Rock Pigeons: Native to Cities (and some farms)

ROPI release 22 Jan 14 - 05Given that roughly 80% of North America’s human population lives in an urban environment, it’s possible that Rock Pigeons are our continent’s most widely recognized birds. Although they are often the targets of abuse, derision and harsh measures to discourage their presence, the cityscape wouldn’t be complete without pigeons.

Rock pigeons have been domesticated for so long that precise knowledge of their original homeland may never be known. However, fossils over three hundred thousand years old have been found in present day Israel. Generally, they are thought to have occupied a band that stretches from North Africa and southern Europe across Mesopotamia and into India and southwestern China.

As their name suggests, Rock Pigeons are naturally cliff dwellers, nesting along the sea coasts of the Mediterranean, perhaps the foothills of the Himalayas. Powerful fliers evolved to these habitats, city pigeons in the skycraper canyons of Vancouver or New York are second-nature.

The first Rock Pigeons are believed to have come to North America in 1606, brought to Mi’kma’ki, by French settlers to be raised for food. Over four hundred years later, feral pigeons have spread throughout the Americas, occupying all but northern Canada. Yet, unlike the European Starling and the House Sparrow, both species introduced by European settlers who drive native songbirds from habitat and nesting grounds, Rock Pigeons in America, perhaps because of their city and farm habitat, their near complete use of the urban environment, do not appear to pose much threat to native wildlife.ROPI release 22 Jan 14 - 08

Last week, a kind man stopped at the intersection of 4th and Q in Eureka, CA to scoop up a younger, possibly female pigeon who was flightless in the middle of the street. He brought her to our clinic in Bayside, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center.

Upon admission the bird was given a complete examination. Because we found no broken bones, it seemed most likely she had been hit by a vehicle, suffering only a glancing blow.

BAX and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center are concerned by the damage that introduced species may cause. For this reason we are cautious about rehabilitating and releasing non-native wild animals. However, every animal, including non-native species that damage native wildlife also deserve humane treatment, even when eradication is deemed scientifically, ethically and legally right to pursue, as in the case of introduced rats on islands that are important for seabird breeding and rearing of young. Introduced non-native animals are not guilty of anything and do not deserve our wrath. They deserve our compassion and our respect. If we can’t see this fundamentally true thing, then what business have we interacting with any species at all?

The life of an urban pigeon, replete with resources in the form of human discards, is still dangerous. Fishing line, twine and other traps abound. Vehicles run birds down in every neighborhood of every city every day. Look more closely at a flock of pigeons. Notice how many pigeons have injured or missing feet, how many have poor feather condition, how many are dead in the gutters.

In the case of this young pigeon? We’re glad we could give her a second chance.

After a week of supportive care and anti-inflammatory medicine, the pigeon had resumed graceful, coordinated flight. We released her back in the only habitat she and many generations of her ancestors has ever known, the urban wilds of Eureka.

Your support makes care for injured and orphaned wild animals possible. Thank you for being a part of this life-saving work.

photos: Laura Corsiglia/Bird Ally X – click here for more photos from this Rock Pigeon’s release.