This is a several-part post dealing with how to cope with feeding baby and juvenile pigeons in a variety of circumstances. This will include domesticated pigeons and those you may have found abandoned in the wild. In my case, I have never found an abandoned wild pigeon, people just bring them to me because they know I have pigeons and presume I should look after them. They also bring me other sick or injured birds but that's another story, although the feeding part is often not dissimilar. The following situations are all ones I've come across over my years of keeping fantails and fantail-crosses.
Domestic Pigeons - Why and when should you intervene?
Cold weather and single parenting
There is perhaps nothing more vulnerable than a small baby fantail pigeon born in the Winter, like this one pictured above. He was hatched in our dovecote and under normal circumstances he would be permanently covered but in a forest garden and in the vagaries of our climate, a hint of sun can send both parents out foraging. Fantails are very tame, they not only stay near to their home but also bond easily with their keepers. My removing of this pigeon from its nest because it is already beginning to show signs of cold, will not mean its parents will abandon it. In fact on several occasions, with freezing temperatures and snow, I have moved the whole nest, parents included into the barn and experienced no problems whatsoever.
It is not for fanciful reasons that fantails are associated with love, fidelity and romance on wedding cakes and Valentine's cards, for they are loving mates and caring parents. In my experience they are monagamous but that does not mean that either sex is not averse to a little dalliance now and again. I once saw a male pigeon, who had both a partner and young chicks, trysting with a young female behind the dovecote and then returning to his mate carrying a twig for the nest in his beak. His behaviour was redolent of the classic guilty offerings of flowers and chocolates. In a free-range, forest environment like ours, there are therefore, occasionally birds who are left to bring up babies alone.
Difficulties arise for the lone parent, if the baby is hatched in the colder months, as it will mean the mother will be out foraging, right from the day of hatch. Some breeders keep food in the pigeons' nests in cold weather and I have done this on occasions but for an optimum nutrition there is nothing like the parent bird itself for seeking out those extra minerals, vitamins and other micronutrients to be found in the 'wild'. So although my pigeons have organic, sprouted grain, fruits, vegetables and oyster shell available, I would still prefer to take in the baby pigeon for a while and if necessary, give it a little extra feed. This allows time for the parent time to create her own unique and nourishing blend of pigeon milk. Who, for example would think of feeding moss and lichens, as shown by these two foraging parents above?
Spring showers & uneven growth
Even after the Winter months there can be other problems for pigeon parents, as we head into Spring, namely, heavy rain. Fantails were created to live around sacred sites, often those included water gardens and they have retained that love of bathing. Unfortunately, this also involves enjoying heavy rain. They will sit on the roof with their wings uplifted in the pose of a human taking a shower but unfortunately this can wreak havoc with their ability to fly. On several occasions I have had both parents stuck on the roof and babies getting cold and hungry back in the nest.
The other problem with my pigeons and when I have needed to intervene, is in a situation of uneven growth. Most pigeons can cope with laying two eggs and thus having two hatches at a time, as you can see below, even one skilful parent can feed two babies evenly (even simultaneously). However, sometimes things go awry. When this happens one baby becomes ever stronger and more demanding for food and the other one gets left behind. There are two possible solutions, one being to take the larger one out at feeding time thus leaving the smaller to feed first. This however, is only practical if you know exactly when the foraging parent is coming back, so sometimes it may be more expedient to take the smaller one out and hand-feed it. Do not though, totally rule out the first option and it is worth trying to get a combination of both feeding sources, so as to get the optimum nutrition for the baby.
Different rates of growth in pigeon babies do occur but it is only when they are very young that this can cause problems and can lead to fatalities. For example, where the smaller pigeon becomes too weak to indicate to the parent that it needs food. As you can see in the photo below, these two babies have been unevenly fed but it is more likely that the white one was better fed than the blue, rather than the blue one was underfed. As these two were brought up in the compost bin and I was unaware of their existence for their first weeks of life, I was not able to remedy the situation.
Orphans and Abandonment
These are the two young pigeons I called the Compost Kids, their parents were both killed by a sparrowhawk at a period of development in their life, when although technically juveniles, they were still not ready to leave the nest. As their name suggests, they were not hatched in the dovecote but in the top layer of a 'resting' compost bin, therefore they had neither seen other pigeons nor the way adult pigeons feed. They somehow instinctively knew how to drink but feeding was another matter. Part of getting them to eat was also, in part, having them feel comfortable around me and accepting me in loco parentis. The fact that they had each other and that they had seen no pigeons other than their parents, helped I'm sure in getting them to trust me.
How could anyone abandon this baby?
This is Little Pige, he was abandoned by his mother after she got caught on the roof taking a shower in heavy rain and couldn't return to her nest overnight. I had to take the baby in and feed him. This, even though it was the case of a single mother and a Fantail crossed with a town pigeon and I was worried that both these factors would make for her being very wary of joint feeding. After I took him back to the nest, unlike a similar situation with a baby fantail, (see below), who was welcomed back and fed with open wings, Little Pige's mother wouldn't even sit on him.
Little Pige like many abandoned or orphaned pigeons has forged a very strong bond with us. This is not necessarily something either I or the pigeon would want if I was feeding a wild bird but more of this in the next article.
If you have your own flock of pigeons then having an orphaned or abandoned pigeon may be solved by getting another of your parent birds to adopt them. This can be an ideal solution, as long as it doesn't put a strain on their ability to feed their own young. Baby pigeons are very vocal and insistent when it comes to being fed (as you will see in the video below) and can often get themselves permanently adopted.
Now if you'd like a little light relief, sit back and watch the film of the abandoned Little Pige and his easy acceptance of hand-fed peas!
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© 2015 Sue Cross