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Wild Animals/Feeding Feral Pigeons in NYC


Hello Dana,

I got into it with a stranger today who voiced his opinions about my feeding pigeons at a local park, which is six acres in size. He was having a hard time articulating his argument but I understood where he was coming from. Of course, the park has signs that state visitors should not feed the pigeons and squirrels. I assume this has more to do with mice and rats than anything else. As a side note, if the Park Dept. was concerned about rats, they should not have allowed a famous eatery to set up shop in the park. Their customers leave scraps on the floor and feed the squirrels french fries. But I guess the money for renting out the space allows them to overlook such things.

Just so you know beforehand, I don't feed pigeons just any old bird seed. In fact, I go out of my way to give them a healthy diet. I feed them a mix of black oil sunflower seeds, Canadian peas, maple peas, Austrian peas, organic corn kernels, and brown rice. I learned about their diet through bird racers who've posted this information on various forums. I must say their birds look amazing with beautiful coats.

Anyway, I've heard many reasons why one shouldn't feed wildlife and agree with most of them, but only under "specific" circumstances. Feeding and habituating a black bear, for example, is quite different than feeding a feral pigeon. I understand that a large number of the pigeon population in NYC dies from lack of food and water (esp. in the winter). That comes as no surprise because they are born into a concrete jungle. How will they keep from starving to death if humans don't leave them scraps or feed them seeds? Water comes from dirty pools by the curb or partially melted ice, also dirty.

Based on what I've read, humans brought pigeons to the new world as a food source but some escaped and populated our country. That was then and now people have changed the once beautiful country landscape into populated cities. Pigeons are just trying to survive.

I told this stranger that his financial support of our factory farms will probably do more harm to the environment than anything I could ever do by feeding pigeons. I understand that feeding wildlife will make them dependent on handouts and they will lose their skill at finding food on their own and become dependent on us. However, for the reasons I've mentioned already, surely an exception exists or am I so ignorant I don't see what's before me?

Thank you.

Dear Ed,

Actually, I with you.  Pigeons have been associated with human civilization for thousands and thousands of years.  They are a species that evolved in cliff caves, as we did.  They have followed us into the cities where we have built artificial caves everywhere, and have found this new habitat as inviting as we do.  

Not feeding the pigeons is not going to make them go away.  It's not going to make them forage for their own food.  Urban and suburban pigeons already rely on human waste and handouts to survive; they are no longer their ancestors' pigeon!

So go for it.  Enjoy tossing those birds their treats and don't feel guilty.  There is already too little kindness in the world.  Why should not a simple little bird be the recipient of your generosity?

Take care, and give them a handful for me.


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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.


I'm an evolutionary biologist with a passion for animals. Ask about natural history, behavior, ecology, evolution. PLEASE NOTE:

If you have found an "orphaned" or injured wild animal or bird:
Please don't waste time asking questions on the internet, as the answers may come too late. DO NOT FEED THE ANIMAL, and DO NOT HANDLE IT unless it is in imminent danger. (Many wild "orphans" are not orphans at all!) If you are absolutely sure it is orphaned, keep it warm and quiet, and find a LICENSED WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR HERE. Don't try to raise a baby yourself, or rehabilitate an injured anmal. Many a well-intentioned rescuer will do more harm than good, especially with baby birds and baby rabbits.

Without geographic location, time of day and habitat, I can't help. A clear picture is always best.

It's impossible for me to I.D. an animal call without hearing it myself.

I'm not an expert on comparative strengths of different animals (more complicated than you might think!) nor bite forces.

I refuse to answer "Which of these two animals--X or X--would win in a fight?".

These hypothetical matchups range from impossible (Grizzly Bears and Gorillas don't even occupy the same continent.) to ridiculous (Someone asked me "Who would win a fight between a Great White Shark and a tiger?").

The vast majority of animals--even the fierce and powerful--are not as warlike as Homo sapiens, and it's childish to project our aggressiveness onto them.


I have been the fortunate caregiver to a group of Black-tailed Jackrabbits rescued from the Miami International Airport, and not releasable in this area because they are not native. I also have rehabbed and released Eastern Cottontails, and am in contact with many very experienced wildlife rescuers who regularly handle injured or orphaned rabbits and hares.

House Rabbit Society

Exotic DVM journal

I have a Ph.D. in Biology, with main areas of expertise in evolutionary biology, genetics, botany, and ecology.

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