Feral pigeons make the most of our towns and cities, meaning they can breed throughout the year.
A year-round supply of food gleaned from city streets and the benefits of the urban heat island effect – where temperatures are several degrees Celsius above those in the countryside – allow the birds to breed throughout the year. They nest in holes, crevices in buildings or on sheltered ledges, which are a substitute for the birds’ ancestral home of sea-caves.
The feral pigeon (Columba livia domestica) is a sub-species of the wild rock dove (Columba livia), which is now probably confined to sea cliffs in Ireland and north and west Scotland. There are many uncertain populations of pure wild rock doves but as feral pigeons interbreed with these wild birds, the boundaries have become blurred.
Unlike its wild ancestor, which sports a smart grey and black plumage with a white rump, the feral pigeon has a number of colour forms including brown, white and blackish-grey. This is a result of domestication and selective breeding by humans.
In our cities and towns, the feral pigeon is usually the most common and tamest bird at all times of year, where the streets and buildings are alive with the familiar bubbling calls and strut of amorous male birds intent on wooing a mate.
Sheltered nest sites protect the young pigeons, or squabs, from the cold. They are fed by their parents on a nutritious secretion from their crop-lining known as “pigeon milk”. While not all feral pigeons nest in winter, around 25% do and a pair can produce up to five clutches of young each year. Each clutch usually consists of two eggs.
The rise of the urban pigeon has meant an associated increase in the number of birds of prey such as peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus), which have moved into towns and cities to take advantage of this bountiful feast. Look out for the breath-taking stoops of these aerial acrobats over our city skies as they hunt for their next pigeon meal.