FEED THE BIRDS, TUPPENCE A BAG
Most of us are familiar with the movie “Mary Poppins,” and the scene where the little old lady is feeding the pigeons in front of the bank crying out to feed the birds. She is selling small bags of seed for a “tuppence.” On the contrast to that sweet scene is the commercial where someone says, “pigeons, are the filthiest birds in the world.” Both views of pigeons are worlds apart. To some people pigeons are a nuisance and to others a joy to behold. But in spite of the kindness, the little old lady selling her seeds is also the harmful one. All birds that “hang out” in one place can make quit a mess with their droppings. Their droppings can disfigure buildings and due to the acid in them actually eat away at the paint and structure. Pigeons, dove’s crows, or parrots, all would be guilty of the same crime if left to fend for themselves in a world modernization has taken over. Yet, the pigeons get a very bad wrap and are often seen as nuisance birds. However, they too are simply trying to survive.
Pigeons are not really flock birds. You can see them from time to time in groups of 15 to 25, but by in large they do not stay in flocks that travel and hang out together as more common birds such as wrens, and blackbirds. They usually pair up just as doves do and keep that mate for life, or until “death do us part. They raise their young together and provide excellent care for them. Once the young approach adulthood or breeding age the parents no longer allow the young to remain with them. They view even their own young, as well as other pigeons, a threat to the bonded union they have with one another.
Pigeons forage for food as other birds do. They spend the better part of the day looking for food for themselves and their young in the nest. Pigeons, unlike most birds feed their young through the night. They have special milk that is produced in their crop that allows them to continue feeding in the dark. Most birds must return to the nest by nightfall unable to fly in the dark to look for food. They head out at the first break of dawn to get food, since their young and themselves have gone all night without any food.
Pigeons normally would not be seen in large groups. Unfortunately they are encouraged to flock in large groups due to the need of food, and people willing to provide it for them in the means of back yard feeders or throwing large amounts of food out in the grass They will take a free hand out any day verses scavenging for hours for one or two bugs. It seems like a kind thing to do to provide seed everyday for the birds. The downfall of this good deed is disease.
Since the pigeons do not normally flock together, but hang out in pairs, if one gets sick only one more is exposed to the illness that is present. The single bird left behind usually stays alone for a period of time before acquiring another mate. That leaves plenty of time to see if exposure to the disease that killed its mate will be subject to itself. When pigeons flock in groups the chances of a sick bird being present increases. The exposure to that illness also increases causing the disease to spread in a much larger range. Histoplasmosis and Cryptococcosis, a fungal disease associated with pigeon droppings that can grow in the soil, psittacosis, pigeon pocks, canker, (trichomoniasis) are all command diseases spread from bird to bird in close proximity. Pigeons that contact canker, 80% of the birds die when exposed to this organism. Canker increases thirst, and drinking from the same water source, increases the others birds exposure to the organism. Therefore when the birds are encouraged to gather in one place to drink together, many are infected through the secretions passed in the water. Other virus and diseases that are mostly susceptible to pigeons are often fatal. The birds drink from the same feeders, eat together in close perimeter and the outbreak of disease effects a large number of birds. Parasites such as worms and mites pass from bird to bird in the same manor, in the dirt, feces and close contact. The kindest thing we can do to keep our pigeon population from illness and being label a nuisance is do not feed them. Also take in to consideration the young birds that only know how to come and receive food that is handed out to them. After the age mom and dad no longer care for them, and if the seed or food supply is no longer provided, or someone runs them off because they are considered a nuisance. Well the younger birds die of starvation. They have never been taught how to look for natural sources of food on their own. They are dependent on humans providing a hand out to survive. Another factor to consider is, most foods offered by people do not contain the proper nutrients needed to stay healthy and the flock is more susceptible to disease due to poor nutrition. An exception to feeding some birds would be in the winter. Some birds do stay in the cold areas and do not migrate to warmer weather. They of course are also not having baby birds to feed either. A bird feeder then would be appropriate. But when the warm weather returns, allow them to forage for the fresh berries, leaves and bugs that are all signs of spring appearing. This insures them a much healthier life. The key to controlling diseases from spreading and an excess number of pigeons from gathering in one place is not feed them. The right thing to do not stop at once, but stop feeding them everyday and feed at different times of the day. Gradually decrease the amount of food you offer them over a period of time. This can take weeks to properly stop feeding birds that have learned to gather in one place for food and are dependant of it because they have not been raised to survive on their own.
Pigeons and wild birds are very intriguing to watch, and admired, but when it comes to feeding them, leave that to God the one who created them.
Veterinary assistant at Backos Bird Clinic