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Why you never see baby pigeons
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Why don’t you ever see baby pigeons?

Visit any town or city, and you’re likely to see them everywhere - pigeons, the most ubiquitous of urban birds. Those grey, white, black and brown-feathered friends that sit or walk, bobbing their heads, on pavements, walls, parapets and buildings cooing sweetly, raining down their excrement and odd feather.

A group of pigeons

But there is something odd about pigeons. We see them old and hobbling, mature and wise, young and a little foolish, playing a game of proverbial chicken with the oncoming traffic. Yet we never see their babies.

A pair of baby pigeons

Which, given the abundance of pigeons, begs the question why? The answer is rooted in the origin of the pigeon itself.

Feral pigeons – the ones we see in our cities – are descended from rock doves. They still take after their wild rock dove ancestors, which were very secretive when it came to situating their nests. Rock doves usually constructed nests on the ledges of cliff faces or in the crevices of impossible to reach rocks.

A pigeon nest high up in a tree

But today, with an absence of edgy cliffs, rocky crags and dingy caves in our cities, the feral pigeon must make do, constructing its nest in whatever out-of-the-way, covered spots it can find, such as church towers, abandoned buildings or beneath bridges. Since we don’t often enter such spaces, we don’t often get to see the contents of a pigeon’s nest.

Feral pigeons on the Empire State Building, New York City, USA

Baby pigeons, or squabs as they are often called, stay in the nest for a very long time: the nestling period from hatching to fledging typically lasts more than 40 days, roughly twice that of most garden birds. During this time, the parents feed their chicks with a regurgitated “milk” rich in protein and fat.

When squabs finally fly the nest they are fully grown and virtually indistinguishable from adults. The keen-eyed might note that the still-juvenile pigeon won’t have the shimmery greens and purples around its neck and the cere – the growth that sits on top of the beak – will be a pinky grey rather than bright white as it is in adults.

An adult common wood pigeon with its white cere

But for most of us, they are all pigeons!

(All images - credit: Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licence)

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