Why pigeons might be the best pet bird

Image from Claire Rito.

When I was thinking of getting a pet bird, a pigeon was not the first thing I thought of. In fact, like most people, I wanted to get a pet parrot. But after some research, I quickly realised that for most people, having a pet parrot is just too much work. They’re not domesticated, for starters, so their temperaments are often unpredictable. The diet of a parrot can also get pretty complicated depending on the species, and malnutrition is commonly observed. Unlike what’s presented in the media, they also need huge, expensive cages. And finally, they also tend to be noisy and destructive, requiring near constant attention and numerous toys for them to rip apart.

With all this in mind, I was ready to abandon the idea of owning a pet bird, but then I discovered the prospect of owning a pigeon. At first, I thought it was super weird to own a pigeon, since I figured that they were kind of dirty, unintelligent, and hard to take care of. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, pigeons might be the best pet bird, and, in my opinion, make much more suitable pets than parrots, a more popular alternative. 

To start, I feel like it’s important to understand that pigeons weren’t brought to cities by accident. They were domesticated around 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, which is a region in modern Iraq, where they were initially used as a food source. Later, they started being used as messenger birds in various ancient empires due to their astonishing homing instincts which allowed them to navigate their way home despite being hundreds of miles away. This homing instinct is actually what helped the U.S. during World War II, since pigeons carried crucial messages to American battalions. As people bred more pigeons for their looks and for pigeon racing (a sport that emerged in the 19th century), they became popular pets. Some of these pet pigeons escaped from captivity and began roosting in the skyscrapers that make up modern cities, since they emulate the cliffs that the pigeon’s precursor, the rock dove, settled in.

Pigeons are also way smarter than I originally thought. They have the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror, a feat that is limited to only a couple other animals, such as elephants, chimpanzees, and dolphins. They are easily trained due to their incredible memorization and pattern recognition skills, which allows them to solve complex visual problems. Some have even been trained to detect cancer when presented with photos of benign and malignant tumors, a task even radiologists struggle with. 

They’re also incredibly easy to take care of. Their diets are relatively simple, consisting mainly of seeds mixed with grit (which can be bought by the pound for very cheap in nearly every pet store) and veggies. They also fly horizontally, meaning that for a single bird, a dog crate is often enough. And as for their temperament, they’re already domesticated, meaning they tend to be very docile and calm. Even when they’re agitated, they only emit soft coos and bat their wings. If one happens to bite you, it won’t injure you as their beaks are very soft. All this, combined with their emotional intelligence, make them amazing pets. 

So, they make great pets, but where could you even get one? Well, it’s actually easier than you think. Hundreds of doves are released into the wild as a part of weddings and funerals, and many more escape from pigeon breeders. It’s near impossible for pigeons to survive in the wild without a flock, because they lack any natural defenses; many are found injured by hawks, raccoons, and various predators. This resulted in the opening of shelters all across America to get them adopted. Here in the Bay Area, we have the Palomacy Pigeon and Dove Adoptions center. It’s located in San Francisco, and so far, they have helped over 100 injured and abandoned pigeons find new homes. They also provide lots of information on how to properly care for pigeons on their website. 

Pigeons have stood by mankind’s side for thousands of years, and still make amazing companions today. For me, I realized that once I move out, a pet pigeon is the perfect companion for me. After all, they are easy to care for, loving, and live for a fairly long time, everything you would want in a pet. It is important to understand, however, that just because pigeons are easier to care for doesn’t mean that you should get one on a whim. As with all animals, it’s important to do your research and make sure you’re able to provide them with all their basic needs, including their emotional needs. Pigeons specifically are very social creatures, and express distress when left alone for long periods of time. But if you are able to provide for one, having a pet pigeon can be extremely rewarding.

Viswatha Pamidipati is a junior at Washington High School. She was born and raised in Wisconsin, and moved to Fremont when she was 12. She is a first year reporter for The Hatchet who is interested in discussing topics revolving around the local community and social issues, as well as the environment. In her free time, she loves to draw, bake, read, cook, and spend time with her family. She hopes to go into a career in STEM.

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