Pigeons: Everything You Need To Know (And Some Things You Don't)

Where are pigeons found? What do they eat? And can humans eat pigeons? Image Credit: hkhtt hj / shutterstock.com

Around most great city structures, there are pigeons. These creatures have been at the end of many city dwellers' disgust, often referred to as flying rats and considered pests due to their droppings. These city-occupying feral pigeons are likely to be the Columba livia domestica ­– a subspecies of bird that derived from domesticated rock doves or rock pigeons that returned to the wild.

Why were pigeons domesticated?

The rock pigeon is the world’s oldest domesticated bird. They are mentioned in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and some studies say that domestication could have occurred nearly 10,000 years ago. They have been used in an array of circumstances such as post carriers, holy animals, pets, and food.

Most famously, pigeons were used during wars as messengers, carrying many vital messages that 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 led by American B.F. Skinner to try and train three birds to become pilots – unfortunately, this was ultimately abandoned and never used in the war.

Where are the baby pigeons?

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

Short of scaling a tall city building, you may have better luck finding baby pigeons in a more domestic setting. Pigeons kept by hobbyists are often housed in a loft or in a purpose-built coop in a garden, shed, or backyard.

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

What do pigeons eat?

Urban pigeons are omnivores and will eat both plants and meat, and they are so widespread that their diet composition depends on the location. Typically, their diet is plant-based matter, with the occasional earthworms, insects, and snails. However, in city locations, they are known to eat littered food waste.

Pigeons have such a breadth of diet because their bodies are very well-adapted, such as having a crop for pre-digestion and the gizzard (stomach) that can grind up tough foods.

Baby pigeons are fed on pigeon’s milk, this is a semi-solid regurgitated substance that is provided by the parents. They typically feed on this in the first few days before they are weaned onto seeds and other foods.

Is bread bad for pigeons?

Pigeons can eat bread, but it shouldn’t be part of their whole diet.

Before you go out with a bag of bread, be wary as some local councils warn against the practice as it can create more problems. Some types of bread do not provide all the nutritional elements that pigeons require and can cause malnutrition in the birds.

Also, common bread feeding can cause birds to congregate in areas, causing bird waste problems and can dull the pigeons' natural foraging behavior.    

Can you eat pigeon?

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

Pigeon is an ingredient that you may see on adventurous food TV programs or in upscale restaurants. It is reported that pigeons bred to be eaten can produce high-quality and succulent meat, with the younger squab meat being preferred. The younger bird normally has a tender texture and is delicately flavored.

Can you eat pigeon eggs?

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

The eggs are also used in traditional Chinese medicine and are called “animal ginseng” as they can be used to "fortify the kidneys" and are thought to improve skin conditions and encourage the flow of energy throughout the body.  

So now you know. Pigeons are a lot more majestic and complex than most people ever thought they were.

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