Pigeons (Columba livia) or rock doves found in North America are the feral offspring of pigeons brought to this continent by European immigrants. Pigeons are domesticated animals raised for sport racing, show, and food (squab). Ancestors of the pigeons we see in our cities and on our farms escaped from captivity and found a favorable environment living with humans. Feral pigeons now have a cosmopolitan distribution, having become established every place humans have built cities. They are one of three species of non-protected birds, which also include the english sparrow and starling.
The feral pigeons found in Nevada and North America are extremely variable in coloration. They exhibit the full range of coloration that domestication and selective breeding have produced. All pigeons that were developed from rock doves (Figure 1) have a white rump, usually a white diamond-shaped patch just above the tail feathers. In white birds, the white rump blends with the general body color. Many pigeons have retained the ancestral rock dove coloration; gray body, darker gray head and neck, white rump, dark band on the end of the tail, dark wing tips, and two black stripes running along the back edge of each wing. The total length is around 11-13 inches (28-33 cm).
RANGE AND HABITAT
The pigeon is found in Nevada congregating in urban, suburban, and rural agricultural areas. Pigeons are believed to have occurred naturally in southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Rock doves (pigeons) naturally nest in protected cliffs and inside the mouths of caves. Human cities provide artificial cliffs (buildings) and caves (attics, abandoned buildings, open warehouses, barns), so pigeons feel at home and flourish in southern Nevada. Additionally, tile roofs and air conditioning units on roofs provide the environments they favor and they multiply continuously.
FOOD AND FOOD SOURCES
Pigeons feed primarily on seeds and grains, but in urban areas they also eat human food scraps like breadcrumbs, garbage, etc. Bird feeders also provide a primary food source for pigeons in urban and suburban areas. Pigeons are especially fond of the cracked corn, sorghum, and milo seeds in wild birdseed mixes. Pet food such as dog and cat food left outside are also food for pigeons. In agricultural areas pigeons eat and/or contaminate large amounts of livestock feed. Pigeons are not picky about their food - they are often seen picking undigested seeds from the feces of livestock.
Pigeons breed year-round in southern Nevada and in the warmer months in northern Nevada. Nests are simple platforms of sticks built in sheltered locations on horizontal ledges. Pigeons commonly nest on man-made structures such as window ledges and balconies, under bridges, in barns and open warehouses, behind or on signs, in soffits, and in attics of houses (especially tile roofs). They enter attics through missing soffit panels or attic vents. A clutch normally consists of 1 or 2 eggs. In southern Nevada, 3 to 4 clutches per year is common. The incubation period is 16-18 days and fledglings leave the nest at 4-6 weeks of age. Adult pigeons feed their babies a material secreted by their crops called “Pigeon’s milk”.;
AESTHETIC AND ECONOMIC PROBLEMS
Pigeon droppings deface many urban buildings, monuments, and public spaces. The uric acid (white material) in their droppings is not just unsightly, it can damage the finish on buildings, automobiles, etc. When birds occupy warehouses, they also defecate on stored goods. This is a problem for warehouse managers when customers refuse to accept contaminated goods.
Mites are the most common health related problem associated with feral pigeons esting in buildings. Mites invade the human-occupied space during or after the nesting season. Bird mites, such as the northern fowl mite and tropical fowl mite, will bite humans and cause a small pustule, similar to a chigger bite. Pigeons are also important reservoirs and vectors for the reintroduction of fowl mites into previously treated poultry houses.
Pigeon nests can also be a source of stick-tight fleas, soft ticks, bed bugs, and dermestid (carpet) beetles invading buildings.
Pigeons are associated with diseases that are transmissible to humans and livestock. A partial list follows:
Bacterial diseases: salmonellosis (Salmonella food poisoning), fowl typhoid, paratyphoid, pasteurellosis, streptococcosis and tuberculosis Fungal diseases: aspergillosis, blastomycosis; rickettsial disease; Q fever Viral diseases: eastern equine and St. Louis encephalitis, Newcastle disease and fowl pox of poultry
Tapeworms in the genus Taenia, Davainea proglottina, and Railletina tetragona
Parasitic nematodes of poultry including Tetramares (2 species), Capillaria (5 species) and Acuaria spiralis 14 parasitic flukes of poultry, livestock, and humans.
Pigeons are generally a more serious disease vector to livestock, especially poultry and egg producers, than to humans. Still the presence of pigeons where food is prepared or people eat such as picnic areas and outdoor restaurants, should be a cause for concern due to the potential spread of Salmonella bacteria.
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Kerns, W. A., Robinson, M. L., and Ryan, M., 2002, Pigeons, Extension, University of Nevada Reno, SP-02-11
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