Although there are many races and forms of pigeons with variable color patterns, everyone is well-acquainted with the slate blue-gray color of the Rock Dove. Rock Doves have iridescent green, bronze, and purple feathers, two black wing bars, a white rump patch, a distinctive broad, black band on the tail, and red feet. Their wing tips collide on takeoff, and the birds, once airborne, glide with their wings raised at an angle.
Male and female pigeons are difficult to distinguish as both are similar in coloration. Female pigeons, though, have a tendency to hold their tail higher and waddle when walking, and are somewhat smaller in size.
Found throughout Connecticut, the range of the Rock Dove includes most of North America from southern Canada south, and into Hawaii. Normally the home range of a pigeon flock is less than one square mile; however, pigeons will travel 10 or more miles from their roost sites in search of food. Despite gregarious traits, individuals have been known to live apart from any flock.
Pigeons are monogamous and mate for life, but with the disappearance of a mate, they may choose another. Although breeding may occur in all seasons of the year, peak reproduction occurs in the Spring and Fall. Male pigeons are more aggressive and strut. In a mating display, males fluff up their neck ruff, drag their tail on the ground, and make loud, cooing noises. While the male selects the nest site, both sexes are involved in nest construction. Nests consist of twigs and grasses and are often located on building ledges and rafters or in eaves, steeples, and vents. Both male and female pigeons exhibit a strong territorial defense of the nest site and share in incubating the eggs (the hen taking most of the day and night shift while the cock sits for a few hours around midday). Clutch size is generally one to two and the incubation period is 17-19 days. Newly-hatched pigeons or squabs are fed a substance called pigeon milk, which is produced inside the crop of both parents. At four to six weeks of age, the young leave the nest. More eggs may be laid before the first young are fledged.
History in Connecticut
Pigeons were brought to the United States by the first European settlers in the early 1600s. They have been abundant in Connecticut throughout the past few centuries.
Common names for the Rock Dove include Domestic Pigeon and Homing Pigeon.
Pigeon flocks are typically made up of equal number of both sexes.
Ancestors of the Rock Dove originated from North African birds and European species that hybridized with Asiatic varieties.
The flight speed of the pigeon is 15 to 35 mph; trained pigeons have been clocked up to 97 mph. The pigeon’s alarm note is recognized as an anxious-sounding grunt.
Rock Doves were apparently the first birds to be domesticated (around 4500 B.C.), being raised first for their meat and later for their message-carrying ability.
Management of Nuisances
While some urban dwellers enjoy having friendly pigeons within sight, pigeons can be a nuisance, especially around roosting sites. Their acidic feces eat away gutters and other metal structures, erode stone buildings, and burn lawns. Pigeon droppings are also known to harbor a variety of diseases and parasites, and large accumulations may present a human health hazard. Precautionary measures such as wearing gloves, a dust mask, and washing with disinfectant soap during and after clean-up of pigeon droppings is highly recommended.
A number of options exist for managing or preventing nuisance situations involving pigeons:
Pigeon proofing: Pigeons often prefer to use the interior portions of buildings to nest and roost if an opportunity for access is provided. Openings to lofts, steeples, vents, and eaves can be blocked with 1/2-inch galvanized wire mesh, wood, sheet metal, or other solid construction materials to prevent pigeons from entering.
Controlling pigeons on the exterior surfaces of buildings often requires considerably more effort. The most effective and permanent methods of control involve structural modifications which either physically exclude pigeons from the preferred surface or make it difficult for the birds to rest comfortably on the exposed building surfaces. Physical exclusion can be accomplished by installing weather resistant netting, wire screening, sheet metal, or other materials in a manner that will restrict access to the roosting sites. A grid of heavy gauge monofilament line spaced at six-inch intervals may also be used to create a fence that will interfere with the birds’ normal flight pattern to the roosting area.
One of the most effective, although expensive methods for preventing roosting pigeons is the use of a commercially available bird barrier system consisting of a series of metal prongs or “porcupine wires” along a metal base that can be attached to a horizontal roosting surface. The needle-like strips of stainless steel act as a prickling fence to exclude birds permanently without harm.
Pigeons prefer to roost on level surfaces. Roosting areas can be modified to create a sloping surface, at a 60 degree incline or more, by installing wire mesh or other material to eliminate the level surfaces. There are also a number of non-toxic sticky substances registered as tactile repellents for bird control efforts. Birds tend to avoid landing upon treated areas but the effectiveness is usually lost over time.
Although time-consuming and unpleasant, removing nests will help reduce populations. Nest destruction must be followed by pigeon-proofing the structure to achieve maximum population control.
Feral pigeons are not protected by state or federal laws or regulations. Local municipal ordinances should be consulted prior to any control effort that will involve the discharge of firearms.
There is only one product registered for lethal control of pigeons in Connecticut and can only be used by a certified pest control operator under a special permit from DEP Pesticides. The product is generally not appropriate or feasible for most nuisance situations experienced by the average homeowner.
Pigeons may be live-trapped on buildings and other likely locations with permission of the property owner. A DEP permit is issued without fee for the purpose of removing birds which are damaging structures or have become a nuisance. Live-traps for pigeons are available commercially from major trap suppliers. Pre-baiting the traps with grains that the birds are accustomed to will increase success. A variety of baits, including cracked corn, millet, popcorn, sunflower seeds, peas, bread, and peanuts can be used. Water should be available in the trap at all times. Trapping in any given area is usually slow, labor intensive, and only a temporary reduction measure.
Acoustical and visual repellents are other means of reducing pigeon usage, but pigeons usually become accustomed quickly to these scare devices. Some homeowners have reported limited success using helium-filled eyespot balloons, predator (owl) decoys, and reflective mylar tape in roosting areas. The same limited success is achieved by the use of noise-making devices such as tape-recorded bird distress calls, firing of blank cartridges, and the use of propane-fired cannons in agricultural areas. Combining a number of techniques and frequent changes in the duration and location of the repellent may increase success.
Connecticut is home to 7 species of woodpeckers that live in forests, woodlands, orchards, residential areas, and city parks throughout the state. An important part of the ecosystem, woodpeckers help control insect populations and create nest cavities that are used by other birds and mammals who cannot excavate the cavities themselves. Nuthatches, screech owls, kestrels, starlings, squirrels, flying squirrels, deer mice, and raccoons all use woodpecker tree cavities.
Woodpeckers are well adapted to maneuvering around tree trunks searching for insects and spiders. Their toes—two facing forward, two facing backward—enable woodpeckers to grasp vertical tree trunks and their stiff tail feathers provide an extra measure of support. With their sturdy beaks, woodpeckers can bore holes into trees for feeding and chisel out cavities for nesting. Strong muscles at the base of the beak act as shock absorbers to absorb the pressure from the force of impact. Bristles lining their nostrils filter out dust and tiny wood chips. To extract insects from crevices and holes in trees, woodpeckers have a long, sticky tongue with a barbed end with which they can snag insects.
In Spring, males drum on trees (as well as on metal eaves and gutters, house siding, poles, and trash cans) to announce their territory and attract a mate. Most species mate for a single season and share much of the work associated with nesting, including excavating a nest cavity, incubating eggs, and feeding young. Generally, woodpeckers lay a single clutch of white eggs, although those in southern states may raise two to three broods in a season. Often the male incubates the eggs at night and the female sits on the nest during the day. The eggs hatch in about 2 weeks. The young are born blind and featherless (altricial). Their eyes open in about 2 weeks and the young are ready to fledge (leave the nest) in about a month. Often the young will stay with the adults in family groups until the end of Summer or early Fall.
Depending on the species, some woodpeckers prefer dead trees in which to excavate a nest while others choose live trees. Some species will reuse a nest cavity from year to year while others prefer to create a new one. Red-headed woodpeckers will use an existing cavity, not necessarily of their own making. There are even woodpeckers, including downy and hairy woodpeckers, Northern flickers, and Red-headed woodpeckers, that will use a nest box if built to the proper specifications for that species.
While there is a great deal of habitat overlap among woodpecker species, there is relatively little competition for food and nesting resources as each species has its own niche. For example, Downy and Hairy woodpeckers occupy similar habitat but Downy woodpeckers glean insects from bark crevices while Hairy woodpeckers forage deeper into the tree trunk for wood-boring insects.
Predators, including hawks, owls, snakes, raccoons, and starlings, eat adult woodpeckers, nestlings, or woodpecker eggs.
Habitat loss poses the greatest threat to woodpeckers. While many species have adapted to suburban backyards and urban parks, some, such as the Pileated woodpecker, need large tracts of forests in which to breed. Developers often cull dead trees from wood lots leaving species, such as the state-endangered Red-headed woodpecker, without the dead and decaying trees they need to nest and raise their young. In addition, developed areas often encourage the presence of starlings, non-native birds that invariably out-compete and displace woodpeckers for nesting sites.
Many of Connecticut’s woodpeckers are frequent visitors at backyard bird feeders where they feed on suet, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter. You can encourage woodpeckers by providing nesting habitat, supplemental food at feeders, and shelter.