Columba livia, our common pigeon or rock dove, once inhaled the balmy breezes of his Mediterranean home. But sometime around 4500 BC, his suitability for dinner was established and the first breeding populations were cultivated as main course material by the people of the day.
Although seen everywhere, the pigeon still retains a hint of mystery. Why are baby pigeons never seen? Well, human children would rarely be seen if they grew up within 4 or 5 weeks as pigeons do. The mama pigeon feeds her young with a nutrition-rich milk responsible for this amazing growth rate.
What do they eat? Well, in a city, pretty much everything that isn't nailed down, but their natural diet is seeds. They are not much for meat, although hawks, falcons, raccoons, opossums, and the friendly neighborhood cat love a tasty squab now and then, even if the humans have mostly moved on to finer fare.
We've all seen him bouncing down the street like the proverbial cock of the walk. Beloved favorite of racers and breeders, courageous messenger of wartime, pestilent thief of favored birds' goodies, flying rat, old lady's companion. From whence came this mysterious, but ubiquitous bird?
It wasn't always like this. In the days of the American Indian, a different dove, the Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius darkened the skies above the uncut forests of the East. Some have said they ranged in such profusion that a tossed stone couldn't help but bring down a bird. But their days ended with the closing of the American frontier to be replaced by an unprepossessing cousin taken over on the ships of the colonists in the 1600s for food. The solitary captive Passenger Pigeon breathed her last in a Washington Zoo in 1914, a generation after they had been extirpated from the wild by hungry game hunters.
How do you get them to relocate? Pretty tough, once they have established nests in the area. Experts suggest removing nests repeatedly when they are new to encourage the birds to seek other living arrangements. Otherwise, they are pretty much immune to noise, water, fake owls and all the other inducements to move employed by the desperate.
Try a falconer, listed under Falcon Associations in the telephone book or on the internet. Many species of raptors like the Cooper Hawk and Peregrine Falcon enjoy the birds and a hawk enthusiast may be willing to let his birds have at it, so long as the pigeons are not located in a high traffic area that could endanger the hawks. Since these birds are not protected under law, this is probably the best solution, given the bird's legendary homing ability.
Do pigeons carry disease? Alas, grey haired lady feeding the doves, indeed they do. Psittacosis, known as Parrot Fever, and Histoplasmosis are just two of many serious ailments carried by the birds. Great care should be taken around pigeon droppings. They harbor fungal pathogens for fatal respiratory diseases. Keep parakeets and parrots away from them too.
Are they good for anything? Well, yes. Along with the non-descript grey birds flocking in the park, one may see exotically colored specimens. Some of these birds are bred by enthusiasts who enjoy racing them for sport.
Pigeons have been used to carry military intelligence since the days of Genghis Khan. News of the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo was carried by military homing pigeons and they were used by the United States military as late as World War II. Many of the pigeon handlers hailed from Brooklyn where the sport of pigeon racing was big. Although by the First World War, radio was well-established, radio signals could be intercepted or jammed, while nothing except death or capture could stop a determined bird. Alas, the Germans eventually deployed falcons and the jig was up.
So friend or foe? Probably a little of both. We created the pigeon problem by removing an inoffensive bird from its sea cliff home and now we have to live with the result. But don't worry, pigeons know how to look out for themselves, meanwhile, we better watch out for them if we value our cars and clothing.
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Birds are creatures of habit and will return year after year to have babies on your property. Every house has several areas that are attractive to birds looking to nest and have babies.