Pigeon Toes
June 15, 2007 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Why do so many pigeons in San Francisco have mangled feet? And why is it usually only one foot? Is this specific to SF, or do you notice it in other pigeon-heavy areas?
posted by FuManchu to Pets & Animals (24 answers total)
Paris has this, while NY doesn't seem to. I have no idea why.
posted by milarepa at 8:52 AM on June 15, 2007

It's often the outcome of a staph infection, pigeon breeders refer to it as "bumblefoot". Their living conditions make bumblefoot endemic in many urban pigeon populations.
posted by jamaro at 8:56 AM on June 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Pigeons in some areas of NYC have this. I used to live in Astoria, which has a large population of mangled-foot pigeons. I always thought maybe inbreeding.
posted by Mavri at 9:05 AM on June 15, 2007

London here, more mangled feet, but I've seen it on more than just a single foot. I always assumed it was due to some kind of malfunctioning pigeon deterrence device - interesting about staph.
posted by Mutant at 9:06 AM on June 15, 2007

I believe the answer to your second question is that if they had two injured feet, they'd more likely be dead.
posted by one_bean at 9:06 AM on June 15, 2007

Amsterdam has them too - actually, I had assumed that these pigeons got their feet run over by bicycles, but I suppose "bumblefoot" is more likely.
posted by mateuslee at 9:12 AM on June 15, 2007

Same in London, some of the anti-climb paint and other urban treatment agents slowly corrode the bird's feet. Not sure if this is the same issue, however.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:13 AM on June 15, 2007

More on bumblefoot. Take a look at the feet of those little blackbirds you see in the city; many of them also have it.
posted by jamaro at 9:17 AM on June 15, 2007

DC here, as nasty and needle-filled as the parks are here, I don't see too many mangled ones.

In Beijing you didn't see many mangled ones either but there the pigeons you see probably belong to someone and get better medical care and nutrition than many of the people on the street!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:20 AM on June 15, 2007


I'm not sure but I've been told that there are some traps aimed at pigeons in order to lower their number. Unfortunately, those traps sometimes hurt the foot of the pigeon and thus start an infection or a wound that's the sign of the escape.
posted by nicolin at 9:25 AM on June 15, 2007

At the University of Washington a few years ago, I noticed that beds of very fine stainless steel spikes (like those beds of nails swamis use, but with much thinner, longer nails-- wires, really-- set at a 60 degree angle) had been installed on the ledges of many buildings to keep pigeons from perching and soiling things with their droppings, I concluded. I started looking around at the pigeons on campus, and I did see a lot of clubbed feet, so I complained to the UW about the gratuitous cruelty of these arrangements, but got nowhere.

As I write this, I realize I should have tried to get the Audubon Society and the ASPCA involved, but I didn't.
posted by jamjam at 9:57 AM on June 15, 2007

I never noticed any in Thessaloniki, Greece (the "second city"), where there are lots of pigeons, and haven't been in Athens long enough to have a great pigeon overview, but certainly haven't noticed any here so far.

I don't remember that problem in New Orleans, either. New Orleans and Thessaloniki have (or, rather, had) approximately the same metro population, though Thessaloniki is more densely urban. Athens is right up there with the most densely populated cities, so I'll keep an eye out for bumblefoot.
posted by taz at 10:00 AM on June 15, 2007

Geneva, Switzerland and Lyon, France: Pigeons with mutant and missing toes abound.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:06 AM on June 15, 2007

I have seen a lot of seagulls with a missing foot also.
posted by Iron Rat at 10:16 AM on June 15, 2007

Dublin here. All our pigeons seem to be partial amputees. And for the record, I've seen pigeons with both feet severely damaged, still leppin' about. I always thought that they fought each other.
posted by tiny crocodile at 10:41 AM on June 15, 2007

I see this in NYC all the time. Is one of the few things that make me not want to finish my sandwich at an outdoor cafe. The worst ones still have the twine or bits of plastic or wire wrapped around their toes, cutting off circulation.
posted by np312 at 10:44 AM on June 15, 2007

I think this is pretty common everywhere. Definitely true in Hawaii as well.

Here's this question as posed and answered at Google Answers. Of course, the citation links are now dead, but the relevant portions are excerpted.

I was sure this was a "Straight Dope" question, too, but can't find it in the archives.
posted by pzarquon at 11:21 AM on June 15, 2007

i thought this was unique to philadelphia.
posted by timory at 12:00 PM on June 15, 2007

I can tell you that its big here in Tokyo, it seems like at least half or more have it, I always thought it was a Japanese genetic thing. oh well
posted by nintendo at 12:26 PM on June 15, 2007

I noticed this while in Boston but I haven't seen any here in Houston.
posted by nimsey lou at 12:52 PM on June 15, 2007

Lots of pigeon Ahabs in ATL, as well.
posted by Haruspex at 1:57 PM on June 15, 2007

New York here, I have a splendid collection of pigeon toes.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:05 PM on June 15, 2007

Yes, deformed bird feet are revolting but none of the comments in this thread indicate how prevalent they are. I've noticed 1 or 2 in my city but from on hindsight I've either been blind to the problem or my city doesn't have the problem.

What somebody needs to do is set up a "bird feet" Flickr group. Members go out and submit photographs of the feet of the first 10 groups of distinct pigeons (or other ground birds) that they come across.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:47 PM on June 15, 2007

Huh, live and learn. I always thought the reason was the same for birds as for chicks.
posted by rob511 at 7:15 PM on June 15, 2007

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