I have many pigeon visitors to my garden most days. I really don’t mind as I have strategically positioned the feeders so they can’t get at them; well, most of them anyway!
I leave kitchen scraps in a shallow tray on top of the garage; they seem happy with that; providing they beat the magpies there.
Other than that, they’re happy to hop around on the lawn pecking at the seed, clover, and anything the small garden birds spill.
Watching them made me wonder why we don’t see baby pigeons.
They don’t hatch as the fully-formed grey birds we see scavenging around tourist attractions, so where do they hide as babies?!
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Why Don’t We See Baby Pigeons?
Pigeons tend to nest in obscure or high places making them difficult to spot.
Unlike most other garden bird species whose young fly the nest around a couple of weeks old, pigeon chicks remain until they’re around six weeks old.
By such time they have grown enough to be easily mistaken for adult birds, but there are some tell-tale signs that they are juveniles.
Wood pigeons only ever lay 2 eggs at a time, which is more than enough considering there are already 400 million birds worldwide!
If an egg is destroyed, stolen, or eaten by a predator the couple will mate again in the same season to produce offspring and keep the bloodline intact.
When the chicks hatch, they are scrawny little things. They are altricial; this means they are virtually helpless and rely on their parents for food and care. They don’t open their eyes for at least 5 days.
Squabs, the term for baby pigeons, have grey coloured flesh with sporadic tufts of fuzzy, yellow feathers.
Their beak, wings, and feet look disproportionately large in comparison with their tiny bodies, but everything equals itself before they leave the nest.
Their beaks remain pink for some time, turning darker as the feathers start to grow.
Not all birds feed their young by dropping regurgitated food into their gaping mouths.
Pigeons use a different method; they take the squab’s tiny head in the mouth and allow them to feed on the crop milk within.
This is a self-made secretion with the consistency of cottage cheese.
It is the only thing the young eat for the first week of their lives as it is full of protein and fat.
By the second week, the parents introduce adult food to supplement their diet.
After 14 days, the babies are weaned off squab milk and onto a solid diet.
How to Recognise Young Pigeons
After about 16 weeks, pigeons are ready to leave the nest.
They have bulked up, and, at first glance, they look like the adult birds we are so used to seeing.
But there are a couple of differences.
- The iridescent purple-green collar has yet to form.
- The wattle is still pink and not white as on adults.
The wattle is the cluster just above the beak. Birds struggle to regulate their temperature as they don’t sweat. The wattle reflects the sun, enabling birds to keep cooler.
Pigeons and their Nests
Pigeons typically build their nests within the privacy of a wooded area. Depending on the available habitat, they roost in caves, on rocky cliff faces, and even on flat areas providing there is decent coverage and protection.
Urban birds can construct a home on the side of a tall building, on a rooftop, in the eaves of out-buildings, beneath bridges and in other unusual places.
What they all have in common is they are safe from predators and the elements, and out of the way of man.
It is the main reason that we don’t see baby pigeons.
Those birds that nest in trees, choose to build their rather haphazard structures high up; another way to prevent us from coming into contact with their offspring.
For How Long do Baby Pigeons Stay in the Nest?
Most garden birds are ready to fledge at around 2-3 weeks old.
Squabs are reliant on their parents for longer; they rarely attempt to leave the nest until they’re 6 weeks old.
As they approach fledging age, they may try and have a quick recce of the immediate surroundings, but they soon head back to the warmth and safety of the nest.
Mated pairs of pigeons choose the location so carefully that, even if a chick finds its way from the nest, we are unlikely to spot it. The nesting site is usually very well obscured and protected.
What to do if You See a Baby Pigeon on the Ground
If the bird is alive, chances are it has fallen, or inadvertently been pushed from the nest.
If you leave it there it will die from exposure, starvation, or at the hands of a predator.
The parents will not attempt a rescue mission, simply abandoning the chick.
Look upwards and see if you can spot the nest. If so, and if it is safe to do so, gently and quickly place the squab back amongst the twigs.
Unlike many other bird and animal species, pigeons won’t reject their young if they have been handled by humans.
Are Pigeons Noisy Birds?
We are often alerted to the proximity of a nest full of chicks by the constant chirruping sound they make when they are waiting for food.
The cooing sound that we relate to the bird is their way of communicating or attracting a member of the opposite sex.
If you hear grunting from the direction of the pigeon, there is a problem; be it a predator, they are hurt, or in distress.
Pigeons flap their wings in a specific motion to create a whistle; this informs other birds of the nearness of a predator.
Because babies are usually high up or out of sight, we rarely hear their quiet cries.
Grunting pigeons during the breeding season often means they fear for the safety of their offspring.
Just because we don’t see baby pigeons it doesn’t mean they’re not there.
They are typically hidden away by their parents in a secure spot while they grow.
When they reach 6 weeks old, juvenile pigeons are ready to fledge the nest and terrorise your freshly seeded lawn and bird feeders!