Why Are There So Many Pigeons in Cities?

Believe it or not, people used to raise pigeons as food, very similar to how farmers raise chickens. Once people stopped this widespread practice, pigeons easily adapted to city landscapes.

Mar 27, 2023By Colt Dodd
why so many pigeons in cities

No one can deny it: Pigeons are everywhere. There are even more pigeons than people in New York City. For every person, there are at least two pigeons. But where did these urban birds come from?

The short answer? People. The long answer? For thousands of years, people raised pigeons for food. It was a popular practice until the 1930s. Then, people let their pigeons go, and they adapted perfectly to the surrounding cityscapes.

People Used to Raise Pigeons for Food in Dense Cities

pigeons sitting on a rooftop

Today, most people have never seen pigeon on a restaurant’s menu. Yet, this was a very common dish prior to the 1930s. It’s been a popular dish throughout history, with ancient people raising them in Mesopotamia. Many people raised pigeons on rooftops, in alleyways, and even in their own front yards.

Then, like many things, pigeons fell out of favor with the public. Because they were becoming such a common sight in cities, pigeons were regarded more as nuisances and less as nourishment.

Studies showed that in the 1950’s, pigeons carried diseases, and in the 1960s, various political groups called for their extermination. Still, despite any efforts to eradicate pigeons, they continue to thrive in cosmopolitan areas.

Pigeons Are Not Indigenous to North America

pigeon on a cliff with babies

Pigeons are native to Central Africa and some parts of the Middle East. They are a cliff-nesting species, making their nests in cracks and crevices along steep terrain. This isn’t too far off from what they do in many urban areas, nesting along windowsills of towers and other high-rise buildings.

Pigeons also thrive off food that’s commonly found in trash cans, parks, and other heavy-traffic parts of cities. They happily thrive off:

  • Berries
  • Grains (yes, that means crumbs)
  • Fruits
  • Seeds
  • Vegetables

They occasionally snack on snails, worms, and insects.

Pigeons’ Predators Usually Don’t Live in Cities

pigeon flock on a rooftop

There are some animals on earth that have no natural predators; pigeons are not one of them. In the wild, they face ongoing threats from falcons, hawks, and other birds of prey. This is an entirely different story in many urban areas where these predators don’t venture.

In cites, pigeons face some threats (like those from outdoor cats and dogs), but that’s about it. This allows flocks of pigeons to multiply by the dozen in a matter of months.

Pigeons Live a Long Time and They Have Generous Broods

pigeon mother with her babies

Pigeons have varying lifespans depending on many factors. For instance, in captivity, a pigeon can live to be 15 years old. Yet, in the wild, they seldom live longer than 6 years.

Admittedly, this doesn’t seem long––but consider the following. Suppose a pigeon lives nine years. It has three broods a year, each one producing two chicks. That means, in a single nine-year period, a city-dwelling pigeon can have 54 babies during its lifetime. What’s more, pigeons can start having babies within their first year of life.

As one can imagine, a generous lifespan, combined with frequent broods, makes for large pigeon populations in cities.

Some Cities Attempt to Deter Pigeons

pigeon on the edge of a building

When asked about pigeons, people generally say the same negative things. They poop on people’s cars. They pick at garbage. They spread diseases. This has prompted many cities to prevent pigeons from roosting. Some of these measures include installing:

  • Decoys: Pigeons won’t go near decoys of predators, like owls and falcons.
  • Reflective surfaces: Pigeons are extremely averse to reflective surfaces, like tin roofs and reflective tape.
  • Bird spikes: Many storefronts and public buildings have spikes on the edges to prevent pigeons from landing.
  • Netting: Some nurseries and balconies have protective netting. This prevents pigeons from nesting and creating a disturbance.

Some animal control specialists also coat objects with a gel that prevents pigeons from landing on or near them.

Can You Keep a Pigeon as a Pet?

pigeons in someone_s house as pets

Humans domesticated pigeons 69,000 years ago. Up until recently, pigeons were widely kept in many households and on farms. So, the short answer is yes; what’s more, many say they make excellent pets.

Pigeons are very intelligent creatures that can learn tricks, respond to their names, and recognize their owners. They’re also docile by nature, so they’re good with children and restrained animals.

As with any pet, however, potential owners should do their research first. Getting a pigeon as a pet is a commitment, both timewise and financially.

What Happens if I Find an Injured Pigeon?

pigeon injured in a cage

If someone finds an injured pigeon, most of the time, they should just leave it. While initially disoriented after an injury, a pigeon generally regains its senses and flies away within a few hours. However, one should consider immediate invention if a bird:

  • Doesn’t move
  • Doesn’t respond when picked up
  • Can’t fly away
  • Has wounds or blood loss
  • Has an obviously fractured limb (like a wing or leg)

From there, the finder should put the pigeon in a shoe box lined with newspaper, then keep the box in a dark place. If the pigeon’s condition improves within a few hours, it should fly away. If not, one should bring the bird to a wildlife rescue.

There Are a Lot of Pigeons Everywhere––Not Just in Cities

dove standing on the street

Pigeons can live pretty much anywhere people do. Worldwide, there are more than 200 million, with many roosting in heavily populated areas like New York City and London.

Long story short: pigeons are numerous and here to stay.

Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.