Why are pigeons disdained?
April 19, 2006 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to buy a bird-feeder for my back garden, but I roll my eyes at the old lady down the road that throws bread crusts on to the pavement for pigeons? Am I a hypocrite?

What's the qualitative difference between feeding pigeons and blackbirds? I've always thought that encouraging pigeons is unhygienic, and have learnt that they can cause "ornithosis, encephalitis, Newcastle disease, histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, toxoplasmosis, pseudo-tuberculosis, pigeon coccidiosis and salmonella food poisoning." Blimey. But how common is catching this sort of thing from pigeons? Are there wider reasons why they're so unpopular apart from their orange-eyed ugliness? And why am I not worried about catching anything from wrens?
posted by calico to Pets & Animals (12 answers total)
I've often wondered the same thing. I love pigeons.
posted by aebaxter at 2:38 PM on April 19, 2006

I like pigeons - the pretty ones, at least. Half the ones in Chicago seem to have some sort of disease.

I think they are reviled in cities because of the problems they cause - lots of bird poop on people and infrastructure, and generally being so acclimated to people that they don't even get out of the way when you approach. But this could be true of any animal that gets used to a city setting.
posted by agregoli at 2:45 PM on April 19, 2006

I like pigeons too. When I look at them I don't see a flying rat, I see the beautiful iridescence of the feathers around their necks.

I have a bird table in my garden and it's visited by 3 different species of pigeons - a pair of big, fat wood pigeons, a pair of little delicate collared doves, and a pair of ordinary pigeons. I like to see them all. In amongst them, the bird table is visited by a huge variety of other birds (I live by a forest, so there's lots of birdlife).

I suppose I like the pigeons I see in my garden because there aren't flocks of them. A bird table is usually too small for more than a couple of pigeons to use at any one time, so by having a bird table, you might not get the pigeon traffic your neighbour gets from scattering bread on the ground.

Although city pigeons will eat just about anything (they seem to especially love cold vomit), I suspect that given the choice between bread they can peck at on the ground or food that they have to balance on a little platform to eat, they will choose the easy option each time, unless yours is the only available option.
posted by essexjan at 2:59 PM on April 19, 2006

Pigeons are also known as rock doves, because they're doves whose natural habitats were originally cliffs, often along coasts. Fortunately for pigeons, tall buildings in modern towns and cities are a good approximation of the cliffs they've evolved for.

So, over almost all of their current range, pigeons are a non-native species.

If you want to feel better about bird feeding, find out what birds are native to your area and give them the plants (for food and cover), bird houses, and feed that they specifically need. You'll be supporting local birds whose habitat may be limited instead of pigeons, which are a bit of an invasive species.
posted by driveler at 3:18 PM on April 19, 2006

All of the above are (mostly) true - in the states we have a huge pigeon called (appropriately enough) a Band-Tailed Pigeon. They're somewhat scarce in an urban environment, although we do see some stragglers. The first ones I saw hoovered up almost a half-pound of cracked corn in under 15 minutes (their crops must be HUGE).
Anyway, don't forget to put out some suet for the littler birds - especially in winter and during nesting season. It will provide a valuable source of protein that may be harder for them to find in an urban environment. We make our own by using about 6 cups of instant oatmeal (that's porrige to you Brits) mixed into a melted 1 pound block of lard. We pack it in layers (separated by hard plastic) in a recycled large yogurt container and freeze it. When we need one, just pop it out and into the suet feeder - the birds can pick at it pretty quickly (fat doesn't freeze that hard).
posted by dbmcd at 3:49 PM on April 19, 2006

Pigeons are pigs and will eat all your bird food, leaving none for the other birds in your neighborhood. So you'll need about 2-3 times more food than you otherwise would once the pigeons discover your feeder. And they will poop all over your porch where your feeder is hung, whereas other birds are mostly smart enough not to poop where they eat. I mean, it's kind of fun to run through a park and scare up a flock of pigeons, but if you want to see a little variety at your feeder, they are a nuisance.
posted by kindall at 10:10 PM on April 19, 2006

I object to the bread-on-the-sidewalk feeding mainly because my dog luurrrves bread and will lunge for any stray molecule left. Makes for a lurchy walk.

My community garden has a pretty decent variety of bird life -- swifts, jays, robins, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, chickadees, the occasional owl -- in addition to standard-issue pigeons and squirrels. When we put feeders in for a kids' birding project, there was a long and contentious debate over whether we should use baffles to keep out squirrels and pigeons. We tried the open-house method for one season and the kids' weekly reports contained 95% squirrels and pigeons. The baffles went in and the other birds returned.

I like the idea of encouraging native species of your area. The UK equivalent of the Audubon Society would have useful information. There must be at least one university with an ornithology specialty, and they'd be worth contacting, too.
posted by vetiver at 5:48 AM on April 20, 2006

You are not alone in not wanting pigeons: my father will shoo away pigeons (and, less frequently, jays and magpies) from his birdfeeders as he feels the smaller birds don't get to feed otherwise. (It's my secret pleasure when I housesit not to deter the pigeons as I find the distinctions arbitary.) There are lots of different birdfeeders out there, some of which are difficult for large birds to use. See the RSPB page about deterring unwelcome visitors. Don't forget to maintain good hygiene practices, it's not just pigeons that spread disease. For bird food and feeders, try Haiths.
posted by boudicca at 7:46 AM on April 20, 2006

Pigeons ARE pigs. I shoo them away from my house as well. If you are going to get a bird feeder make sure you get one that is "squirrel proof." They can be pricey but they are worth. Also, be careful not to place it too close to your house or you might be inviting mice and rats.
posted by govtdrone at 8:17 AM on April 20, 2006

I've often noticed that species that have prospered around people (without their consent) are subsequently reviled by people. I'll name a few: gulls, rats, mice, cockroaches, creeping charlie, and pigeons. Health concerns are often a good reason for these feelings (e.g. rats/plague, mice/hantavirus), but I think the root of it is that people don't like other species prospering outside of their control. Just a theory.

To my knowledge, histoplasmosis is the most real health concern with pigeons, but it's only a real issue if they, say, get into your attic and live there and thus infecting the air in your house.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:23 AM on April 20, 2006

Yeah, people are funny -- we change the habitat of huge areas and then dislike the rats, opossums, raccoons, suburban deer, and skunks that manage to get by in the new habitat. What's up with that? We'd rather be totally alone than be bothered at all, huh? (Same idea as mcstayinskool's.)

Squirrels ate a lot of my birdfeed, and they're cheeky, too, and not exactly endangered. No pigeons in mine, but other big, pushy birds. Maybe the only way to favor the little guys is to be vigilant, or to abandon the feeder approach and instead plant bushes the little ones like.

Or, what about a hummingbird feeder? (I had none of the rumored disease problems with mine, but I did clean it out once every few months.) Oh, funny story -- hummingbird feeders are filled with sugar water. Mine dripped a bit. One day I came home to find a squirrel licking the flowerpot beneath the feeder. Did you even know squirrels have tongues?
posted by salvia at 12:38 PM on April 20, 2006

I guess I don't love pigeons because they're non-native, like starlings and house sparrows. But I don't hate them.

At my house I have Mourning Doves. They're great birds, but they dominate the feeder and are mean to other birds in defending the food. So I have one feeder with just sunflower seeds in-the-shell, which the doves can't eat but the other birds can. Then I throw millet on the ground for the doves. Everybody's happy.

ps: it's really not healthy for birds to eat bread.
posted by shifafa at 8:24 PM on April 20, 2006

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