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Because pigeons are such a common sight in our towns, cities, seaside resorts, streets, parks and gardens, it can be tempting to assume they must live for a long time.
And because there are so many of them, everywhere we go, we could be forgiven for thinking pigeons must enjoy lengthy lives, simply because we almost never see a dead one.
The lifespan of the feral pigeon varies widely, depending on many factors.
It’s also quite difficult to age individual pigeons which makes estimates on how old each is a bit of a guess.
Some made their way inland to exploit the food sources, ledges and parapets of our buildings. But many are descended from those that escaped from medieval dovecotes.
The unflattering comparison with rodents is largely borne out of the feral pigeon’s eagerness to eat whatever we drop or leave out, the number of diseases that pigeons can carry and their ability to populate areas very quickly.
The “flying rat” breeds four to six times a year. That rate of producing chicks has actually risen over the last 20 years as pigeons have thrived in our increasingly busy, chaotic and, dare we say it, dirty, urban places.
Breeding seasons have been extended by the favourable conditions that humans create with the abundance of food, artificial light and relative warmth of our towns and cities.
Pigeons carry a number of diseases, most with rather long names. The most common associated with their droppings are:
Of course, we don’t tend to intentionally touch pigeon droppings. But pigeon poop falls onto streets, windowsills and cars, and can infect drinking water. Once pigeon droppings dry, they become powdery and can become blown into the air and inhaled.
Pigeons are considered a pest. Pigeons are unhygienic and a public health hazard.
As well as disease harboured in droppings, nearly all pigeons carry mites which although not usually harmful to humans can cause itchy bites. Bird mites can also migrate from nests and make their way to other animals and pests.
Pigeon droppings can also result in slippery streets and build up can cause damage to metalwork and the fabric of buildings. It can even burn the bodywork of cars.
Even though the biggest threat to pigeons is mankind, they are largely unafraid of humans and have learned to live alongside us. Man is usually only a threat to populations when conscious efforts to reduce their numbers are implemented.
Pigeons are intelligent birds and can avoid us as we go about our daily lives to make their homes in gardens, city streets and conurbations. It is said that pigeons are one of the few birds who can recognise themselves in a mirror.
Natural predators to pigeons are birds of prey, notably the peregrine falcon which has long been used by us to control populations. But you don’t see many birds of prey in our towns so the city-dwelling pigeon lives a largely carefree life.
High rise buildings, commercial properties, shopping centres and train stations provide pigeons with high flat spaces for them to live out of harm’s way.
The feral pigeon which has become such a common sight in our populated areas, and is today considered a pest which can carry disease, actually descends from birds tamed by our ancestors over thousands of years.
Pigeons were long useful for human beings, with their natural homing instincts. Long before our GPS-enabled phones, the pigeon could carry messages for long distances before returning “home”.
With a regular food supply and favourable conditions, a feral pigeon can generally live up to 15 years, with the most elderly able to survive to the age of 30.
However, average lifespans tend to be much shorter – three to five years.
One question often asked is, then why don’t we ever see lots of dead pigeons around us given so many live in our towns?
The answer is probably that there are plenty of scavengers who will feast on their bodies – foxes, rats, gulls, crows, ravens and the domestic cat. And most pigeons don’t simply drop dead from the skies. When unwell, they’ll take refuge and then rot away hidden from view – in itself a health hazard.
Given the risks to health from living and dead pigeons, if they have become a pest in your home, work or generally living environment, it’s best to seek advice from a professional pest control company such as us! Free quotes, and logical advice on 0800 234 3140
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