When considering whether to help a baby pigeon, the advice for young Stock Doves, Collared Doves and Woodpigeons is broadly the same for other garden birds (see here). However, feral pigeons are, by nature, cliff nesting birds so their habits and behaviours are quite different.
It’s also worth clarifying that, contrary to popular belief, pigeons are not ‘classed as vermin’ and there are no legal issues preventing you from helping them. They also have broadly similar legal protection to other birds meaning it’s an offence to disturb their nests or to cause or fail to prevent their suffering.
Baby pigeons can be grouped into three different rough stages of development. Hatchlings are covered in yellow fluff with maybe a bit of ‘stubble’ where feathers are starting to grow. Nestlings will be partially or even mostly feathered but will have a short tail and may have some yellow fluff remaining around their head and neck. Fledgling pigeons will look largely the same as adults with the main difference being the lack of iridescent feathers on their neck.
When to rescue #
If the bird has been caught by a cat
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia.
If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.
A hatchling or nestling feral pigeon on the ground and you can’t find the nest
The parents will only feed the baby if it is in the original nest. Unlike most other species, they will not find and continue to care for it if you place it in a bush or tree. If you can’t return them to the original nest, the baby will need to be rescued.
Both parents have been killed
Depending on the age of the babies, a single parent may cope with raising them alone. But if both parents are dead, they will certainly need to be rescued.
A baby of any age in a dangerous place
Pigeons sometimes nest in dangerous places and their babies may fall from the nest a bit soon. A common example is under a bridge where a baby is in danger of ending up in the road. Babies of any age in this sort of situation will need to be rescued.
When to take other action #
A hatchling or nestling out of its nest which can be accessed
If you find a healthy, uninjured baby pigeon out of the nest and you can see and get to the nest, you can return it there for the parents to care for. Don’t worry, they won’t be upset by you handling the baby. Observe to make sure the parents return and continue caring for the baby.
When to leave alone #
A well-looking fledgling out of the nest
As long as the baby is bright, active, runs away from you and attempts to fly when needed, they can usually be left alone. The exception is if the baby is in a dangerous place, such as under a road bridge, and is not yet able to fly.
An apparently abandoned nest of baby pigeons
Once the babies get to about a week old and start to grow feathers, they no longer need to be ‘brooded’ by the parents to stay warm. Pigeons only feed their babies 4-6 times a day so you won’t see them flitting back and forth frequently as you would many other species. Both parents are involved in raising the babies and both can feed them so it would be very unusual for them to be totally abandoned.