The Pigeon Nest: Pigeon Nesting Habits And Behaviors

Often referred to as the rats of the sky, which is quite a demeaning nickname, pigeons are known to plague cities and urban areas. They seem to be absolutely everywhere, and you can always see them flocking to parks to see if anyone will feed them.

They essentially inhabit cities and become a prominent feature within them, although pigeons can also be found living in more rural places, and in the countryside. 

But how do pigeons live? Or more specifically, how do they make their nests and use them? It is quite a popular curiosity that baby pigeons are hardly ever seen, so much so that there are light-hearted jokes made about pigeons being born all grown up, ready to fill the city. 

Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim

But pigeons, like any other birds, have their own unique nesting habits and behaviors, with a nest that they build and use, in order to lay their eggs and raise the baby pigeons, known as squabs. 

If you have ever wondered about pigeon nests, then this is the article for you, as we are about to tell you everything you need to know about pigeon nesting habits! 

Let’s get right into it. 

Feral Pigeon or Rock Dove

The Feral Pigeon is descended from the Rock Dove (Columba livia). Early civilizations quickly learned that Rock Doves were intelligent, adaptable and great at navigation. They were domesticated from wild populations and then escapees began to colonize local areas. Later, European explorers took domesticated Rock Doves with them around the world and the same thing happened. Rock Doves became wild populations of Feral Pigeons.

Today, even where populations of Rock Dove are present, they are largely considered to be Feral Pigeons. Furthermore, every where outside the Eurasian countries where Rock Dove originated, these birds are classed as Feral Pigeons. As we move on, we will be looking largely at the Feral Pigeon species and refer to them as pigeons.

Where Do Pigeons Make Their Nests?

First of all, you might be wondering where pigeons build their nests, or where you can find them. The truth is, pigeons will build their nests anywhere they can, as long as it meets a few basic requirements.

They need a flat surface, which is dry and protected from weather conditions. They also favor high places, so that they are safe from predators on the ground. 

Out in the wild, pigeons will build their nests on rocky cliffs or in caves. In cities, however, pigeons build their nests on high flat ledges, attics, roofs, under bridges, and similar. As long as the surface is high up, flat, and dry, they are happy to nest there. 

What Does A Pigeon Nest Look Like? 

Pigeons aren’t the only birds to roam near civilization, so you can’t just assume that any bird’s nest you come across is a pigeon’s nest. This is why it is important to know what a pigeon nest specifically looks like, so that you may identify it better. 

One of the main things you will notice in a pigeon nest is that they are pretty ugly. We say this in the sense that, compared to other birds’ nests, a pigeon’s one is messy and not exactly work or art. Pigeons just pile up twigs, sticks, grass, and similar items, leaving a small sunken bit in the middle, and they call it a day. 

On top of this, pigeon nests are used all throughout the year, so they accumulate a lot of dirt, and a lot of pigeon poop and feathers. Especially because, unlike other types of birds, pigeons don’t bother cleaning out the nest, and they just live in the mess that it becomes.

And if the nest needs to be upgraded or fixed? They leave the damaged and dirty skeleton of the old one underneath, so again, dirt and mess seriously build up. Again, they ain’t pretty or appealing. 

However, this makes it easier for you to know whether a pigeon’s nest is new or old. A new pigeon nest will be relatively small and cleanish. Meanwhile, a pigeon nest that has already been used for a few years will be a lot bigger and heavier, and it will be extremely dirty and full of all sorts of debris. 

Courting And Nesting Behavior

Pigeons need a nest in order to lay their eggs and raise their babies, so courting is a big part of the nesting procedure since a mate is needed in order for it to be used. 

Males are usually the ones to start building a nest, and they do so while they are simultaneously trying to find a mate. They will usually wait around the place where they are planning on having the nest, making very slow initial progress, just kind of hoping that a female will see them and go “oh what a great place for a home, I like you”.

Photo by Rhododendrites

Once courting takes place, and the male pigeon has managed to attract the female of his choosing, and they’re a happy couple, he will start to actually build the nest. He will bring materials, one at a time, passing them to the female. The female then takes these materials and turns them into the nest. So the male fetches items and the female builds. 

It is worth noting that, as a general rule, pigeons mate for life, so they are building a forever home! 

Once the nest is complete, they mate in order to have babies. They then take turns taking care of the eggs, with the male sitting on the nest during the day, and the female doing so overnight. On average, pigeons will have around 10 squabs every year (baby pigeons). 

Oh, and if one of the pigeons dies, or they are somehow separated, the one left behind will try to mate with another single pigeon. They don’t like being alone, and they are very aware that bringing up squabs is a two-pigeon job! 

Egg-Incubation And Squab Care In The Nest

Let’s talk about pigeon eggs, the main reason for the nest to be created. 

Female pigeons will usually lay around two eggs, and they will do so as soon as the nest is complete, no time to lose! Both male and female will take turns incubating the eggs, working as a team, with the female sitting on them overnight, and the male sitting on them during the day. This incubating routine will last for about 18 days. 

Once the eggs hatch, the nest fills with squabs (baby pigeons). When they hatch, they are covered in yellow down, and they’re not exactly cute. 

Photo by Karthik Easvur

While in the nest, they will feed on crop milk, which is a thick liquid regurgitated by the parent pigeons. Both the male and the female feed the squabs, for around ten days, and after this, they begin to eat normal pigeon food, brought to them by the parents. 

Something you need to know about squabs is that they grow very fast. In the first two days, they double in size, making them the fastest-growing vertebrates in the world.

In just two weeks they get their flight feathers, and by their third week, they are completely feathers. In fact, after 28 days, they look fully grown and are ready to leave the nest. 

And once they leave the nest? Well, the parents waste no time, and the female will be laying a new set of eggs soon after. As a matter of fact, pigeons tend to lay eggs every single month! So it’s a non-stop making of babies. 

Feeding Behavior In The Nest

If you ever do stumble across a pigeon nest, and you manage to catch a glimpse at life within it, and how the squabs are fed, you will notice that it is quite unique and different to how other birds feed their babies. This is why we feel like it’s important for us to say a little more about it. 

We’ve already mentioned that for the first 10 days the squabs are fed crop milk, and later on normal food. Both the male and the female feed the squabs, taking turns and working as a team. 

But here comes the interesting part. Once the parent (the one with the food) comes back to the nest, it is carnage. Not in the literal sense, but the squabs fight and race in order to be the first to get to the food. It’s quite aggressive and quite fascinating to watch! 

Just an important warning, if you do get to watch swabs in their nest: do NOT feed them. The parents do a very good job of giving them enough food, and it is important that you do not interfere! If anything, you can feed the parent pigeons!

Why Do We Never See Baby Pigeons?

Remember how we mentioned that ongoing joke about how pigeons are born all grown because it is almost impossible to find a baby one? Well, there is a reason for this. 

Squabs grow extremely fast, so they don’t look like babies for very long. On top of this, they stay in their nest throughout their entire growth period, and once they leave the nest, after 28 days, they already look like adults.

So since baby pigeons do not leave the nest until they look like adults, there is very little chance of seeing them! (That is unless you manage to find a pigeon nest to carefully observe!) 

But trust us, there are plenty of baby pigeons, as pigeons lay eggs almost every month! 

Do Pigeons Re-Use The Same Nest?

Some birds completely discard their nest once it has been used, and will make a brand new one the next time they need one, while other birds will create a forever nest that they use time and time again. So where do pigeons stand on this? 

Well, pigeons most definitely use the same nest throughout the entirety of their life. They mate for life, and once they have built a nest they will keep on re-using it, making it bigger or fixing any damage when necessary. 

Plus, pigeons are very good at always finding their nest, since it’s their home, and they are homing birds. 

In fact, pigeons are so loyal to their nests and homes, that this is the primary reason why they were used for carrying messages in the olden time. No matter where you sent them with the message, you could rely on them making their way back to their nest eventually. 

Photo by Diego Delso

They have an incredible sense of direction and an instinctive ability for finding their way back to the nest. 

During the day, pigeons are out and about, collecting food, courting, or collecting materials. And at the end of the day, they have no trouble getting back home! 

How To Correctly Interact With A Pigeon Nest

Finding a pigeon nest is not common, so when you do, it is understandable to be fascinated and to want to observe it, in order to see how they live and learn about them. 

However, it is very important to be very careful and respectful with pigeon nests, in order to ensure their safety. 

Here are some helpful tips to ensure you do everything correctly!

How To Stop A Pigeon From Nesting In Your House

If you want to avoid pigeons from nesting in your house, or in your area, then the main thing you can do is keep the area clean and neat. Pigeons look for sheltered places that are out of use, where they will not be disturbed.

If you keep the area clean and neat, not only does this show that it is in constant use but also, you make it unappealing because there are no twigs or debris for them to use for the nest. 

How To Provide A Pigeon With A Nest

If you want to attract pigeons, by providing them with a nest, then it should be around 12 inches square big. They also prefer it if there is a 3-inch perch, and if you have used straw, tobacco stems, or hay. This will be really comfortable and appealing to them!

How To Move A Pigeon Nest

If you think a pigeon nest is in danger, or in the wrong place, you might be tempted to move it to a better location. However, you should NEVER move a pigeon’s nest.

For starters, because pigeons learn the location of their nest, and if you move it, they might not find it or survive. Secondly, because they might outright abandon the nest if it is moved, even if there are still squabs in it. 

Only licensed professionals can move a pigeon nest, as they will have the proper procedure to avoid the pigeons from abandoning it. But you should never attempt to move on of your own accord. 

Photo by Imogen Warren

Final Thoughts

Whether you think of these birds as Rock Doves or Feral Pigeons, just remember that they are still beautiful creatures and deserve our respect. If they have become a pest and are in the wrong place, it is our fault.

Related Questions

Do rock doves make good pets?

No, Rock Doves and Feral Pigeons are wild animals and should never be removed into a domestic setting. There are lots of domestic dove and pigeon breeders so if you want one of these birds, find a local one.

Are Feral Pigeons invasive?

Yes they are. However, they have been in our urban centers now for a couple of hundred years and are now part of the ecosystem. It might be gruesome but they provide food for owls and mammals.

Are urban pigeons a health hazard?

Yes, unfortunately they are. Feral Pigeons are social animals and will gather together in large groups. Where they find a suitable nesting site like a tall or abandoned building, they will move in en masse. And where there are large numbers of pigeons, there is a lot of feces. The dust from dry feces carry pathogens which can be dangerous if inhaled by humans.