There are five species of pigeon and dove normally present in the UK – Turtle Doves, Stock Doves, Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves and Feral Pigeons/Rock Doves.
There’s a common myth that pigeons are ‘vermin’ so it’s legal to kill them. All UK species of pigeon and dove receive protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act meaning it is usually illegal to harm or kill them or disturb their nests. There are a few exceptions for limited reasons where lethal action is permitted IF non-lethal attempts to resolve the conflict aren’t possible or have failed.
Common Issues #
On this page, we’ll cover the common complaints an average householder might have about the presence of pigeons. We won’t be covering larger scale/commercial issues. PiCAS are a good source of information for this type of conflict.
‘Stealing’ food meant for other birds #
Clearly, no bird understands the concept of ownership. If food is put out, they will happily partake. Contrary to popular belief, small birds like sparrows and tits are not generally ‘scared off’ by the presence of larger birds such as pigeons. Consequently it isn’t really realistic to want to ‘pick and choose’ which birds you do and don’t want to feed. Some feeders claim to prevent larger species of bird from accessing the food but these should be used with caution as they can cause injury.
Nesting on balconies #
Rock doves/feral pigeons are naturally cliff nesting birds so balconies are perfect nest spots for them, closely resembling a ledge on a cliff. You should be aware that nesting feral pigeons are protected under law, just as other birds are. This means that it is illegal to disturb or harm their nests or eggs. The only exception is where there is a demonstrable risk to public health or safety and non-lethal methods are not practicable or effective. If this is the case, we would strongly encourage you to seek help from a wildlife rescue who may be able to take in and raise the babies rather than having a pest control company kill them.
The problem with lethal control #
Essentially, the issues with traditional methods of pest control, which rely largely on killing, are
- in all but a few limited circumstances, killing birds is illegal
- methods of killing often cause considerable suffering
- methods of killing are indiscriminate which can lead to young being left without a parent and then suffering a slow death
- some methods of killing, such as poison, also have an impact on other species
- removing individual animals is not a successful long-term solution. Animals are attracted to an area by territory availability, food and shelter. If all these things remain in place and individual animals are removed or killed, animals in surrounding territories will soon move in to take advantage of the available resource.
These issues are covered in more detail here –
The Alternatives #
Integrated Wildlife Management is a more intelligent, science-led approach to ‘pest-control’. Rather than simply shooting or poisoning the ‘offending’ creature, which will only bring about a very temporary solution, it uses an understanding of wildlife behaviour and ecology to find a holistic, humane and effective long term solution.
The most effective method of resolving a wildlife conflict is to remove what is attracting the animal. These basic tips will help to make your garden less interesting
- Clear up any food such as pet food, spilt bird food or fallen fruit.
- Feed birds in hanging feeders, not on a flat table. Pigeons do generally have a different feeding style to smaller birds, and are less inclined to feed from suspended feeders. Choose versions with small holes or an outer guard which larger birds can’t access.
- Do your composting in a secure compost bin.
- Place all refuse in wheely bins.
- Tidy up any overgrown trees which might be providing shelter or nesting sites (outside of nesting season only, otherwise you risk breaking the law).
If that proves ineffective, the next step is to actively deter the animals. To do this, you need to offend as many of their senses as possible. Birds rely more on sight and hearing than taste and smell so that’s where to focus your approach. However, keep in mind, these methods are likely to affect all birds, not just the ones you consider undesirable.
- use brightly coloured wind spinners or CDs hanging from string to create random movements (NB: please use thick string not thin string or fishing wire which birds can become tangled in)
- drive stakes into the ground and fix plastic bags or sheets of tinfoil to them. As they flap in the wind the birds will find these quite daunting and avoid the area
- commercially available silhouettes of cats or birds of prey can help to deter them
- sonic deterrent devices or windchimes create unpleasant sounds which may deter them
In the case of nesting pigeons, it’s likely that your only legal option is to wait until the babies have fledged and the nest is no longer in use and then take measures to clear the area and prevent the nesting birds returning. Often, just ensuring your balcony is clean and tidy without areas for the birds to hide under will be enough to deter them from nesting there again. It also helps to go out there regularly so the birds see human activity in the area. If the issue persists, the most used solution is to block access to the balcony with netting. However, this must be professionally installed and regularly maintained otherwise it becomes loose and birds can become trapped in it. If this occurs you would be liable for prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act if any suffering is caused.
If you have an issue not covered by this article and would like some bespoke advice, you can email us using the form below. There are also growing number of humane pest control companies using the same holistic principles as us. You can find details of some here.