Pigeons: everything you need to know (and some things you don’t)

Around most large urban structures there are pigeons. These creatures have been to the end of the disgust of many city dwellers, often called flying rats and considered pests due to their droppings. These wild pigeons occupying the city are likely to be the Columba livia domestica – a subspecies of bird descended from domesticated rock pigeons or rock pigeons returned to the wild.

Why were pigeons domesticated?

Rock pigeon is the oldest in the world domestic bird. They are mentioned in Egyptian hieroglyphs, and some studies say domestication may have taken place almost 10,000 years ago. They were used in a range of circumstances such as mail carriers, sacred animals, pets and food.

Even more famously, pigeons have been used during wars as messengers, carrying many vital messages that have helped save many human lives, with some animals even being awarded medals for their services.

They were also used in training projects such as Project Pigeon, a successful program run by American BF Skinner to try and train three birds to become pilots – sadly this was eventually scrapped and never used for the war.

Where are the baby pigeons?

City pigeons nest in the cavities high up in buildings. If you can find a nest and take a look around, you might be lucky enough to find a baby pigeon. The period of time of young pigeons in the nests is very short – 25-32 days after hatching.

Unless you’re climbing a tall building in the city, you may have better luck finding baby pigeons in a more domestic setting. Pigeons bred by hobbyists are often housed in a loft or purpose-built coop in a garden, shed or backyard.

Pigeons bred for meat can be in a larger industrial setting, similar to chickens. A young pigeon is called a squab in the culinary world. They are usually 4 weeks old, weigh around 12 to 14 ounces (340 to 397 grams), and are often too young to fly.

What do pigeons eat?

Urban pigeons are omnivorous and eat both plants and meat, and they are so widespread that their diet composition depends on location. Typically, their diet consists of plant matter, with occasional earthworms, insects, and snails. However, in cities, they are known to eat strewn food scraps.

Pigeons have such a varied diet because their bodies are very well adapted, like having a culture for pre-digestion and the gizzard (stomach) which can grind hard foods.

The baby pigeons are fed pigeon’s milk, it is a regurgitated semi-solid substance that is brought by the parents. They usually feed on it in the first few days before being weaned on seeds and other foods.

Is bread bad for pigeons?

Pigeons can eat bread, but it should not be part of their diet.

Before you go out with a bag of bread beware as some local councils warn against this practice as it can create more problems. Some types of bread do not provide all the nutrients that pigeons need and can cause malnutrition in birds.

Additionally, communal feeding with bread can cause birds to congregate in areas, which causes bird litter problems and can dampen pigeons’ natural foraging behavior.

Can we eat pigeon?

Apart from being preyed upon by animals like hawks and falcons, humans can also consume pigeon.

Pigeon is an ingredient you might see on adventurous cooking TV shows or in high-end restaurants. It is reported that pigeons bred for food can produce high quality, succulent meat, with meat from younger squabs being preferred. The youngest bird normally has a tender texture and is delicately scented.

Can you eat pigeon eggs?

Although more difficult to harvest than chicken eggs, the pigeon eggs are considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. Centuries ago, the pigeon egg was found in the dishes of the luxurious banquets of the ancient royal courts. The cooked egg is believed to have an enticing texture and has a smooth, bouncy surface and a richer aroma than chicken eggs.

Eggs are also used in traditional Chinese medicine and are called “animal ginseng” because they can be used to “fortify the kidneys” and are believed to improve skin conditions and promote the flow of energy throughout the body.

So now you know. Pigeons are much more majestic and complex than most people thought.

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