INTRODUCING THE FERAL PIGEON

To the ears of the city pigeon, the roaring traffic in our busy streets may sound rather like the thunder of the sea. These adaptable and intelligent birds (along with fancy doves and racing pigeons) have one common ancestor, the Rock Dove (Columba Livia) which once lived on British coastlines. Several centuries of domestication have produced variations in plumage, and now hundreds of the dove's descendants live on man-made cliffs to the delight or annoyance of their flightless neighbours.

THE PIGEON'S FAMILY LIFE

Baby Pigeon

Pigeons lay two white eggs on any available ledge. In just under three weeks the babies hatch and are fed on special pigeon's milk which is a curd-like substance produced in the crops of both parents. Gradually the familiar grey feathers replace the yellow down which covered the newborn pigeon (or squab). Because pigeons favour high, sheltered nest-sites, squabs are seldom seen. They become independent at about 2 months old. Any baby pigeon found on the ground who appears small, still has yellow tufts visible or who squeaks for food or in fear, is in great danger from cats or traffic etc. PLEASE PICK IT UP as it is rarely possible to return it to it's nest.

Also you may find pigeons breeding on your balcony, workplace or roof space. If possible, allow the parents to rear the squabs until they leave the nest before netting off the area, if their return is undesirable. Otherwise please persuade those in authority not to ring the pest control until all juveniles are safely accounted for.

REARING BABY PIGEONS

Most importantly, keep any orphaned babies you may find warm, using artificial heat if necessary. If the squab is completely without feathers (only has yellow down), a ventilated box containing a red light bulb is needed, (hot water bottles do not last through the night.) Ring a bird rescue centre as soon as possible. If the baby is fledged, then a cardboard box lined with kitchen paper in an airing cupboard is adequate. If you want to rear the bird yourself it is best to feed it 3-4 times a day. Acceptable foods include a mixture fed through a syringe, wholemeal bread soaked in warm water or milk, canary rearing mix from pet shops or a mash of warm porridge or digestive biscuit with a little scrambled or boiled free-range egg (about a third of an egg at first, increasing to half an egg per day).

Unlike garden birds who gape when hungry, it is necessary for the squab's beak to be gently opened to receive tiny pellets of food that should be pushed into the back of the throat. Feed until the crop feels plump or the bird loses interest. Food can be moistened, but do not squirt water into the mouth as baby birds can choke or actually drown this way. Small seeds like millet can be added gradually until the youngster begins to feed itself. When the squab is old enough to begin to peck at seeds, provide a shallow dish of water and cage bird grit.

Once it is well feathered (appearing last under the wings), keep the youngster outside in some sort of cage safe from cats during the daytime. This will get it used to other birds: encourage it to pick up it's own seeds and grains and gain beneficial sunlight. Ideally it should spend some time in a rehabilitation aviary. but if this is not possible, do ensure the bird can fly properly and eat by itself before release, allowing it to strengthen and try it's wings in a bedroom or garage.

When you are satisfied that it is able to fend for itself, let it go in fine weather in a safe area, perhaps a town or city park. well away from cats where it can join a regularly fed existing flock who have all year round access to water.

All baby birds are frail. Please do not blame yourself if the little one dies, even after initial success. Any period of cold weakens their ability to thrive, and infant mortality in nature is always high.

 
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