Skip to main content
Full Menu Close Menu

Pigeons in the City



Encourage more humane treatment of animals.


There is an abundance of information available on pet birds around us. On a nature of neighborhood walk, it may be interesting to point out a wren, sparrow, or even a bluejay. What many people forget or ignore is that there are pigeons all around us. Pigeons are part of our daily lives, but they are sometimes treated as second class birds. There are over seven million pigeons in New York City alone, yet it is almost impossible to find a picture book about them.

The attitudes of adults are passed on to children. Children accept adults' attitudes without knowing if what they have been told is true. Some children are taken to the park to feed pigeons as part of a week-end family adventure. These children come to delight in the experience of having pigeons eat out of their hands or gather around them. They come to internalize their families concern and pleasure regarding pigeons. Other children are told that pigeons are dirty, or that they are pests that leave their droppings everywhere. Some children chase pigeons and even throw rocks about them. Others avoid the pigeons because they have been taught to be afraid of them. When a pigeon is hurt, most people walk right by, leaving the pigeons to an uncertain future.


Ancient Egyptians left evidences that pigeons were kept by the people of that time. Our pigeons were brought from Europe by the colonists. All pigeons are descended from rock doves which naturally nested on rock ledges. In Western Asia pigeoswere a symbol of love and a food source. Today, in Hong Kong, 800,000 pigeons are consumed annually.

By the time Aristotle (384-322 BC) pigeons were already being used as messengers. Pigeons have a homing ability and have been used throughout history as messengers, especially during wars. The English-bred Cher Ami (Dear Friend) became famous by carrying a message, while mortally wounded, over 25 miles in 25 minutes, saving the lives of countless soldiers. At least 32 pigeons received medals for bravery during World War II.

Cities have more pigeons than rural areas. Their staple foods are bread, grains, nuts, berries, insects and even garbage such as discarded hot dogs. They drink from ponds and puddles and have even been seen eating snow when water is scarce. They do not migrate. Their numbers remain high because they have virtually no predators. Some buildings have placed plastic owls on their roofs to discourage pigeons from nesting. Pigeons can be a problem at zoos during feeding times. Zoos sometimes use poison along with trapping to solve the problem. In some cities, predators are being introduced to decrease the pigeon population.


Pigeons have feathers made from a protein called keratin and they are strong and flexible. As the feathers grow, they split apart. This cuts off their blood supply, so that fully-grown feathers are dead. They are lost by molting or as a result of accidents. Feathers may become dirty and lice-infested, so pigeons must clean them, by combing their beaks through the feathers. They also take dust baths to absorb or scrape away bits of dirt.

The feathers must hook together to produce a smooth surface for flight. Pigeons preen their feathers back to the correct position when they become separated. There are four main types of feathers: down, body, tail and wing.

WING: These feathers are light yet strong. by changing their position the pigeons use these feathers to steer during flight. Wing feathers are not all the same. Inner wing feathers are usually shorter.

BODY: These feathers vary greatly in size and shape. Some insulate the body while others are for display and camouflage.

DOWN: These feathers are next to the bird's skin. The edges spread out to form a soft, fluffy mass. Down is an excellent insulating material.

TAIL: These feathers have three functions: to steer the birds while in flight, to help them balance when not flying and to impress a male during courtship.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVE 1: Students will be able to observe pigeons and make a list of their basic needs, to prove that pigeons are living animals with needs.

MATERIALS: Paper and pen for the teacher to record answers, bread crumbs in a bag, binoculars and camera optional.

SPECIAL NEEDS: Plan this activity when the weather is warm enough for the students to be able to sit on the ground.

PROCEDURE: Discuss with the class that everyone is going to watch pigeons. They must sit as quietly as possible and watch what the birds do. After a while, they will discuss what they see and the teacher will list their responses. The children are then taken to a park, quiet street or lot where pigeons gather. Sit and observe pigeons. Use the bread to attract and keep the pigeons nearby. Take pictures to be used for a big book.

KEY QUESTIONS: What keeps pigeons warm? What do most birds do with their wings? Where do they live? What do they eat? Where do they get their food? How do they get water? How do they keep clean? Who takes care of them when they are sick? Do pigeons make sounds? How do people treat them? What do you parents/friends say about them? If they do not like them, why not?

EVALUATION: The list must include at shelter, food and water.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVE II: Students will collect fallen pigeon feathers, examine them and classify them by size, shape or color.

MATERIALS: Pigeon feathers, oak tag, stapler or glue, marker and magnifying glass.

PROCEDURE: Have the students collect pigeon feathers. Using the magnifying glass, the students will examine and describe different feathers. Separate the feathers into three equal piles. Divide the students into three groups and give each group a pile of feathers and a piece of oak tag. Tell each group which category ( size, shape or color) they will create and allow the students to make their displays and label them.

EVALUATION: Check each display to see that students have categorized the feathers properly.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVE III: The students will make pigeon hats and a nest so that they can dramatize the life of a pigeon.

MATERIALS: Paper plates, gray paint and brushes, scissors, paper scraps, glue or tape, stapler and yarn. For the nest: many foot long twigs, yarn and a tablecloth.

PROCEDURE: Cut plates in half and have the students paint them with the gray paint. Use paper scraps to make facial features. Make a head band from paper and attach a six inch piece to each side with the stapler. Attach yarn to the headband ends. Make a pair of wings to attach on each side. Make sure to staple from the inside out so that hair won-t get caught in staples. Place the tablecloth on the floor and make a child-sized nest, using the twigs and yarn. The students may take turns sitting in the nest and then act like the pigeons they have observed.

EVALUATION: The students should do at least one of the following: strut, peck at food, fly, puff their pretend feathers or flap their wings.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVE IV: The students will feed the pigeons using a variety of foods, will chart the results and then determine what pigeons like/dislike to eat.

MATERIALS: Popped corn, kernels of corn, bread crumbs, raisins, bird seed, peanuts, lettuce, oak tag, markers and camera.

PROCEDURE: Put a sample of each food in a bag. Take the students to a pigeon site and each day at the same time feed one food listed and observe results. When back at school, chart the results on the oak tag. Discuss results and try other food.

FOLLOW UP: Use a cookie-cutter to cut stale bread into shapes, spread the bread with peanut butter and dip into the nuts or grains that pigeons preferred. Make a hole in the middle, tie on yarn and string the bread up into a tree near a classroom window. Take pictures to be used later in the big book.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVE V: Students will observe and record the attitudes of others towards pigeons.

MATERIALS: Paper and a pen

PROCEDURE: Take the class to your pigeon observation site. Keep a small group of students with you while the others remain with the paraprofessional or class parent. Settle near the pigeon and record what other people do when they walk by the pigeons.

KEY QUESTIONS: How many people stopped to feed or talk to the pigeons? Did anyone notice them or did most people walk right by? Did any children chase them? Did anyone do something negative to them? Was anyone scared of them? Did you see any elderly people feeding them? As a pigeon, what would you do if children chased you, if no food was available or if someone threw a rock at you?

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVE VI: Students will draw a picture and tell a story about pigeons.

MATERIALS: Paper and markers

PROCEDURE: Discuss what happened when the students observed people with pigeons. Most people ignore them and don-t know much about them. Ask each student to draw a picture of a pigeon, name it and tell a story about it.

KEY QUESTIONS: Where does your pigeon live? What happens when it gets sick? Who feeds it? Is your pigeon scary? Will it hurt anyone? How do you feel when children chase you or throw rocks at you?

CULMINATING ACTIVITY, TO BE USED AS A SCIENCE FAIR PROJECT: Students will write a big book about pigeons. They will title the book and decide what information is important to be included. The pictures may be drawn by the students, cut from magazines or they may use the photos taken during previous activities. The book should be at least ten pages long. Because of the humane awareness used in each activity, the big book must reflect this attitude along with the general information the children have accumulated.

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES: Here is a list of added suggestions that may be used with the thematic approach and pigeons.


  • Make a pigeon picture. Draw a picture on oak tag and glue on collected feathers.
  • Make a bird mobile from paper scraps and feathers.
  • Make a paper pigeon. Use strips for head and body in a circle and two strips for wings.
  • Make oaktag or cardboard pigeons, one piece for slotted body, another piece for the wings.
  • Make pigeon puppets from paper bags.


  • Spread peanut butter thinly on cardboard and place outside at pigeon site overnight. Observe pigeons- footprints on cardboard the next morning.
  • Photograph the pigeons showing their lifestyle.
  • Place feathers and water together and see what happens.


  • String circle-shaped cereal on yarn and hang in a tree.
  • Make shredded wheat nests.
  • Taste some of the edible seeds and nuts that pigeons eat.


  • Make a toy pigeon to take care of. It would have to be injured and recovering, since it is a wild animal and normally it would not be found in a house.


  • Chart injured or sick pigeons.
  • Make a list of features that are similar among pigeons.
  • Count the number of pigeons that you observe during each activity.


  • Write stories about sick or injured pigeons.
  • Finger play with homemade felt pigeons.
  • Draw up a word chart about pigeons.


  • Make a pigeon puzzle. Glue picture of pigeon onto oak tag and cut into pieces or make an original drawing on tongue depressors.
  • Make a pigeon game, such as dominoes.


  • Better Homes and Gardens Bird Buddies, Meredith Corporation, 1989.
  • Burnie, David, Eyewitness Books: BIRD, Alfred A. Knopf, N.Y. 1988.
  • Burton, Jane, Pets, Coombe Books, 1978.
  • Cromwell, Liz, Dixie Hibner and John R. Faitel, Finger Frolics, Partner Press, 1976.
  • Garber, Steven D., The Urban Naturalist, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1987.
  • Goin, Kenn, Eleanor Ripp and Kathleen N. Soloman, Bugs to Bunnies, Chatterbox Press, 1989.
  • Herberman, Ethen, The City Kid-s Field Guide, Simon & Schuster, 1989.
  • Naether, Carl, Pigeons, T.F.H. Publications, 1984.
  • Nature Scope - Birds, Birds, Birds, Naional Wildlife Federation, 1988.
  • Newkirk, Ingrid, Kids Can Save the Animals!, Warner Books, 1991.
  • Roundtree, Barbara S., Jean F. Gordon, Melissa B. Shuptrine and Nancy Y. Taylor, Creative Teaching with Puppets, The Learning Line, Inc., 1981.
  • Stein, Sara, Great Pets, Workman Publishing Co., N.Y., 1976.
  • Vriends, Matthew M., Pigeons, Barrons, 1988.
  • Zoobooks. City Animals, Wildlife Education Ltd., 1991.


  • American Pigeon Journal (Monthly), P.O. Box 278 - BT, Warrentown, MO 63383
  • American Federation of Aviculture, P.O. Box 1568, Redondo Beach, CA 90278


  • "Feed the Birds", from Mary Poppins


  • Granowsky, Dr. Alvin, The Passenger Pigeon, Schoolhouse Press, 1986.
  • Hornblow, Leonora and Arthur Hornblow, Birds Do the Strangest Things, Random House, 1991.
  • Krulik, Nancy E., Animals on the Job, Scholastic, 1990.
  • Lionni, Leo, Tico and the Golden Wings, Alfred A. Knopf, 1964.
  • Mainwaring, Jane, My Feather, Doubleday, 1989.
  • Oppenheim, Joanne, Have You Seen Birds?, Scholastic, 1968.
  • Sales, G. and J.M. Parraon, My First Visit to the Aviary, Barrons, 1990.
  • Wolff, Ashley, A Year of Birds, Puffin Books, 1988.