Pigeons are stout-bodied birds with short necks and short, slender bills with a fleshy cere (the waxy, fleshy covering at the base of the upper beak). The species most commonly referred to just as the "pigeon" is the feral rock pigeon, common in many cities and small rural areas.
The rock pigeon is 32 to 37 cm (12.5 to 14.5 inches) long with a 64 to 72 cm (25 to 28 inch) wingspan. Its lower back is white with two distinctive black bars on its pale grey wings. Its tail has white markings. It is a strong and quick flier, with its lighter grey rump easily seen from above.
The head and neck of the mature pigeon are a darker blue-grey than the back and wings. The green and lilac or purple patch on the side of the neck is larger than that of the stock dove, and the tail is more distinctly banded.
Pigeons come in many different colours depending on age: dark grey, light blue/grey, brown, peach, grey and white, pure white, and more. The feathers of young birds show little lustre and are duller. The eye colour of a pigeon is generally orange, but a few pigeons may have white-grey eyes. The eyelids are orange and are enclosed in a grey-white eye ring. The feet are red to pink.
The pigeon's bobbing head motion helps it to keep its balance when walking. Most studies suggest that pigeons bob their heads to stabilize their visual surroundings. We humans rely more on our eye movements, not our head movements, to catch and hold images while in motion.
Should I be concerned?
Pigeons tend to breed and roost in groups. The biggest problem they cause is the amount of feces (droppings) they produce. The build-up of pigeon feces on buildings and other structures is visually unappealing and is made worse by the fact that pigeon droppings are acidic and erode metal and stonework.
More importantly, pigeon droppings may pose a health hazard to the general public. Pigeons have been associated with a variety of diseases, including histoplasmosis and cryptococcosis.
Histoplasmosis is a disease caused by a fungus that grows in pigeon droppings. The fungus can also be found in bat droppings or in the soil, and is carried by the wind. When removing droppings, people may breathe in some of the fungus. When exposure is high, the fungus can cause infection.
Symptoms of histoplasmosis begin to appear about 10 days after initial infection and can include fatigue, fever, and chest pains. Most infections have no symptoms or appear as a mild respiratory illness. People with weakened immune systems (like cancer patients or people living with HIV/AIDS) are generally more at risk of developing histoplasmosis. The disease cannot be transmitted from person to person.
Cryptococcosis is another fungal disease related to pigeon droppings and grows in soils throughout the world. It is very unlikely that healthy people will become infected even at high levels of exposure. A major risk factor for infection is a compromised immune system.
How can I get rid of pigeons?
Controlling pigeons permanently is hard because these birds have adapted to stress, and there are many sources of food available in urban areas. The best way to control them is to change their environment:
- Remove roosting niches and seal any crevices, large openings, and entrances in high areas to discourage pigeons.
- Screen off water sources (like rooftop air conditioners) that pigeons might drink from.
- Never leave food out where pigeons can get it.
- Keep garbage containers closed. Dispose of garbage on a regular basis.
- On flat roofs or ledges, use bristling wires, also known as porcupine wires, or sticky pastes that will discourage pigeons from landing and gathering.
Bird scaring devices
Bird scaring devices can also be bought to frighten birds away from a given area. Loud noises, flashing lights, windmills, and recordings of bird distress calls can be effective ways of controlling pigeons, but may not all be practical in urban settings. Also, pigeons can eventually get used to these types of devices and may ignore them.
If pigeons are a nuisance on a balcony, fine netting can be hung across the front of the balcony, or a combination of visual frightening devices can be used, if they can be moved around to prevent birds from getting used to them.
If you use a pesticide to control your pest problem, read the label to make sure you are choosing the right product for the right pest. Follow all label directions and warnings carefully. Always look for a Pest Control Products (PCP) number on the label so you know the product has been approved by Health Canada. See Use pesticides safely for more information on using pesticides safely
- Bird repellents are effective in controlling pigeons around the home and garden. These products are soft, sticky substances that you apply on windows, sills, eaves, and roofs to discourage pigeons from roosting. Most bird repellents can be bought at local hardware stores or garden centres.
- Other bird repellents and bird toxicants are available for use in, on, or near structures used for roosting or nesting. These products are generally sold for commercial or restricted use by qualified professionals. Bird repellents or toxicants should be combined with changes to make roosting areas less attractive to the birds in a more permanent way.