Do Pigeons Eat Sand, Stones, and Gravel?

While adoring birds, especially pigeons, you might notice them pecking gravel, sand, and small stones. The question that might pop in your head is “do pigeons eat sand, stone, and gravel?”.

Intro Video - Backtobirds
Intro Video - Backtobirds

Many birds, including pigeons, forage for hard gritty materials like sand and gravel. Pigeons are complex and highly intelligent birds. They are seedeaters and sometimes feed on small insects. However, It is interesting to know – “why do pigeons eat sand” or “why do pigeons eat gravel?”

Do pigeons eat sand, stones, and gravel?

Pigeons swallow stones of different sizes, sand, and gravel, just as they consume other seeds and shells. They even regurgitate smooth rocks and then swallow newly formed small sharp pieces of rock.

Pigeon’s diet generally consists of corn, wheat, seeds, cereals, and sorghum. They also like to eat spinach, apple, grapes, sprouted seeds, and lettuce. These scavenger birds fly around looking for their food.

Related Read: Can Birds Eat Chocolate | How Much Chocolates Can They Eat?

Unlikely, sand, stones, and gravel also constitute an important role in their digestion. With the help of sand, stones, and gravel, the digestion in pigeons becomes easy and efficient, Many of the pigeon fanciers are seen to feed stone to their pigeons. 

Why do pigeons eat sand, stone, and gravel?

The following are the reasons why pigeons consume sand, stone, and gravel:

  • The loss of teeth and the development of a powerful organ, gizzard, are great adaptations for birds.The stone, sand, and gravel act as teeth in gizzard for birds. Ancient birds were found to have a set of teeth. The evolutionary modification for flight to reduce body weight led to the loss of teeth in birds.
  • Pigeons do not have teeth to chew their food. To grind their food, they have a special organ called a gizzard. These stones, sand, and gravel are held inside the gizzard to help grind the hard seed coats, cereals, and everything that they consume. 
  • The grit they swallow increases the pulverizing ability of the gizzard. Almost all stones work, although limestone, a soft stone, does not withstand the acidic medium of a bird’s stomach. The stones aid in the grinding process of their food.

It is estimated that an adult pigeon can eat about 30 grams of food in a day. A completely grown pigeon can eat about 500 grams of food a week. Therefore, Rapid digestion is necessary because of the high metabolic rate in pigeons. Hence, for quick grinding, it becomes important for pigeons to eat sand, stone, and gravel for the gizzard to function.

Related Read: Can Pigeons Eat Bread?

What is a gizzard?

Pigeons and all other birds have a stomach that consists of two parts: a true stomach and a gizzard. A thin-walled, glandular chamber that secretes many enzymes and acid acts as a true stomach. Behind it, a thick-walled and larger chamber present called a gizzard.

A gizzard is an organ in birds that has walls of thick masses that contract with tremendous force to grind all the food particles consumed by them. The inner layer of the gizzard has many grooves and ridges. The lining of the organ is very tough and constantly regenerated.

Is there any harm in pigeons consuming sand, stones, and gravel?

The grit is essential for birds to digest their food and function in the gizzard. Their body is designed such a way that they do not get any harm by eating stones and gravel. Consuming sand, stone, and gravel does not cause any harm. These stones are mostly indigestible and pass in the feces periodically to prevent them from becoming soft and inefficient in grinding.

Sometimes pigeons eat toxic substances like lead shots assuming it as a stone or gravel. This may produce harm to them. Otherwise, everything in stones, gravel, and sand helps them a lot in their rapid digestion.

Gastrolith, also known as gizzard stones, is held inside the gizzard for grinding purposes. Certain constituents of the stones, such as silicates and sandstone, are insoluble and cannot be digested. Whereas, limestone and calcium carbonate is soluble.

Certainly, sand, stone, or gravel do not cause any harm to pigeons but many food items are toxic for the pigeons. They include:

  • Avocado
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Salt
  • Onions and garlic
  • Apple seeds
  • Xylitol
  • Fruit pits
  • Fats

Conclusion 

It has become quite a fact that pigeons feed on sharp gritty pieces of rocks, stone, sand, and gravel. Humans have molars for grinding, whereas, pigeons consume stone and gravel for that purpose. Grit plays such an important role for many birds, including pigeons.

Related Read: What not to feed pigeons?

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