Where are all the baby pigeons? All the ones you ever see are growed up and flapping. Don't they ever have a childhood or a nest? Are they all imported full-grown from New Jersey?
T.B., Washington, D.C.
There’s not much of a mystery — the common street pigeon builds a nest like your normal bird. But pigeons, living up to the urbanologists’ nickname “flying rats,” are both a little sloppier and a little more devious than the average avian; they construct small, flimsy nests, barely large enough to hold Mother Pigeon’s usual two eggs, in cornices and other out-of-the-way places.
While the eggs incubate (for about two weeks) the nest is kept constantly covered — by the male during the day, and by the female on the night shift. Once the little suckers hatch, they spend another two weeks in the nest feeding off a protein substance called “pigeon’s milk” secreted from the crop of the adult (both sexes, interestingly). When they’re all growed up and flapping, they hit the road. Well, what did you expect — test tubes?
Same question, ten years later
Judging from the number of pigeons inhabiting the city these days, one must assume that either they have very long life spans or they have enormously large numbers of offspring. Yet, although we see our share of baby robins, baby ducks, baby bunnies, and other infant animals, one seldom sees a baby pigeon. Do they emerge full grown from their eggs? Are the squabs simply well hidden, or are they guarded by the parent birds until they are grown, thus assuring a high survival rate? In short, where are all the baby pigeons?
— Birdwatching Commuter, Evanston, Illinois
I’m mystified by the enduring fascination baby pigeons seem to hold for the Teeming Millions — over the years I’ve gotten dozen of letters inquiring about their whereabouts. My answer is always the same: the elusive little devils are out there somewhere; you just don’t see them because the nests are well hidden and because Ma and Pa Pigeon generally stay with the young for their first few weeks of life. This never seems to satisfy anybody, though, because the letters keep dribbling in. At last, however, I’m able report an actual sighting of a bonafide baby pigeon. Read on.
I found two baby pigeons! They are huge, and look just like their mother. The reason you’ve never seen any is that they stay in the nest until they are old enough to drink, drive, vote, etc. The nest is right outside my office window on a ledge at Arizona State University’s Memorial Union. Little does the mother know I could just open the window and snatch the little creatures! Do you want them?
— Laura M., Tempe, Arizona
That’s OK, Laura. I get enough nameless horrors in the mail as it is. But I hope this report puts the pigeon question to rest once and for all.
The Teeming Millions propose an alternative hypothesis
Re your recent comment on baby pigeons: don’t be fooled by false sightings from gullible bird lovers. The blunt truth is this: the pigeons you see all over the city are the baby pigeons. The adult has a wingspan of 8-12 feet. When they reach adulthood they fly to remote mountain fastnesses and live off the occasional tourist. I do not, however, subscribe to the theory that the adults will one day return en masse to wreak vengeance on us a la The Birds.
— Bob W., Melrose Park, Illinois
Cute, Bob. Also amazingly similar to something I saw years ago in National Lampoon. If I were you, I’d sue.
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