What Do Pigeons Like to Eat?

By Trevor Scott

Across the world in major cities, pigeons are a common bird. Many people consider pigeons nuisance birds, along with scavengers like crows and magpies. The cooing that pigeons perform is similar to the cooing of doves. People tend to think of pigeons as dirty pests and doves as clean symbols of peace, but they are really from the same family. The reputation that pigeons have received as pests who will eat anything is mostly undeserved.

Background

The common name for the pigeon people are most likely to see is rock pigeon. The scientific name for the pigeon is Columba livia, from the family Columbidae which includes more than 300 species. They originated in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Pigeons first arrived in North America in Nova Scotia, Canada in the 1600s with Europeans. Some of them were domesticated and trained as racing and homing pigeons. Today, pigeons are considered feral because they are descended from escaped domestic pigeons.

Food

Domestic and feral pigeons like to eat grains and seeds. Feral pigeons will also eat bread crumbs, popcorn and other food left behind by people. If they had to choose between bread and birdseed, a feral pigeon would choose the birdseed, which normally contains a variety of seeds and grains. Domestic pigeons don't have access to lunch leftovers in the park, so their diet consists of their favorite food: grains, including corn, peas, wheat and sorghum. The grains are not cooked or popped --- they are fed to the pigeons raw.

Eating Habits

Pigeons swallow food whole, store it at the base of the throat, and then pass it into the digestive system. Pigeons need grit (small pebbles or rocks) to process their food so it can be broken down into nutrients. Feral pigeons can easily find grit, but owners of domestic pigeons need to supply it. Drinking water aids digestion and is also important for pigeons to bathe in -- debunking the myth that pigeons are dirty.

Reputation

The reputation that pigeons have as birds that carry disease is incorrect. It is the droppings that pigeons leave behind that may carry disease, not the pigeons. Those that live in cities keep themselves clean by frequently taking baths. Feral pigeons are known to eat vast amounts of human food like bread crumbs, popcorn and other leftovers. This leads people to believe that the bird is a scavenger and a nuisance, when all they are doing is cleaning up after people.