Are Pigeons Dirty | Are they really Rats With Wings?

These days’ pigeons are seen by most of society as dirty, disease-ridden birds, but they have been given a bad rap. Are Pigeons Dirty? Really?!!

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Intro Video - Backtobirds

There isn’t evidence to support pigeons being dirtier or more of a health risk than any other bird or wild animal. Most wild and even domesticated animals carry diseases, and pigeons are no worse. 

There are quite a few misconceptions about pigeons. These gentle and personable birds being labeled as “filthy rats with wings” is one of them. 

Friend to Foe 

Throughout history, pigeons were seen as intelligent, peaceful animals, and they were loved and kept as pets. 

During the 1950s, however, attitudes and perceptions of them began to change. Perception changed when it was discovered that pigeons could carry diseases.

In the 1960s, shortly after this discovery was made, a newspaper headline caught everyone’s attention and called pigeons “rats with wings.” That name given to them unfairly has followed them around ever since. 

Politics Behind Calling Pigeons Dirty

In the 1950s, a newspaper called pigeons “rats with wings”, and since then, these intelligent birds are seen as scavengers and dirty beings that carry diseases.

The truth is that humans bred pigeons for their use. First, they were an ancient delicacy, and later they were messengers.

As the world progressed and man developed modern communication services, the pigeons were suddenly a burden. The “civil” society stopped eating them.

But these birds are intelligent. They adapted, and now they live in the city like it is their natural habitat. Soon, they started breeding 4-5 times a year which was 2-3 times a year two and three decades back.

Their number increased, and they were seen on every roof, terrace, building, and any place where they could build a nest. Unlike the wild, there are few airborne predators in the city, so they are safe from them.

As they live in buildings, homes, garages, and all over the city, they drop, and their droppings mess with the aesthetic look of the city, making them the ultimate villains.

Today, these birds fight humans to survive as they are now claimed to be dirty and disease carriers.

But nature has its ways, and pigeons know how to keep themselves clean even after rummaging through dustbins and garbage dumps.

Related Read: Do Pigeons Carry Diseases | Will they spread to humans? Health risks from pigeons:

How Can Feral Pigeons Be Clean?

You must have seen pigeons silently pecking at their feathers. They clean themselves. Like humans, pigeons also take regular baths. Wherever they find water, they quickly take a dip and clean themselves. 

Some birds also rely on the sand bath. The tiny sand granules pass through their feathers and clean them.

You will be amazed to know that birds spend a significant amount of time caring for their feathers. After all, those flying tools make them birds. They comb their feather with their beak and make every feather lie flat.

It is said that pigeons carry lice and mites, but they also pick up lice while cleaning themselves. Some birds produce oil near their tails which they use to keep their feathers clean and shiny.

One more natural way of cleaning themselves is molting. During this process, the pigeons shed old feathers entirely, and new feathers take their place.

So, if you find a pigeon looking disheveled, it is not dirty. Instead, it is undergoing a cleaning cycle. This molting lasts from August to November.

Related Read: Birds Flying | 17 Interesting things to know

Clean Up Pigeon Droppings 

Pigeons may carry some parasites such as fleas, ticks, and lice and were also found to carry pathogens. It is, however, uncommon that humans would catch anything from the birds themselves.

The diseases and illness can, however, be spread through pigeon droppings. A large accumulation of droppings may put you at a higher risk of catching one of these diseases.  

Pigeons have been associated with three human diseases, psittacosis, histoplasmosis, and Cryptococcus. There is only a small health risk associated with the pigeons.

The fungal and bacterial diseases found to be transmitted by pigeons are found in and spread through their droppings. You are at risk of catching a disease by coming in contact with animal droppings of any kind. 

Three Infectious Diseases  

  • Psittacosis- an uncommon infectious disease associated with many types of birds, it may cause lung infection 
  • Histoplasmosis- also affects the lungs and is found in droppings of many types of birds and bats 

Those who are at the most risk of catching an illness are those with weakened immune systems. Routine cleaning up of bird droppings and washing hands thoroughly when finished helps ensure diseases aren’t spread.

When cleaning up the droppings, take precautions such as wearing gloves, clothing, face coverings, and always washing your hands immediately when you have finished cleaning. 

Related Read: Pigeon Diseases | Common sick pigeon symptoms & Behavior

Are Pigeons Safe To Be Around?

Vets don’t need to deal with people dying of zoonotic infections or diseases in years. Yes, Psittacosis, Histoplasmosis, and Cryptococcus are highly infectious but you can protect yourself from them.

By taking precautions while cleaning pigeon droppings, one must be careful. People suffering from asthma, breathing-related problems, cancer, or other chronic diseases should be extra cautious.

Like you keep parrots, parakeets, cats, dogs, etc., in your house and feel safe, pigeons are the same. They are as clean as any wild bird can be and as dirty as your pet bird can be.

Also, they are not picky about their food. They eat everything and keep your surroundings clean. Clean the droppings as fast as you can. Don’t let it dry and pile up, and you are perfectly safe with feral pigeons.

Pigeons Practice Good Hygiene 

Like all other birds, pigeons bathe themselves regularly and do a good job of clearing themselves. They also replace their feathers once a year.

When you do spot pigeons that look disheveled, they could be going through a molting period.

Starting in August and ending sometime in mid-November, pigeons change all of their feathers when old ones fall out and are replaced with new feathers. 


Are pigeons dirty? Pigeons aren’t dirtier though and don’t put humans at any more of a risk for catching diseases that any other wild animals can also spread.

Pigeon droppings can spread disease, as is the case for droppings or feces for all animals, wild or domesticated, and it should be removed if it begins to build up.

Always wash your hands and practice good hygiene after coming in contact with any animal.  

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