Feral Pigeons | Where Do They Live? Their Lifestyle & Activities

Feral pigeons, one of the several species of pigeons, are abundant in urban areas throughout much of the world. The estimated global population of feral pigeons is between 165 to 330 million individuals. They are very common and can easily be seen almost anywhere. 

Feral pigeons are considered to create problems to human health, damage to buildings, unpleasant soiling, and foul smell. The interactions of feral pigeons with human life can be taken in many ways, depending on the personal cultural background.

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The perception for them may range from harmless birds to harmful pests. 

Feral Pigeons

Feral pigeons are scientifically named Columba livia, while commonly referred to as city doves, city pigeons, common pigeons, or street pigeons. They belong to the family Columbidae. Feral pigeons naturally inhabit sea-cliffs and mountains.

However, they have now substituted sea-cliffs with ledges of buildings in urban areas.

The following are some characteristics of feral pigeons:

Appearance

Their coloration may vary hugely compared to their wild ancestors but the most commonly found are those with a dark bluish grey head, neck, and chest. It is noticed that urban feral pigeons tend to have more plumage than rural ones. They are endothermic and bilaterally symmetrical.

Size

The size of an adult feral pigeon ranges from 29 cm to 35 cm in length. Their wingspan is usually 60-68 cm. The weight of a feral pigeon may vary from 315 gm to 410 gm. 

Behaviour

Feral Pigeons generally walk or run while bobbing their heads. They are seen flying with a direct path in daylight, seeking cover at night and in the sunny part of the day, depending on the climate. In the nesting region, both the sexes are aggressive with intruders.

Reproduction 

Feral pigeons mate for life, however extra pair mating does occur. They can breed at any time of the year as they produce crop milk. Both the pigeons work cooperatively on all aspects of reproduction and rearing.

Both the sexes incubate the eggs. Hatching of eggs occurs on approximately the 19th day from laying. Average eggs laid are 2 per season.

Nesting

Abandoned buildings are the most preferred places for nesting. Mass nesting is common in which dozens of eggs are laid together by feral pigeons. Nests, an untidy collection of twigs and straw, often built-in lofts, holes in walls, or bridges.

Where do feral pigeons live?

Feral Pigeons live in urban areas such as cities, towns, and smaller settlements in almost every continent except the very cold, Antarctica. They thrive in forests such as rainforests and swamp forests. Deserts are also inhabited by them if they get water from succulent plants.

Areas with plenty of food and favorable environment are inhibited by feral pigeons. They are mostly found in areas of human settlements. The following are the habitats of feral pigeons:

Urban Landscapes

Feral pigeons love to live in cities where humans create buildings that they substitute as sea-cliffs. They use man-made spots to build their nests. They easily find their food in human leftovers, trash, or they pick up any dropped pieces of food. In many cities, people also feed feral pigeons, which attracts them to settle there.

Rural and Suburban areas

Pigeons tend to move into open barns and abandoned buildings, under bridges, or any other architectural structures. They feed on grains, garden wastes, crops in fields, or animal food. The harm to them in rural or suburban areas is quite low, hence they thrive in these areas easily.

How long do feral pigeons live?

Feral Pigeons have a lifespan of 3-5 years only. Human interruption and predation affect the lifespan of feral pigeons. They tend to live longer in areas where there is less human settlement such as suburbs or farms.

Due to the negative relationship between humans and pigeons, many cities and organizations are using methods to control their populations or completely eradicate them. These methods include culling, a decrease of reproductive success, reduction of habitat carrying capacity, monitoring, and control.

Therefore, all these practices have resulted in a decrease in the life expectancy of feral pigeons. 

Where do feral pigeons come from?

The rock pigeons are considered the ancestors of feral pigeons. Originally, these rock pigeons were present in coastal and inland cliffs of northern Ethiopian regions as well as in Indian subcontinents. These wild pigeons then gave rise to domesticated breeds through artificial selection.

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Rock pigeons originated in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Feral pigeons are not distinct from rock pigeons but only evolved varieties of rock pigeons. There is no doubt that feral pigeons developed from domesticated rock pigeons.

Multiple origins of feral occurred numerous times over many decades in Europe and many parts of the world. 

The formerly wild and the formerly domestic birds would have been on their way to becoming feral. Feral pigeons have acquired some characteristics from rock pigeons which generally include body size and shape.

They have had multiple origins, that is why they are demonstrably polyphyletic and are thus not a single infraspecific unit.   

Do feral pigeons eat other birds or worms?

Feral pigeons do not eat other birds. In general, feral pigeons are mostly seedeaters but sometimes they eat insects and worms as well. Pigeons can eat almost anything, including spiders, ants, and insects.

Feral already have access to plenty of food in human settlements. They can eat anything that usually humans eat as they have adapted themselves over years.

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The diet of feral pigeons includes pulses, grains, seeds, or scraps of food scavenged in urban areas. Rock dove feeds generally in the morning and the afternoon on open grounds. The food can be corn, oats, elm, barley, poison ivy, etc. However, in cities, they are seen eating popcorns, cakes, peanuts, butter, and almost everything that they find to eat.   

Do feral pigeons migrate?

Unlike some other birds, feral pigeons do not migrate. Even if they lose their habitat, they have good homing abilities and can return from many miles. When they are young, they imprint their location as their natural place to live and always return there.

They can fly away several miles in search of food, but at the end of the day they return to their place, or attempt to, hence, they were used as messengers in ancient times. Feral pigeons adapt easily in different terrains, environments, and landscapes, they can make nests and thrive almost anywhere. 

They can survive in cold temperatures of around -40 degrees Fahrenheit. These city pigeons do not migrate in a cold climate as they find warm areas for shelter. The migration of feral pigeons, living in suburbs, will only occur if they detect very harsh weather approaching their area.

Do feral pigeons carry diseases?

Yes, Feral pigeons’ droppings can spread many diseases like histoplasmosis. They behave as carriers for some diseases, however, only a few are transmitted to humans. They harbored 60 different pathogens, but only seven are transferable to humans.

Feral pigeons pose a sporadic risk to humans, the level of risk is too low, even to people who live in very close proximity with them. However, humans with low immunity have a lot more risk of acquiring diseases from feral pigeons and their droppings.

Chlamydophila psittaci and Cryptococcus neoformans are the most commonly transmitted pathogens to humans. The infections get transferred through agents like air, hence, can be prevented by precautions. The risk caused by feral pigeons is unquantifiable. 

Can feral pigeons be domesticated?

Feral pigeons have the homing ability, however, that depends on the kind of the feral- the wild type, escaped homers, and the mixed breed. Domesticating feral pigeons is possible as you can tame them, but it would take some time for them to adjust.

Related Read: What Do Homing Pigeons Eat?

There is also a possibility that they might leave if let out. 

Rock pigeons, the ancestors of feral pigeons, were domesticated several years ago. They were the first domesticated birds that helped humans in numerous ways. History shows associations of domesticated rock pigeons with humans through literature, visual arts, and religious symbolism, and they have also been used as messengers during war and peacetime.

They are wild as they are feral so it might get hard for them to be domesticated again like their ancestors, especially if domesticating adult feral pigeons. It is much easier to tame and domesticate younger feral pigeons. The following are the points that may help you to tame feral pigeons:

  • Domesticate them in pairs or groups as they are highly social birds.
  • Build a large and safe aviary and make sure that it is easy to clean by lying down drain rocks.
  • Stay patient with new birds
  • Keep your movements and voice slow around your feral pigeons.
  • Spend time near their aviary to introduce yourself.
  • Feed them properly with seeds, grains, or anything that includes in their diet.
  • Keep them safe from other pets and predators.
  • Give your pigeons shelves or mirrors to play.

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