Pigeons are from the Columbidae family and are some of the most adaptable birds in the world. There are 351 species in the family, and they’re distributed across the entire world, except in the Sahara Desert, Antarctica and the upper Arctic. Pigeons are the most common garden bird in the UK and are frequently seen visiting the bird table or bird feeder, so what do pigeons eat?
Pigeons are non-fussy omnivores but can’t consume insects in vast quantities. They prefer seeds, fruits and berries and will happily eat until they’re more than full, hence why well-fed pigeons are generally quite plump! Pigeons will scavenge whatever food they need, particularly if they live in cities where natural food sources are lacking.
Wood Pigeon eating berries
The humble pigeon is a generally underestimated bird. Pigeons are capable of performing complex tasks and are exceptionally intelligent, not just amongst birds but amongst all animals. Pigeons can also sense the Earth’s magnetic field, providing them with a sixth sense. Thirty-two pigeons have received the Dickin Medal, which is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross!
Pigeons are a common garden bird and feed on bird tables, feeders, trees and the ground all year round.
Read on to delve into the diets of pigeons and discover other interesting facts about this intelligent and highly successful bird.
Different species of pigeons have different varied diets, but all pigeons are omnivores and are certainly capable of eating pretty much anything. Pigeons that live in natural environments, e.g. the Wood pigeon, will eat primarily seeds, berries, grains and fruits. Pigeons are frequently found grazing on lawns and fields when they’re not at the bird table, of course!
Feral pigeons that live in cities are scavengers and will eat pretty much anything. Most pigeons prefer to eat plant matter rather than meat or insects. They also enjoy eating vegetables and fruits.
Pigeon foraging on the grass
Pigeons eat broadly the same in winter as they do at any time of year, but will look to boost their protein and carbohydrate levels to prepare for the cold. Grains and seeds are high in protein and provide pigeons and many other birds with the protein kick they need to build fat and muscle for winter.
Foods generally become more scarce throughout winter, but pigeons will rarely struggle to find the grains and seeds they need to survive.
Pigeons are natural seed and grain eaters and will consume any and all seeds. They are sometimes referred to as granivorous, meaning they feed primarily on grains and seeds.
Wheat, oats, corn, rice, peas and flax are ideal pigeon foods. Pigeons will happily consume small insects, too, so they'll usually eat dried waxworms and mealworms if given the opportunity. Any and all bird seed mixes are suitable for pigeons - they're definitely amongst the least fussy garden birds.
Vegetables and fruit are also excellent food for pigeons. Wood pigeons especially enjoy munching upon farmer's cabbages and lettuce!
Pigeons eating seeds from a bird feeder during the winter
Whilst pigeons do eat insects and even meat if they’re hungry enough, they largely require just seeds and grains to stay healthy.
Bread is fine in moderation, but the main issue with bread is that it’s nutritionally incomplete and doesn’t provide birds with the levels of micronutrients they need. Seeded or wholemeal bread is much better than white bread.
It’s also important to never feed birds with mouldy food as the fungus can be toxic. Most birds do not tolerate lactose well either, so dairy products are a bad choice. With pigeons, it’s seeds, veg, fruit and grains all the way!
Wood pigeons are great eaters of veg, which makes them somewhat of a nuisance pest to farmers growing cabbages and other leafy greens. They’ll consume vast quantities of seeds and grains too. Wood pigeons will happily eat most things people put out on their bird table, so long as there’s a nice and diverse mix.
For a more in-depth guide to the diet of a wood pigeon, check out this guide.
Wood Pigeon foraging on the ground for food
Baby pigeons are actually weaned on something known as pigeon milk (also called crop milk). Pigeon milk is not milk in the mammalian sense but is a secretion produced in the stomach (crop) of an adult pigeon. The pigeon parents regurgitate it up, and the chicks feed out of their mouths. Flamingos and the male Emperor penguin also produce crop milk for their chicks.
Pigeon milk is extremely high in fat and other concentrated nutrients, which help pigeon chicks grow very quickly. Pigeon milk can be emulated by blending foods like oats with water, or you can use a special baby bird liquid formula. Baby pigeons can start eating solid food after about three weeks, but their bills won’t be strong and hard enough to consume hard seeds for another two to three months.
Homing Pigeon feeding its baby crop milk
Absolutely. Standard white rice is not especially nutritious, but pigeons can safely consume it as part of a balanced diet. Wholemeal rice is more nutritious. The only danger of rice, especially uncooked rice, is that it becomes mouldy quite quickly.
Bread is not strictly harmful to pigeons and other birds, but the main downside is that it’s nutritionally incomplete and also very filling.
If a bird fills up on bread, then they’ll likely not seek out other foods to bolster their diet with the other nutrients they need. Whilst bread in moderation is fine, too much is bad for pigeons and other birds.
A 'well-fed' rock dove, also known as a feral pigeon
Despite being exceptionally proficient flyers, pigeons very rarely migrate. In fact, many won’t stray too far from the areas they’re born in.
They’re real homebodies and like to laze around, perch, sit and feed, which is why they’re prone to getting quite plump. A plump pigeon feeding constantly from a garden bird table is quite a common sight, but it’d very rarely be the sign of much of a health issue.
Many birds need high-fat diets anyway - pigeons are just good at fattening themselves up efficiently!
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