Head into any city square and it will no doubt be filled with hundreds of head-bobbing pigeons. But despite their strong numbers, you rarely (if ever) see their chicks. They are like a modern-day urban unicorn, albeit slightly less majestic and a little more grubby. Fortunately, there are some simple explanations to this dilemma.
First of all, the pigeons you come across eating leftover pizza in the streets are most likely feral pigeons (Columba livia domestica). This subspecies of bird was originally bred from the wild rock doves that roost and breed among sea cliffs and rocky mountain crevasses around Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. Although this subspecies’ home is now a busy metropolis instead of a rocky coastline, they still tend to nest in the high-up edges and cavities of buildings.
“Only if you can see into a nest would you be likely to see baby pigeons,” Debra Kriensky, a conservation biologist with NYC Audubon Society, explained to IFLScience. “By the time they leave the nest, they are already quite large and resemble adult birds more than they do chicks.”
It’s also worth considering that pigeon chicks fledge (leave the nest) within just 25 to 32 days. So, unless you catch them in this brief period at the top of a building, then you’re unlikely to see them.
A baby rock dove. Cute. Kind of. John Liu/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
“Pigeons are born naked and need to grow feathers before they can leave the nest,” added Martin Fowlie of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). “They remain in their nests until they are able to fly like other nest building species.”
Unless you are viewing the baby pigeon from a window, balcony, or another elevated vantage point, it’s probably not good news if you see one. It is often a sign that something isn't right.
“We do see a fair amount of babies that fall out of the nest before they are big enough to fly and fend for themselves,” Kriensky said. “In those cases, chicks should be returned to their nest, a makeshift nest nearby if possible, or brought to a wildlife rehabilitator.”