Plenty of urban, suburban and rural residents have wondered this; why the hell are there so many pigeons? Excerpt:
By the 1600s, rock doves — non-native to the United States — had reached North America, transported by ships in the thousands. Rather than being a food source, it’s most likely that the birds were brought across from Europe to satiate the growing pigeon-breeding trend among hobbyists, said Michael Habib, a paleontologist in the Dinosaur Institute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and the University of Southern California.
Inevitably, birds escaped captivity, and began to breed freely in American cities. “We created this novel [urban] habitat and then we basically engineered an animal that does very well in that novel habitat,” Habib told Live Science. “They were successful in cities because we engineered them to be comfortable living around humans.” [Do Birds Really Abandon Their Chicks If Humans Touch Them?]
Cities became the perfect backdrop for the pioneering pigeons’ success. “Pigeons are naturally cliff-dwellers and tall buildings do a pretty great job at mimicking cliffs,” Carlen told Live Science. “Ornate facing, window sills and air-conditioning units provide fantastic perches for pigeons, similar to the crevices found on the side of a cliff.”
Another trait that makes pigeons more adaptable is their appetite. While other bird species have to rely on supplies of berries, seeds and insects, pigeons can eat just about anything that humans toss in the trash. “Other species are specialists and pigeons are the ultimate generalists,” Portugal said. “And the food is endless: I don’t think too many pigeons go to bed hungry!”
The pigeon’s unusual breeding biology seals the deal: Both parents rear their chicks on a diet of special protein- and fat-rich milk produced in a throat pouch called the crop. So, instead of having to rely on insects, worms and seeds to keep their young alive — resources that would be scarcer in cities — pigeons can provide for their offspring no matter what, Portugal says: “As long as the adults can eat, they can feed their babies, too.”
I actually kind of admire pigeons, in the same way that I kind of admire rats and cockroaches – they’re all great survivors. But pigeons, unlike those others, can be good eating. When I was a kid back in Iowa, we routinely shot clean farm pigeons and tossed them in the crock-pot with onions, carrots and potatoes, making for some fine eating.
Some animals find humans troubling; we cut their forests, encroach on their habitats, interfere with their migrations. But plenty of other animals do very well around humans, not only the aforementioned rats, pigeons and roaches but also white-tailed deer, black bears, raccoons, coyotes, squirrels, and many more. Pigeons are just one of those lucky species, albeit one with a long, long history of co-cohabiting with humanity.
There are so many pigeons because they are adaptable. Adaptability is a great survival strategy. Our own ancestors learned that once.