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How diseased are London pigeons?

Alexi Duggins

Want to hear something that will surprise no one with functioning vision? ‘It’s likely that London pigeons carry a higher disease load than wild birds due to the cramped, unclean conditions in which they live.’

So says Richard Black, ecological scientist and conservation officer at the RSPB.

© Barney Moss

Those conditions see them live in huge flocks inside lofts that they fill with poop. Said poop dries into dust, becomes airborne and acts as a big cloud of inhalable diseases. Yum.

Pigeons are likely to be even more susceptible to these diseases given their high stress levels. And a diet of discarded junk food scrounged from bins – neither nutritious nor, in some cases, even digestible. Apparently, ‘they’ll try anything and just regurgitate some of it straight back up.’

© David Hardman

Living in the concrete jungle isn’t all bad, though. ‘If a bird is ill in the wild, they’re picked off quickly by a predator,’ says Black. ‘In London, there aren’t many predators, so they can survive illness.’ So when you’re looking at a bird that’s missing a foot, you’re looking at a survivor. A London pigeon is a winning pigeon.

Or, as Black says, ‘They must be winning the battle against diseases, or there wouldn’t be that many of them.’ We still wouldn’t advise sharing a toothbrush with one, though.

Previously: why do London's pavements keep exploding?


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