Pigeons are the world’s oldest domesticated bird. Most of the pigeons you see are true wild ones, also referred to less commonly as Rock Doves. A domestic, or pet bird, can often be distinguished by one or more bands on its legs. Others are exhibition breeds, distinguished by their unusual appearance and sometimes odd flying behavior (as in the Tumblers). Some breeds are kept for flight competitions. The lifespan of pigeons is 10-15 years.
Purchase and Selection
Pigeons can be acquired many ways. They typically are not sold in stores, but may be purchased at pigeon, or bird, shows and exhibitions. Pigeons are sometimes sold via auction where pet chickens, peafowl, and other birds are sold (this would be at a livestock auction market). Additionally some breeders of birds may offer pigeons for sale through a catalog.
A beginner would be wise to buy from a reputable source (not a lower quality auction where sellers are anonymous). They should select birds marked by breed and gender. As when purchasing any pet, the animals should look healthy and robust. Care should be taken not to buy too more males than females as fights may occur when extra males are present.
Generally pet pigeons are kept in an outdoor loft. Quite often this is a smaller building, or shed, with attached flight areas. The flight is very important especially if one is going to allow their birds to fly free at any time. It shows them the outdoor area as a way to familiarize themselves with where they live. Additionally it allows ventilation which is important. The loft should provide a minimum of two square feet per bird. For nesting purposes nesting boxes should be fitted on the walls. These can be simple wooden fruit boxes with a low board across the front to hold in the bedding. Straw is the best bedding for the nesting boxes. The loft itself may have a floor covered with wood shavings (not cedar shavings) and/or sand. Other keepers prefer to have a wooden floor and to scrape it clean daily.
The outdoor area can be easily made from 2×4’s and chicken wire. Stucco wire is even stronger and longer lasting, but certainly more costly.
Feeding and Care
There are commercially prepared pigeon feeds available. These may be tricky to find. Local pigeon clubs often sell food themselves, or it may be found at some livestock feed stores. These feeds are either a mixture of grains or can be a pellet. If grains are fed grit must be provided to aid in digestion.
If pigeon food is unavailable, chicken feed will do in a pinch.
Some people leave food for their birds all the time, others feed twice daily, putting only enough food out to last the birds for 20 minutes. The food should be in a feeder that does not allow them to mess in it. Clean water is very important. Special waterers (as for chickens) are available and should be used to help keep the water clean.
The loft should be kept as clean as possible. If daily cleaning is not possible, it should be done weekly. Overcrowding will result in more mess and stressed birds so care should be taken not to get more birds than you have room for. Pigeons should be wormed 2-3 times a year.
Occasionally pet pigeons will not return on their own if set loose. They become what is known as “feral” pigeons.
When a person first lets their pigeons fly free, they must consider that some birds may not return, only a few go feral, others become prey for hawks, owls, cats, and so on.
Pigeons pair up and generally lay 2 eggs per clutch. These take 17-19 days to hatch and the young are fed by their parents. In 5-6 weeks they are old enough to look after themselves.