, 2021 8:51 AM   Subscribe

We have recently purchased a bird feeder for our backyard. Many birds come to eat at the feeder, and we enjoy watching the different types of birds that come to visit. Lately, we’ve had new bird visitors arrive. Four to five pigeons at a time will arrive and start pecking around for seed underneath the feeder. The sight of the big birds scares the other birds away.

Factoids that may or may not make a difference: The bird feeder is on a pole in a yard full of river rock. We are planning to remove the rock next summer and put in a native landscape, but this is what we have for now. We also have cottontail bunnies that come to eat fallen seed once in a while. The food we put in the feeder is run of the mill grocery store bird food - small seeds, and sunflower seeds.

We do not want the pigeons and their big pigeon poop in our backyard, scaring away our pretty little birds. Yes, we are being anti-pigeon and we know this is wrong. But really. Would you want pigeons in your backyard? Any ideas on how to scare the pigeons away, but keep the little birds coming to the feeder?
posted by furtheryet to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
If the pigeons are too heavy to land on the actual feeder, could you MacGuyver something to catch the stray seeds so there is nothing on the ground?
posted by Glinn at 9:00 AM on November 11, 2021

There are a variety of bird/cat deterrent mats you could place on the ground underneath the feeder (basically dull plastic spikes in a grid or strip pattern), but these would also deter the rabbits.
posted by aramaic at 9:13 AM on November 11, 2021

I am not an expert but I had a backyard feeder. Different birds like different seeds and the nice songbirds you want to attract will pick through and toss down the "fillers" they don't want to eat. Then the pigeons will come and eat the discarded food. So you might have better luck with a higher quality food, perhaps 100% sunflower seeds or other songbird foods without corn or millet.
posted by muddgirl at 9:14 AM on November 11, 2021 [13 favorites]

I know this is an unsatisfactory answer, but if you could learn to tolerate the pigeons now, it’ll save you years of fussing around before you eventually come to the same conclusion anyway.

I think the only way to keep larger animals and birds off your bird food is a physical barrier: squirrel baffles work pretty well to keep squirrels off poles, but for large birds you need some kind of cage. For example, my mother has some bird feeders in an old dog crate on a table, which small birds fly straight through but keeps out squirrels, pigeons, parakeets and whatnot. Similarly you could have a cage on the ground under the pole, which small ground feeding birds could get into but not pigeons… but the more thorough you want to be, the bigger the structure you have to put up with in the garden.

Oh and incidentally, pigeons prefer to feed on the ground but they are capable of hanging onto a feeder if it’s the only way to get food from it.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 9:20 AM on November 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Yes if I were trying hard to get rid of the local pigeons, I'd go for a caged feeder (something like one of these) that only small birds can use, plus trying different kinds of seed until you figure out what's boring to the pigeons.

That'll limit some of your other big birds as well, but maybe that's an acceptable trade?

(Instead, because our main feeder is window-mounted and I'm not aware of any caged window-mount feeders, we've just made peace with our visiting pigeons. They keep the cat entranced, so they can stay. The little birds still come by when the pigeons aren't around. Making peace with the pigeons may be an option to consider.)
posted by Stacey at 9:25 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh and incidentally, pigeons prefer to feed on the ground but they are capable of hanging onto a feeder if it’s the only way to get food from it.

We had/have a similar problem. I'm anti-pigeon too and I don't care if it's wrong. (There, I said it.) Anyway, we were able to mitigate, if not solve, the problem, by dumping a small pile of birdseed in the driveway, twenty or so feet away from the feeder. The pigeons mostly focus on that and leave the hanging feeder to the littler, cuter birds. Basically we do a driveway dump whenever we fill the feeder. As an added bonus, cardinals and the occasional blue jay visit the driveway seed pile occasionally. It's a win-win!
posted by scratch at 9:33 AM on November 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

We have these things attached to our bird feeders to catch food which would otherwise drop to the ground and attract rats. They work for that purpose but pigeons do use them as a perch sometimes.
posted by rongorongo at 9:41 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

It's hard to get rid of pigeons. It's also unlikely that pigeons on the ground are scaring off smaller birds since they exist in different "planes" of bird feeding. I've got mourning doves, not quite the same, the scourge here is blue jays. My suggestions are threefold

- get your feeder in a place that is further from the pigeons (like higher up, hanging from a window, something else)
- seed catcher to keep the seeds from scattering on the ground (various options available)
- switching to food pigeons don't eat. They tend to not really go for suet and they don't eat thistle/niger which attracts a lot of smaller birds.

I like scratch's decoy option as well especially if you can do it without attracting OTHER things you might not want (rats, notably but also depends how you feel about squirrels). This book is a wholly other direction but it night amuse.
posted by jessamyn at 10:09 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nthing to switch to "no waste" bird food mixes, or the specialized seeds jessamyn mentions. The small songbirds are likely digging through cheaper stuff now (like millet) to get to the few quality seeds you have mixed in and knocking the unwanted seed to the ground. The higher-quality mixes can end up being only negligibly more expensive since the waste is reduced. Using a tube feeder rather than a platform feeder can also help.

Your long term plan is the best! Native plants will attract songbirds and replace the need for a feeder at all.
posted by veery at 10:37 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Another vote for nyjer seed. Neither squirrels nor pigeons like it. You'll need a different sort of feeder, because of the size. We used sock-style, which little songborbs can land directly on the woven material. We're also in SoCal, and didn't need to consider the elements. There are all-metal feeders that are also great! Here's an overview.
Story time! My mom was SO MAD at the park pigeons that would come and hog everything that she would capture them and try and take them away to another town and release them. She'd mark them with a dab of food dye to see how long it took them to make it back. They came back, reliably, within a day, every time. Once she drove them two hours and three counties away, in the middle of the night, and they *still* came back. She ended up taking a 6 or 9 month break from feeding anything other than the hummingbirds, and basically reset their feeding patterns. After that it was only the nyjer seed, nectar, and mealworms.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:28 PM on November 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

After we got rid of our old feeders, we waited a few weeks then switched to a no-sunflower-seed mix and bought smaller feeders. The flood of pigeons stopped.
posted by telophase at 12:36 PM on November 11, 2021

I like Safflower seed for my birdfeeders - squirrels don't like it, starlings don't like it, house sparrows will take it or leave it. Chipmunks will eat it (or at least fill up their cheeks with it and take it home)

But definitely switch to a single-seed feed - a lot of the problem is the little birds throwing the stuff they don't like on the ground.
posted by mskyle at 12:49 PM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

We feed a homemade mix of Nyger and safflower and get almost no pigeons or doves. Also helps because the squirrels don’t like it although they do go for our suet feeder.
posted by leslies at 1:49 PM on November 11, 2021

One of the things that helped me be a little more tolerant of the pigeons in my yard is to remember that taxonomically, pigeons are no different from doves. Telling myself that I have a yard full of doves helps. (Not much, but it helps.)
posted by xedrik at 2:20 PM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone! What a great bunch of answers! I'm going to read the book about pigeons, so I can lighten up on the little pests. I'm also going to switch over to the nyger and safflower seed. It appears that there are a lot of different feeders to explore as well. And finally, I'm going to get going on my plans for the backyard native habitat. Thank you all for your time, wisdom, and good humor! Much appreciated!
posted by furtheryet at 2:38 PM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

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