I thought a short post on the problem of Pigeons might be useful as I noticed there’s a lot of people who feed garden birds that have problems with Pigeons.
In defence of the Pigeon
First however let me say I actually like Pigeons ,they are smart ,mate for life and are quite attractive.There are still people living who owe their lives to the work of pigeons in the war years and they have provided long and fearless service to their country’s.
Those countries now having forgotten past service spend their time trying to eradicate the offspring of these pigeons.
This is because unfortunately Pigeons like that other clever and much hated garden visitor the grey squirrel are too successful at adapting to living alongside man.They also eat a LOT of bird food and seem to get at any and every feeder.Like the Grey Squirrel
If Pigeons like the grey squirrel were rare visitors to our gardens ,came in ones or pairs and were hard to attract then I think they would be seen as desirable visitors .Unfortunately pigeons are far too easy to attract to our gardens and often appear in quantities that are far too large.
My problems began when I sowed lawn seed to repair scorch damage done by our dogs which are both bitches occasionally urinating on the lawn ,I had done this in the past and always expected some losses to the odd bird ,however this time it attracted pigeons in huge quantities,instead of the usual handful of resident pigeons there was at least twenty pigeons that took up residence on the roof and in the trees and of these there was often all or at least ten or more in the garden on the lawn and more in the front garden. They of course ate more or less all the lawn seed ,which was slightly annoying but worse still chased off small birds and did a considerable amount of damage in a very short time,tearing chunks out of a tree stump used to support a bird feeder.
,they landed in such large numbers on things that they caused the bird feeder post to come loose and loosened a washing line support .They fouled every path and all the feeders ,I had to throw all the food out of several feeders due to its being fouled by pigeons and spent inordinate amounts of time trying to keep them clean.
The pigeon as typhoid Mary
Pigeons and crow family birds suffer from and seem to carry a disease posing a huge threat to our native birds
Trichomonosis. Trichomonosis is the name given to a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae. It has been recorded in a number of garden bird species and is widely acknowledged to be the causal factor in the rapid decline of the British Greenfinch population that was first noted in late summer 2006 … definition courtesy of the British trust for Ornithology
Image source is this RSPB post
The pigeon fouling and visits to the hanging feeders was a concern as we attracted finches to the feeders fairly regularly and finches in the UK have been suffering from outbreaks of disease .This also seems to be spreading to house Sparrows which we also have in large numbers and there’s been suggestions it may spread to birds such as blue tits.
While Pigeons are not the sole carriers and cant be proven as a threat they are one of the original carriers of the disease .They also cause of lot of fouling to bird baths and feeders which can carry other threats to both humans and birds,Including Salmonella.
The photos below show the build up of pigeon fouling in less than 24 hours on just two areas a cage feeder and the seat at the top of the garden
A list of other diseases and how to protect yourself when cleaning feeders is here ,Its suggests that unlike me you do not bring feeders inside ,I try to off set any hazard by numerous applications of boiling hot water and always disinfect the sink ,door handles etc after the feeders are back outside ,I disinfect my hands before and after disinfecting the sink etc
Pigeons and other birds.
I like a number of those posting on bird forums dont mind feeding a few random pigeons,I had previously enjoyed seeing the variety of resident pigeons visit the garden , for many months a handful of quite pretty pigeons came to the garden .They happily co existed with other birds though they did eat quite a bit of seeds .Pigeons had been the first birds to visit the garden when we moved in . I also noticed when I put food out Pigeons and magpies seemed to be the birds that other birds waited to see coming to get food before they came to feed .Once they unknowingly gave the all clear other smaller birds came to the feeders.This became a problem later when the pigeon numbers increased as smaller birds got crowded out and were left nothing to eat.
I had originally provided resident pigeons with some cheap seed mix which they supplemented by eating the scraps that fell from feeders and by eating from the suet block I had a ground level for ground feeding birds.
Damage ,Vandals and bullies
Unfortunately after several pigeon strikes on our windows I had felt it was not worth the risk of having a broken window and stopped ground feeding seed and made sure the ground under feeders close to the house was inaccessible by placing the feeders in shrubs . The resident birds still made occasional daily visits to the suet feeder and to eat up fallen scraps , in bad weather I threw seed over the fence into a small wooded patch at the back of the house.
Once the pigeon numbers increased the strikes to the windows also began again.I am aware its possible to prevent these by putting up net curtains or blinds or by putting up stickers etc but the great joy of the current house is its long side windows that look out on the garden and let in light.I also do quite detailed work so putting up blinds then spending the day with the lights on to give light good enough to work by didn’t appeal either aesthetically economically or environmentally.
Once the pigeons original numbers were supplemented by visitors the welcome few became an almost ever present plague.
They mercilessly bullied the small birds who tried to feed at the feeders in the tree and on on the pole ,they made constant forays to try to get to feeders out of their reach and perched nearby scaring off the woodpecker who I watched fly over several times to try to find somewhere to perch to make his usual visits to the feeder . Almost all the other birds stopped visiting feeders ,the garden became a wildlife desert.They even scared off the grey squirrels from the small bird table near the house were I usually placed peanuts and sunflower seeds for them.Unlike many gardeners I dont mind the holes dug by greys and I encourage and enjoy the visits of the grey squirrels .We dont live in an area were there was red squirrels or where they would be likely to be introduced so the greys pose no threat of transmitting disease or out competing reds. I missed seeing them hop across the lawn or wander around buying nuts,,which the magpies would occasionally go and dig up as they would watch the greys then go and pinch their stashes.
The depressing spectacle of an garden empty of everything but pigeons or were the occasional blackbird was chased across the lawn or swooped on became the daily view.I could see the pigeons on the roof waiting to find food and they would swoop and chase off other birds.
I decided to stop feeding any ground food whatsoever and removed the suet blocks ,I also moved all the hanging feeders as considering the amount of soiling to the feeders and the numbers of pigeons what were constantly swooping on them it seemed better to have no birds than spread disease.
After two or three days the number of pigeons remained high but the amount of time the pigeons spent in the garden decreased slightly but it was pitiful to watch the returning little birds looking for food that no longer existed.Luckily our neighbours also feed the birds so they did have other sources.
Finding the impossible,
I then began a few days of reintroducing foods to see what the pigeons would and wouldn’t eat and found that holy grail of garden bird feeding.A diet for all the birds except pigeons.
First I tried sunflower seeds in their husks,this didnt work the pigeons swooped down in minutes and ate the lot .
Then I fed monkey nuts exclusively in open spaces and on the table feeders ,the pigeons originally made attempts to eat these but gave up ,they either couldn’t work out how to get into them or assumed the outer shell was all that was on offer.The grey squirrels love these so they started coming back to the table feeder near the house.The monkey nuts were the original attraction for the jay which I hope will return and can be stuck into nooks and crannies in shrubs for the blue tits etc.
For the Blackbirds and other ground feeders
I tried fruit ,the pigeons seemed over fond of soft fruit but didn’t bother with apples so I now chop up an apple each morning.Keep one half whole and the blackbirds love pecking on this and the smaller bits other birds and the squirrels eat. Theres always now apple pieces in varying degrees of decay which also provides insect food.I thought the best solution is probably to try to create using whole foods a perpetual autumn in the garden as its a time of plenty for most birds
I have noticed pigeons show no interest in the sleet nyger seed feeder so I leave that unprotected by chicken wire and plan to site one under as low growing shrub for the chaffinch
Cat food a deal with the devil
While the new foods were not popular with the pigeons once I put back the hanging feeders wioth sunflowers and suet blocks there was still a constant presence around the garden of the bully birds..The feeders were mostly now in hedges with chicken wire under them but this didn’t seem to deter the pigeons .As pigeons are year round breeders I was worried the numbers would increase even further and as we also have trees I didnt want them to become settlers.
So I did what many would consider a deal with the devil ,or devils.
I had originally put up shiny ornaments on our shed to discourage the magpies which used to dive bomb our cat Izzy .They eventually took possession of the garden lawn and Izzy took to glaring at them from bushes or seats
I removed these shiny babbles and started putting wet cat food in a bowl on the shed ,the magpies were delighted and and again took up their role are regular visitors .Magpies seemed to co exist fairly easily with the other birds but due to their feud with Izzy I had discouraged them but they were the only other bird sufficiently bold and large and off sufficient numbers to intimidate the pigeons .Pigeons began to have serious competition and I hoped the potential threat to eggs and chicks from the magpies would discourage the pigeons from getting too settled.Though we have bird nesting boxes in the garden they are protected my wide mesh chicken wire and any hedge or tree dense enough for nests is also protected from magpie raids.I also hope that regular diets of cat food for themselves and to feed their chick might deter predation of other birds nests .So far though Izzy tends to avoid the cat food bowl when they are around they haven’t restarted their diving bombing ,however should they become a pest I will merely replace the silvery shiny things and they will stop settling on the shed and go back to being passing visitors.
I originally supplemented the wet food with a cheap dried food mix thrown on the ground and in a bowl on the shed roof ,this was a mistake the cheap mix had vegetable chunks which the pigeons loved .I now use high quality dried food ,,meat only no fish flavours.This provides hedgehog food at night and leftovers for the magpies.
I also noticed on several days the red kites flew lower when there was wet cat food on the shed roof ,while I would rather not make them visitors ,they do have an excellent deterrent effect on the pigeons and its wonderful to get close views of these magnificent birds.
Cats ,better the devil you know.
I realise the cat is one of the most hated of garden visitors for many who feed birds or who are keen gardeners,however I feel like the pigeon their bad reputation is partly undeserved.
I have had cats my entire life with the exception of a few weeks when I was first married I cant remember a time when we didnt own a cat or cats .We have owned around a dozen over the years .Of those cats only one a rescued feral cat ever caught birds .This cat did so with enough regularity for us to try to prevent it .A collar with a bell was quickly bought ,most of these he managed to remove and loose until we put on on tighter than advised ,a few days later we heard a horrifying noise and found him dangling in a tree by the collar slowly being strangled as he couldn’t escape,luckily we saved him but we never again tried to put a collar on him.Cats do choke on collars so the cat owners reluctance to bell as cat may not actually be a callous disregard for wildlife ,they may like us have tried only to have their cat loose the collars or be genuinely concerned about their cats welfare.I should also say we have had cats who wore collars but the determined bird hunting cat is probably the one most likely to suffer a tragedy as its the one most likely to be in trees.
Of our remaining cats two would probably have quite liked to catch birds so while we owned those we never used bird feeders.We originally kept a close eye on the cats but it soon became clear both completely lacked the speed and skill required.Hours of stalking produced absolutely no results and birds used to sit happily in the trees day in day out, ,,it almost seemed as though they were taunting the cats. The rest of our cats never showed the slightest interest in birds either ground feeders or tree dwelling.I would be entirely sympathetic with those who blame cats for the decline in small mammals as ours regularly brought back mice ,moles and the occasional rat ,They also unfortunately regularly caught shrews Our current cats have no interest in birds ,Izzy sits under the feeders watching them and watches them on the ground but has never tried to catch one however close they get .Other visiting cats stalk ground feeding birds but the birds ignore them until they get close then fly into a shrub until they have gone.I do not believe pet cats are a chief reason for the decline of many birds species.I remember as a child most of our neighbours had cats but there was always lots of bird life .Man has made the normal habitats of many species unwelcoming ,thus making birds more reliant on gardens and increasing the potential for not just predation by cats but also the spread of disease from bird species to species,Farming and gardening has made increasing use of chemicals that either harm birds or reduce their food sources .
I have no illusions about cats ,they can be ruthless and prolific hunters and I have doubt that a cat would probably take a helpless baby bird that falls from a nest but then so would most other predators ,other birds ,rats ,small predatory mammals.Cats dont hunt for fun ,they hunt because its part of their nature ,they are hunters genetically programmed to pursue and kill small animals .I just doubt their primary negative environmental effect in on bird life
I was also able to witness first hand the effect of a cat cull on an area.A famr in one of the areas we lived suddenly decided it no longer wanted its cats as they were a pest.One day spent by the farmer and his sons with shotguns reduced the cat population to nil,no cat or kitten was spared.Within weeks the farm was over run with rats who caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to the stored crops and got everywhere.I suspect there was a similar problem in the houses .We occasionally have the odd mouse but as we have always had cats none are now resident long enough to cause damage and mice do cause damage chewing clothing and electrical wiring. Without cats gardens would have many more unwelcome disease spreading rodent visitors as bird feeders leave scraps on the floor that is certain to attract mice ,while rats can usually scale most feeders .Yes cats dig the occasional hole and leave unpleasant calling cards but they wont eat your seeds ,leave trails of urine or chew through your wiring .
To return to topic ,the shed top feeding ensured our own rather portly cat spent long hours sat on the shed like a living scarecrow or scare pigeon.
Ground feeding of cat nip goodies also encouraged other cats to linger longer than usual ,these not only deterred the pigeons but most seem to make it their mission in life to catch a squirrel ,so if your not a grey squirrel fan this is an win ,win situation for you ! I am slightly concerned for the baby squirrels when they surface in the next few weeks as a couple of cats have almost caught the squirrels (fur has been flying ) but I planning a large clump of catnip ,so maybe the visiting hunters will be too chilled out on cat nip to catch anything.
I also let our Cavalier King Charles have unlimited garden access and she spent many happy hours chasing pigeons
These measures have now seen the pigeon numbers decrease rapidly .
The other birds are protected by feeders placed in hedges with chicken wire corridors under them ,
Cats can get through these in certain places by doing a bit of wriggling and criss crossing but cant access the trees or have enough space to lie in wait or stalk .These are also out of reach of birds of prey.I put the suet feeders back on the pole and currently theres chicken wire over the top to stop the pigeons getting settled,it doesn’t deter all but does mean they cant get a good grip and dont take up residence ,I also moved the suet blocks down a little lower so they cant be reached.I replaced some tree feeders siting them directly under very large over hanging branches and use the small mesh or plastic seed feeders which dont give the pigeons any footholds.The squirrel proof ones were too sturdy and pigeons would get a grip and hang from them).
The squirrel proof one will soon be going nr the floor under a shrub surrounded by green garden canes sited inches apart making it accessible to dunnocks and chaffinches but totally inaccessible to pigeons.Its also not visible unless your very close as I found pigeons dont always search the ground the way other resident birds do .I bring most of the feeders in when I top them up to avoid spillage that attracts pigeons though this is a nuisance its also a way to remind me to given them a clean regularly.
I am not sure of success but I also intend to try slate topped bird nesting boxes next year and hope to buy a metal roofed bird pointed top “table” which hangs from a tree and has a surround as I think it will be hard for pigeons to get a good grip on metal or slate roofs.Its quite expensive but I estimated at their height the pigeons could get through a £2 bag of sunflower hearts in two days )I will use this to screw onto the post in place of the current wooden roofed feeder
,this is to feed the squirrels as I think it will be hard to keep it clean if I fed birds seed or meal worms on it
The scraps from their masters tables
I still have a problem in the small front garden as pigeons eat the scraps that fall from the feeder there but I plan top buy a ground cover rose to deter them from eating the scraps from it I will probably plant a few of these in the back so I can gradually reintroduce some of the feeders into the middle of the garden .The problem of falling food is the last problem and hardest to solve.Feeders with trays only adsorb a certain amount of scraps before they overflow and personally I feel they probably harbour disease. Though there’s no proof of this I cant imagine walking in food scraps or eating food scraps others have walked in can be good and in the case of fat balls or suet tiny pieces of this food will be carried on the birds feet into nests etc .By placing some feeders in the hedge and adding mesh it solves the problem for small birds and gives them a haven but the larger birds such as the woodpecker cant access these so I hope to solve the problem of falling scraps by under planting ,,you could also just put a planter under the bird feeder or an upturned hanging basket ,,I noticed the hedgehogs visit the base of bird feeders in summer for the fallen scraps so I would rather create ground cover .
I feel that the problem of most garden pests ,bully birds such as pigeons ,starlings,magpies and other pests such as cats and squirrels can best be solved by a long term plan of substituting as far as possible food from bird feeders with food from the correct shrubs and plants,unlike the supply from feeders which is entirely dependent on the presence of a willing human and which appeals to a wide range of birds not all of which are desirable shrubs and plants will be a regular natural supply of food appropriate to specific species ,they also provide cover so birds can eat in peace rather than risk the trip to a feeder in the open and shrubs will be less likely to contribute to the spread of diseases as the feeders and baths are clearly a source of much infection.This ideal is not something possible for me or the average gardener but something to consider for those who may have larger gardens ,in my own garden I cant achieve this ideal so I am focusing on providing berry bearing and winter flowering shrubs to give winter and early spring food and on providing plants such as ornamental thistles and teasels to provide finch food .I have planted Rowen and hazel for berries and nuts and some cranberries ,raspberries and red and blackcurrants .I also jointly with the help ad support of a kind neighbour planted a crab apple and other fruiting trees in our shared hedge .Planting a hedgerow rather than erecting a fence is win and win for everyone ,you dont have to maintain ,paint ,repair a fence ,,which the wind may well damage .By planting a hedge you provide an environment for a host of wildlife ,insects ,butterfly’s ,bees bird life and small mammals ,you will be able to allow hedgehogs both transit across your garden and also provide possible hibernation or nesting sites .You can have almost constant colour and scent, an array of cut flowers and fresh grown berries such as the expensive raspberry,cranberry and redcurrants.
,this requires very little expenditure of either cash or time and much less maintenance than a fence.Hedges are much more effective noise barriers and can be either more or less of a barrier between you and your neighbours depending on how you grown them ,we are lucky enough to have wonderful neighbours so its nice to be able to chat to them over lower parts of the hedge but if you are not lucky enough to have pleasant neighbours then planting an evergreen or dense hedge will give an all year around barrier .(A post on hedges will follow shortly)
This is a rather long post but hopefully it addresses the issues of pigeons fully ,both the arguments of those who have often judged those posting on birds sites ,claiming they should like all birds equally,those who claim pigeons should be entirely eradicated and those who only have a small space and budget and want to feed those birds most threatened by the changes to their environment.
A final thought
Its worth noting that of all the birds attracted to garden feeders pigeons are by far those most in need of our care ,we used to breed them for food ,we still breed them for racing and show and these escapees are unable to find their own food in the way that blackbirds ,magpies ,blue tits etc can do.Other birds welcome our food and feeders almost certainly have made huge impacts on helping birds survive lean times and have influenced the migration habits of birds such as the Black cap but all the other birds can be provided for by natural means.Pigeons are entirely dependent on man a species which as a whole despises them and spends large amounts of time and money trying to make them unwelcome and eradicate them. Perhaps if you have just the odd one or two which visit your garden or have access to a wild space,the next bout of bad weather you could spare a few suet pellets or a handful of seed for your local pigeons.
I have solved the lawn damage problem ,though I have given up on sowing lawn seed as I dont want to re attract the pigeons or use potentially dangerous netting to protect seed when we have other wildlife such as hedgehogs and squirrels which could become ensnared in it.I decided instead to plant winter and spring flowering plants in the damaged sections and hope they protect what seed remains .Its not a great option if you have or want a pristine lawn but ours has a lot of weeds and moss so a few extra plants most of which will die back after flowering isnt a major problem.These plants give bees and insects an early source of food and look much prettier than just green grass during a dreary time of year before most shrubs and plants flower
Anemones I just planted at the normal level ,likewise crocus and daffodils.
but I planted Violas slightly sunken in so they had an half inch or so growth height below the lawns level ,
when I mow hopefully this will give them enough foliage growth to survive in small clumps but help limit their spread as extra plants will shoot up at grass level and get mown flat ,,not sure this is going to work but I thought it was worth a try