Why Don't You See Baby Pigeons?
If you live in a city or large town then you’ll know that there are pigeons almost everywhere. Huge numbers gather on the ground, particularly around tourist attractions looking for easy sources of food.
Some can look pretty worse for wear with raggedy feather and even missing legs and feet, yet somehow they manage to survive despite these impediments. What you’re unlikely to see though, among these vast flocks, is a baby.
The feral pigeons that dwell in cities are descended from domestic pigeons that have returned to the wild. The domestic pigeon is the world’s oldest domesticated bird and were bred for a variety of reasons.
Homing pigeons are trained to return to a base even if they are released from a location they have never visited before. Historically they were used to send messages, and were particularly useful in times of war. Homing pigeons are still used for pigeon racing and white homing pigeons are sometimes used in ceremonies for decorative effect such as at weddings and funerals.
Pigeons have also been bred for food and exhibitions, as well as for research into bird intelligence. Over the years, many domestic pigeons have escaped and this has led to the large populations of feral pigeons that can be found the world over living alongside humans. They are incredibility adaptable and populate virtually every corner of the globe except the Sahara desert and the two ice caps.
Domestic pigeons were bred from wild rock doves, or rock pigeons, that have a natural range in western and southern Europe, North Africa, and South Asia. Rock doves live in rocky areas, giving rise to their name, and avoid densely vegetated areas. In the wild they build their nests high up on cliff faces and caves, as well as on rocky slopes and canyons.
Feral pigeons have thrived in towns and cities which provide artificial rock formations in the form of tall buildings, as well as an abundance of food. But without real cliffs and canyons they have had to improvise when it comes to constructing their nests. Instead, they build them on window ledges of tower blocks, on scaffolding and cranes, in chimneys and churches, and under bridges and roof tiles which makes them difficult to spot.
The nest is a loose platform sometimes as basic as a pile of twigs, and often in a seemingly precarious position. They lay two white eggs which are incubated by both parents for 16-19 days.
Chicks known as squabs, are helpless and almost bald covered in just a patchy yellow fuzz. They are fed with ‘crop milk’, a secretion from the lining of the parents’ crop that is high in fat and protein, and looks a bit like cottage cheese. After a week or so adult food is introduced and by the end of the second week will be eating this alone.
Squabs don’t leave fledge until about 6 weeks after hatching which is about twice the length of garden birds. By then they will have developed feathers and have grown to almost the same size as adult birds which makes it hard to spot baby pigeons amongst a busy crowd of squabbling birds.
There are a few tell-tale signs though if you know what you’re looking for. Juvenile pigeons may have some down still poking through their feathers, they will lack the green and purple iridescence on the neck, their heads are smaller in proportion to their bodies, and the cere, the fleshy covering at the base of the upper beak, is dull pinky-grey instead of white.