Pigeons 'home in on friendly human feeders'

Pigeons in Prague (Image: BBC) Pigeons quickly learn the difference between friendly feeder and hostile foe

Related Stories

Urban pigeons have the ability to learn the difference between people who will feed them and those who will chase them away, a French study has indicated.

Researchers suggested that this allowed birds to limit the time spent searching for food, and maximise the time eating.

The team said the study provided the first experimental evidence of feral pigeons using the ability to maximise benefits provided by urban areas.

The findings will be published in the journal Animal Cognition.

"Considered as a plague in many cities, pigeons in urban areas live close to human activities and exploit this proximity to find food - which is often delivered by people," the team of French scientists wrote.

Urban feral pigeons are direct descendants from wild rock doves/pigeons (Columbia livia), which are distinguished by two black bars on their wings. However feral pigeons vary in colour and patterns.

Friendly food

The birds are widespread. For example, Europe's population is estimated to be up to 28 million, with high densities in the centre of major towns and cities.

Pigeons in Barcelona, Spain (Image: BBC) Pigeons are not a species to miss out on a free lunch

It is considered that the birds' success in urban areas is a result of low levels of predation, and the year-round availability of food and breeding sites.

The researchers decided to conduct a series of experiments to explore the pigeons' ability to exploit the "human-based food resource", while avoiding people who were hostile and viewed the creatures as "flying rats".

They suggested that feral pigeons within urban environments probably used their "memory and categorisation abilities in their daily foraging activities".

"The ability to rapidly detect a human feeder could be an important factor in decreasing the total time spent foraging and increasing the rate of food ingestion," they said.

The team explained that two tests were carried out in an urban park, with two feeders - one neutral and one hostile. The hostile feeder would chase the birds away.

"In both experiments, the [feral] pigeons learned quickly to discriminate between the feeders," they observed.

"The pigeons avoided the hostile feeder even when the two feeders exchanged their coats, suggesting that [the birds] used stable individual characteristics to differentiate between the experimenter feeders.

"Thus, pigeons are able to learn quickly from their interactions from human feeders and use knowledge to maximise the profitability of the urban environment."

The researchers from scientific institutions across Paris said that the study provided the "first experimental evidence in pigeons for this level of human discrimination".

Members of the team will be presenting their findings at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, on 3, July 2011.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More from nature

  • Cardinal fish and ostracodFish filmed spitting 'fireworks'

    Film crew captures ostracods' spectacular defensive lightshow that makes predatory fish spit them out.

  • Arapaima'Locally extinct'

    A giant fish which used to dominate the Amazon river is now absent in many areas

  • DragonflyRapid reactions

    Dragonfly's super quick reactions recorded in slow motion by BBC film-makers

  • Wingless adult male of the midge Belgica antarcticaExtreme survivor

    Antarctic midge's small genome may be an adaptation to its extreme environment

  • Myotis midastactus specimen (previously identified as Myotis simus)Golden discovery

    A bat from Bolivia is described as a new species by scientists

  • Dinosaurs 'shrank' to become birds

    Huge meat-eating, land-living dinosaurs evolved into birds by constantly shrinking for over 50 million years, new research shows.

  • Would we starve without bees?

    Honey bees are under threat, and as pollination significantly contributes to the food we eat, what would we do without them?

  • Eggshells may act like 'sunblock'

    Birds' eggs show adaptations in pigment concentration and thickness to allow the right amount of sun for embryos, scientists say.

  • Female shrimps are more aggressive

    Female snapping shrimps are more aggressive than males when defending their territories despite their smaller claw size, a study shows.

BBC iWonder

  • Honey bee close-upInsect intelligence

    Are honey bees as smart as your sat nav?

  • Tyrannosaurus rex skull (c) Mark Williamson / Science Photo LibraryDinosaur dynasty

    One group of dinosaurs survived and their descendants can be seen all around us today

  • Brown rat cluse upRise of the rodent

    Reports of giant, 'super rats' are filling the headlines. But why are we being overrun by rats?

  • Cuckoo portraitHoliday hotspot

    What makes the UK such an attractive destination for visiting wildlife?

There have been 75 solar eclipses and 167 major volcanic eruptions in my lifetime

Nicole Malliotakis on Twitter comments on the events that have happened since she was born by using our personalised Your Life on Earth interactive infographic.

Things To Do


More Nature Activities >

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.