The humble Wood pigeon is one of the UK and Western Europe’s most common representatives of the Columbidae family of pigeons and doves. Wood pigeons are the third most commonly seen garden bird in the UK, sitting just behind Blue tits and Blackbirds. Here, we’ll be answering the question; how long do Wood pigeons live?
Wood pigeons live for around 3 years on average, but many live until they’re 6 or so. Wood pigeons’ relatively short lives are due to high 1st-year mortality rates. In their first year, as many as 52% of all pigeon juveniles die. However, Wood pigeons are prolific breeders and are one of few species to breed practically all year round. This is partly how they sustain high numbers despite short lifespans and high mortality.
Wood pigeons appear somewhat daft and stupid, but they’re actually some of the most intelligent birds on the planet. Dubbed ‘Britain’s most misunderstood bird’, pigeons possess phenomenal memories and pass the mirror test, meaning they recognise their own reflection.
Wood pigeons also mate for life and maintain strong pair bonds for the duration, which helps them save courtship time and concentrate on breeding! Read on to learn more about the lifespans of these hardy, intelligent and adaptable birds.
Wood Pigeons live for around three years, on average
The average lifespan of Wood pigeons is around 3 years, though some studies found that 3 to 6 years was likely more accurate.
For their size, Wood pigeons have short lifespans, but they make the most of it by being one of the only European birds to breed all year round.
In fact, Wood pigeons have been recorded nesting in every month, which contrasts with most birds that breed for just two to four months a year.
In the wild, Wood pigeons live for around 3 years on average, rising to 6 years in some locations. 52% of juvenile Wood pigeons die in their first year, and the year-on-year survival rate for adults is around 61%.
So, every year, a slim majority of juveniles and around 4/10 of all adult Wood pigeons will die. With that said, there have been cases of pigeons living for longer than 10 years in the wild, and the oldest pigeon was 17-years and 8 months old!
Wood pigeons make up for high mortality by laying around 3 clutches of eggs every year, though some couples will attempt to lay more if the broods fail. Wood pigeons can attempt up to six clutches in one year.
Close up portrait of a Wood Pigeon
Captive Wood pigeons are rare - these are very much wild birds. However, captive racing pigeons and doves can comfortably live for 10 to 15 years. A Wood pigeon could likely live for the same amount of time, providing it’s well-cared for.
Most Wood pigeons die as chicks or juveniles. Wood pigeon chicks are vulnerable to predation in the nest by corvids, hawks (particularly the Sparrowhawk), squirrels, owls, foxes, and domestic cats.
Around 73% of nests survive, and around 52% of juvenile Wood pigeons survive until they’re 1-year-old.
Once adults, Wood pigeons still face threats from a wide range of predators. As they age, they also become susceptible to disease and cold conditions.
Wood Pigeon foraging for food on the ground in autumn
Wood pigeons have relatively fast lifecycles, but they stay with their parents for quite a long time before becoming independent. Incubation takes around 17 days in the UK and Western Europe, and the birds are ready to fledge after around 30 to 36 days.
After then, the male may continue to feed them occasionally for another two weeks or so while the female prepares for the next brood.
In Europe, Wood pigeons face many threats on land and in the air. However, Wood pigeons have keen instincts and are generally good at evading predators.
A pair of common Wood pigeons perched in a tree together
The oldest Wood pigeon was 17 years and nine months and was found on the Orkney Islands.
Wood pigeons are very unfussy feeders and will eat practically any scraps you leave out for them, though they are primarily grain and seed eaters.
Pigeons have substantial crops, which are specialist digestive ‘pouches’ used to store excess food for later digestion and feeding to chicks. As a result of this crop, Wood pigeons can go for days without a large meal, providing they really gorged themselves prior. Wood pigeon crops can hold around 80ml or 3oz of food - plenty enough for a few meals!
A large flock of Wood Pigeons during the winter
While Wood pigeons migrate during the winter from Russia, Scandinavia and Iceland, they’re all-year-round residents in the UK and much of Central and Western Europe.
Wood pigeons are plump, stout birds with a decent layer of fat and dense feathers that can be puffed up in the winter. They retreat into sheltered roosts in the winter but can tolerate cold temperatures well.
Wood pigeons are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, but some people, like farmers, can lawfully kill them under certain circumstances.
The law surrounding shooting pigeons and other wild animals in the UK is complex. Farmers and other specific individuals have been allowed to kill pigeons and other birds that directly impact their livestock, crops or livelihood. However, this ‘general licence’ was revoked by a legal challenge in 2019. The general licence was reinstated in 2022, and Wood pigeons can now legally be killed by specific individuals if they pose a disease risk to livestock or destroy crops.
To further complicate matters, Wood pigeons were recently placed on the Amber list as ‘Bird of Concern’ due to their numbers declining for the first time in a while.
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