If you’re an avid bird feeder like me, then you must see lots of pigeons – they are the commonest of all garden birds with at least 2.5-million pairs in the UK.
The wood pigeon originally lived in coastal regions and the countryside. In modern years, they have found their way into urban gardens; tempted by the delights on our bird tables.
When you know what pigeons eat, you can decide whether you want to attract or deter them from making visiting your garden.
Wood pigeons are almost exclusively vegetarian, devouring seeds, grain, nut, berries, and crops, much to farmers annoyance.
They favour certain foods but will eat almost anything from the bird table.
What do pigeons eat in the wild
Pigeons thrive in the countryside, probably due to the varied crops, where they steal their food.
They can cause carnage to vegetable crops, including sprouts, cabbages, and peas, especially as they like to feed in large flocks of hundreds of birds at a time.
Their diet isn’t limited to vegetables; they also enjoy grains, seeds, young shoots, and buds.
Farmers take great care to protect crops from pigeons, constructing elaborate netting structures to keep them at bay. The damage they create costs the farming industry upwards of £3million per year – it is little wonder that they’re known as an agricultural pest.
In winter, pigeons favourite food is oilseed rape – the high oil content is very good for the birds’ joints and bones and a rich energy source. Flocks cause devastation to crops even if there are other nearby food sources available.
What do pigeons eat from the garden?
The pigeons that visit my garden are sharp-witted. They have seemingly bulky frames and aren’t agile enough to master the hanging feeders. Instead, they perch on the mesh tray or water dish and lean across to reach; they happily sit there for minutes at a time while timid songbirds sit in the tree awaiting their turn.
While their preference is definitely seeds and grains, wood pigeons will try most things available on the tables.
From personal experience, nyjer seeds are their least favourite, but sunflower hearts go down a treat. I buy wild bird mixed seed; they seem to love that, eating from the feeding tray or clearing up what other birds scatter on the ground.
They seem to enjoy crushed peanuts, and recently when I put some leftover sweetcorn out on the tables, it was the pigeons who got there first; none of my other birds got a look-in!
Last year they discovered my late fruiting blueberry bush; I had to cover it in netting to deter them. They also have a penchant for berries, so beware if you’re a strawberry grower.
I slice apples and pears to place on a feeding tray in the bough of a tree. Pigeons definitely show interest, but I’m not sure it would be their food of choice.
All gardens should have a source of clean, fresh water for the birds to drink and bathe in, non more so than pigeons. Their diet is especially dry; they drink plenty to compensate.
Most garden birds fill their beak with water and throw their head back to release it down their gullet. The pigeon has a much more gentle approach and uses its beak to suck up water, as a human uses a straw.
If pigeons are vegetarians, why do they dig in my driveway?
When birds dig in the ground, we automatically assume they’re on the lookout for worms, ants, or other creatures to eat. Not so with the wood pigeon; they chew on tiny pieces of grit to aid digestion.
Pigeons eat to excess, especially in winter. They peck at least 70 times per minute in the morning; that increases to around 100 times in the evening, just before roosting time.
When they can eat no more, they relax in their roost while their body digests the day’s food overnight.
It seems as though pigeons are constantly eating, but they need to; their frame is much bigger than most other garden birds, and each beak full is tiny.
Although pigeons look chunky, we should remember that their feathers weigh heavier than their skeleton – why they walk in that funny little waddle.
Now that you know what pigeons eat, it should be a little easier to appease their appetite and leave enough for our smaller feathered friends.