10 Myths About Pigeons


Fair-feathered friends.
Fair-feathered friends.
Corbis

There are plenty of references to pigeons in modern society. People can be pigeon-toed or pigeon-holed, or even act as stool pigeons. If you've ever wondered why pigeon-themed parlance plays such a central role in human culture, look no further than your local playground or shopping center. These birds are everywhere.

Because pigeons thrive in man-made environments, they've become extremely common wherever there are people. In fact, pigeons are abundant in Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as throughout North America. In addition to being the subjects of legend and lore, these creatures are also the focus of a lot of misconceptions. Check out our list of the most common myths about pigeons, and perhaps you'll learn a thing or two about our familiar feathered friends.

10
Pigeons Make Bad Fathers
Pigeon papas are not rolling stones. They mate for life and help feed their babies.
Pigeon papas are not rolling stones. They mate for life and help feed their babies.
©iStockphoto.com/Thinkstock

"Papa was a rolling stone" may be true of many bird species, but not pigeons. These birds tend to mate for life, which means that it's very unusual for a male and female to separate once they've formed a bond. And that's not all -- a male pigeon also contributes to nest-building and incubating eggs. In addition, he defends his family against intruders or anything that threatens their well-being.

Male pigeons also help feed their young. These proud papas actually produce a type of milk called crop milk for their offspring. It's a highly nutritious fluid produced in their crop (a throat pouch where food is stored). So while most male birds fly the coop after mating, pigeons stick around and take good care of their families.

9
Pigeons Explode if You Feed Them Rice
Pigeon tummies can withstand uncooked rice.
Pigeon tummies can withstand uncooked rice.
Corbis

The old wives' tale about pigeons and other birds exploding when they eat uncooked rice is a myth, and one that has modified many wedding day send-offs throughout the world. The false theory is that because birds are unable to digest grains of raw rice, it'll expand in their stomachs and cause the animals' bellies to burst.

Now for the truth. While many smaller birds are unable to digest uncooked rice, pigeons are among those that can, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

And don't worry, even those that can't digest raw rice are not known to explode if they eat it. So the next time you're at a wedding, don't hold back. Grab a handful of rice and shower the newlyweds to your heart's content

8
It's Good Luck to Be Pooped on by a Pigeon
Hard to prove, but we're pretty sure pigeon poop doesn't bring good luck.
Hard to prove, but we're pretty sure pigeon poop doesn't bring good luck.
Blend Images/Corbis/Getty Images

OK, this one is tough to prove or disprove with any sort of scientific accuracy, but the consensus is that being defecated on by anyone or anything is a bad thing. For one thing, pigeon poop is smelly. And second, while not toxic in small amounts, it can cause serious, life-threatening fungal infections if inhaled in significant quantities, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

If that doesn't convince you, consider that pigeons also carry parasites, which may be transmitted to humans through contact with their droppings. When you counter this with the scarcity of evidence to support claims of post-pigeon poop good fortune, it becomes clear that you should avoid standing below a flock of these birds around mealtime.

7
Pigeons and Doves Are Divine
Pigeons have been important symbols in religious writings, but does this make them divine?
Pigeons have been important symbols in religious writings, but does this make them divine?
Corbis/Getty Images

Again, this myth is difficult to discuss rationally, but we felt we had to include it in the list since pigeons and doves (same family, different species) appear so often in scripture and the writings of the ancient world. Whether serving as sacrifice in Jewish tradition or as Noah's messenger on the ark, pigeons and doves play a central role in the lore of the world's religions.

Pigeons and doves also represent peace, purity, faith and fidelity in numerous cultures around the world. Why the birds hold such a sacred place in human societies is difficult to discern, but pigeons are no more or less likely than other animals to guide us to the hereafter.

6
All Pigeons Are Spies
Pigeons may be watching you.
Pigeons may be watching you.
Corbis/Getty Images

Despite sounding like part of a conspiracy theory, this pigeon myth is actually rooted in a measure of truth. Pigeons have been used by governments and militaries around the globe for centuries, and many pigeon activities have proved quite critical in espionage operations. For example, before the widespread use of satellite imagery, pigeons would be fitted with tiny cameras and flown over enemy territory on information-gathering exercises.

They've also been used extensively as messengers -- the birds would carry critical notes between military installations even as late as World War II. That being said, it's extremely unlikely that the pigeons you feed at the local park are working undercover for a foreign government.

5
Pigeons Are Warmongers
While pigeons aren't warlike, they've been at the center of many wars.
While pigeons aren't warlike, they've been at the center of many wars.
Corbis/Getty Images

There are plenty of references to pigeons in modern society. People can be pigeon-toed or pigeon-holed, or even act as stool pigeons. If you've ever wondered why pigeon-themed parlance plays such a central role in human culture, look no further than your local playground or shopping center. These birds are everywhere.

Because pigeons thrive in man-made environments, they've become extremely common wherever there are people. In fact, pigeons are abundant in Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as throughout North America. In addition to being the subjects of legend and lore, these creatures are also the focus of a lot of misconceptions. Check out our list of the most common myths about pigeons, and perhaps you'll learn a thing or two about our familiar feathered friends.

4
Pigeons All Look Pretty Much Alike
All pigeons are not the same. In fact they come in a stunning array of shapes and colors.
All pigeons are not the same. In fact they come in a stunning array of shapes and colors.
Corbis/Thinkstock

This is definitely a misconception about these ubiquitous birds. Pigeons are common in so many places around the world that they tend to blend into the scenery. But take a closer look and you'll see a huge variety of colors and patterns among pigeons. In fact, there are dozens of distinct color variations, including red, white, blue-black and gray, according to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

Much of the variation in pigeon coloring is due to selective breeding throughout history by people who have collected pigeons for their feathers. This should come as no surprise since these animals have been cohabitating with humans for 5,000 to 10,000 years, often as pets, messengers or human sustenance.

3
Pigeons Can Fly Thousands of Miles Per Day
Pigeons can fly far, but not that far. Still, 600 miles in one day is pretty impressive.
Pigeons can fly far, but not that far. Still, 600 miles in one day is pretty impressive.
Corbis/Getty Images

Based on the incredible flying abilities of pigeons, stories about their winged performance have been greatly inflated over the years. For example, pigeons have a remarkable ability to find their way home, but not from halfway around the world -- as legend would have it. The truth is still impressive. Pigeons are able to navigate home across hundreds of miles using the sun, the Earth's magnetic field and landmarks such as tall buildings.

There are also many tall tales about pigeons traveling more than a thousand miles in one day -- sometimes many thousands. This is an exaggeration. The truth is that racing pigeons fly between 40 and 50 miles (64 and 80 kilometers) per hour, with the top performers covering a maximum of about 600 miles (966 kilometers) in a single day, according to the Solar Center at Stanford University. So while these stats are remarkable, pigeons are not the superheroes that many mythmakers would have you believe.

2
Pigeons Are Pushovers
For the most part they are peace-loving, but don't cross them or their nest.
For the most part they are peace-loving, but don't cross them or their nest.
Corbis/Getty Images

As wild creatures go, pigeons are not among the most feared. But don't let their mild manner and ability to coexist with humans fool you. Pigeons are known to attack other birds and even humans if threatened, especially when they feel their nest is in danger.

So, what does a pigeon attack look like? Most pigeon aggression is directed toward other members of the flock, which has a strict hierarchy. Pigeons may also attack people if provoked. This may involve coming together as a flock to peck at a target, who can usually manage to get away without injury. The bottom line is that while feeding pigeons is OK, try not to make them angry. They may be small, but they probably outnumber you by at least a 20-1 ratio.

1
Pigeons Are Stupid
Fair-feathered friends.
Fair-feathered friends.
Corbis/Getty Images

The notion that pigeons are stupid couldn't be farther from the truth. These animals have been the subject of countless scientific studies over the past few decades and are widely considered to be among the smartest creatures on Earth. For example, pigeons can be taught to perform complex actions and remember images for several years. They can even recognize their own image. Now that is something cats, dogs and even infant humans generally can't do.

It's probably because pigeons are so common that people don't give them their due. There is also that unfortunate habit of pooping all over cars, sidewalks and park benches. But pigeons are actually quite smart and well-adapted to their environment. So next time you find yourself face to face with a flock, take a moment to appreciate these beautiful birds. They are among the most interesting -- and misunderstood -- creatures in our world.