Control of Feral Pigeons


The feral pigeon (Columba livia var) and its by-products are very familiar to those involved in building surveying and maintenance, especially those working in city centres.
Many pest control companies offer pigeon control services and many pigeon exclusion systems are marketed. However, there is a general lack of understanding of the problem among management and building professionals. This means that the control techniques used are often inappropriate or misapplied with the result that they are ineffective. This is not an insignificant problem as tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds can be spent on pigeon-related contracts without proper independent advice or specification and without proper competitive tendering. Such ‘one-off’ measures applying a single technique with no reference to other factors are often doomed to failure. This is because pigeons are living organisms and are able to adapt over time and space to circumvent most measures. As with other biologically based building problems their control requires the application of a continuing strategy of measures to control the combination of environmental factors which favour their activities. This requires some background knowledge and a careful assessment of each case.

The Natural History of the Pigeon

The feral pigeon (Columba livia var) is descended from the wild rock dove which inhabits both inland and sea cliffs around the Mediterranean and along the West Coast of Europe (1). This species was domesticated by the ancient Egyptians and has spread all over the world in many different domestic strains.

The feral pigeon stocks are derived from many different strains of escaped ornamental, racing and domestic stocks but tend to revert to a wild type of colouring and conformation. These birds are well adapted to survive in a modern city environment where the tall buildings provide habitats very similar to the cliff homes of their ancestors. Their natural diet is one of seeds and grains but they easily learn to exploit a large range of processed vegetable and animal products. In all activities that do not involve reproduction, the pigeon is a social bird which will actively seek the company of others in order to rest, preen, and feed. They may therefore form flocks of anything from tens to hundreds of individuals, depending on the available food sources. These flocks develop a set pattern of activity, based around a defined set of feeding, resting and roosting sites. Given an adequate food supply the pigeon can breed throughout the year and a stable pair bond is formed. Preferred nesting sites are dark enclosed areas simulating a cave or a crevice (3). Two eggs are usually produced and incubation is shared. Three broods may be produced by a pair each breeding season and individuals may live as long as thirty years.

The most important factor in pigeon survival is the active promotion of their population by men, for recreational and emotional reasons. This is most significant in the provision of food, and in giving protection from human predation. The uncontrolled increase in populations of feral pigeons resulting from this commensal relationship has produced considerable problems in many city and seaport environments. These can be reduced by appropriate management and public education programs.

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