Feral pigeons - problems and solutions

Feral pigeons or pizons domestik have been hitting the headlines this week. A flock of them had been causing a nuisance at the National Library since the building was constructed. They were gathering in numbers on the roof, and making a lot of noise and mess. Happily for the library, the delinquent pigeons have been moved on, following the installation of special spikes that discourage them from perching. The problem has been solved at a local level – for the library – but has been moved on to somewhere else. It hasn’t gone away.
Seychelles is experiencing a problem that is familiar to the residents of urban areas the world over. Feral pigeons are one of those creatures that have done very well living side-by-side with us. The birds you see today in flocks over Victoria are descended from domesticated versions of the wild-living Rock Dove. Pigeons have been kept as a source of food, and also for the sport of pigeon racing, by many societies. Here, although people in the past kept pigeons at home as a source of food,  today there are almost no natural limits on their numbers in terms of predators.

Feral pigeons have long been a cause of controversy in towns and cities like London. Enormous flocks of them gather in the city. They are said to be popular with tourists, some of whom feed them in places like Trafalgar Square. It makes you wonder: don’t they have pigeons back home? Lord Nelson’s column is lavishly decorated with the pigeons’ calling cards. It costs the equivalent of 750,000 SR per year just to clean up after them in Trafalgar Square alone. The costs UK-wide are thought to be 150 million SR.

All kinds of methods of pigeon control have been tried by authorities in different countries:

  • Shooting. This is–dangerous and not popular with public. It is impractical for large flocks, and only a short-term solution
  • Plastic Eagle Owls. These only scare pigeons briefly, until the pigeons work out that the owl does not move.
  • The pill . Trialed in Switzerland and found not to be effective.
  • Doping . Again impractical, and can affect non-target birds.
  • Falconry. Flying captive birds of prey in the vicinity of pigeon flocks does scare them away, but again it is expensive, and merely moves the problem on to someone else.

There are hygiene issues associated with feral pigeon populations (Connor what are these?). There is no natural check and balance – no predators to weed out sick and diseased birds or limit numbers in any way. But this may be changing in London and other towns and cities, as predators like the Peregrine Falcon, which occasionally visits Seychelles on passage, move in to establish territories on tall buildings that are the next best thing to cliffs.

But in the end the main factor that determines the numbers of these pigeons is what they eat. This is where we all have a part to play. If there are no rich pickings in the form of discarded food in our yards, on our streets  and in the port area for these and other pests, then their numbers may diminish substantially. Yours may not be the roof they gather on, but it’s still your problem too. On the other hand why not turn the problem into an opportunity. The birds are not indigenous or rare. They were introduced to Seychelles probably as a food source for people. Why not use them as such?

Nature Seychelles, published on Regar Newspaper, Seychelles, 12th September 2005

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