Why Do Pigeons Live In Cities?

Pigeons have remarkable urban adaptations which make them thrive in cities. They are naturally attracted to the hard surfaces, concrete, marble, and stone structures found in cities due to their mimicry of the birds’ natural habitat on the rocky seaside cliffs. Urban pigeons have made the most of these hard structures for nesting and survival, as they provide ample resources for them to feed, breed, and nest in safety.

Despite being often considered pests, especially in the cities, these birds have a natural advantage – their incredible ability to navigate. Pigeons have well-developed navigation capabilities, allowing them to travel vast distances and back to their nests with unerring accuracy.

Living within feral populations, pigeons can be found in almost every corner of the urban environment. They exploit the artificial habitats of cities in a manner that other birds fail to do. These habitats include pigeon houses, generously put out food by humans, and protection offered by humans from natural predators.

Why Do Pigeons Live In Cities

Relationship with Mans and the Nesting Habits

The origin of rock doves, also known as urban pigeons, can be traced back to their development along the North African coast, from where they spread and colonized the Mediterranean. Their natural habitat consisted of seaside cliffs, where they could safely nest and breed.

As human civilization developed, large, ornate buildings emerged, incorporating intricate designs and structures. These buildings provided numerous crevices and corners for pigeons to nest and breed in. Their natural affinity for nesting in cliffs led them to view these towering structures as an ideal substitute.

Over time, feral pigeons have developed a strong sense of home and security within human accommodations, passing this learned behavior down to future generations. Therefore, pigeons have adapted to city life, perceiving buildings as familiar structures that provide safety and shelter from natural predators.

1. Mans’s Relationship With Pigeons:

Pigeons hold a unique distinction as the first bird species that humans have domesticated. Unlike most animals, they possess intelligence and curiosity, allowing them to develop a more intimate relationship with humans. For centuries upon centuries, this enduring relationship has been sustained despite changes in landscape and habitat.

Pigeons have adapted to the urban landscape and view buildings as a natural substitute for their natural habitats. This adaptation has allowed them to thrive in a non-natural environment that would typically be untenable for wild animals.

The relationship between humans and pigeons is tied to their domestication, as they have become accustomed to living and interacting with people from a young age. As a result, pigeons have come to seek out people’s company and affection, making them one of the most enduring interspecies relationships in history.

2. Pigeon Nesting Habits:

The rock doves are believed to have originated from the coastlines of North Africa and are known to have migrated around the Mediterranean Sea area. Their natural habitat utilized the cliffs along the coast for nesting and feeding. As human development spread across the Western world, buildings with ornate designs and elaborate ornamentation were constructed and provided many nooks and crannies for these birds to nest in.

These tall man-made structures looked similar to the cliffs that the rock doves used to nest in, hence why they naturally adapted to these urban environments. Through their physical characteristics and unique reproductive habits, these birds have developed into the feral pigeon populations that we see in cities today.

These feral pigeon populations have adapted so well to urban environments that buildings and other human accommodations have become a natural nesting habitat for these birds. They pass on the sense of home and security to future generations, making these man-made structures no longer seem strange or artificial.

Overall, the urban environment provided the rock doves with a new, unique environment to adapt and reproduce in, converting these man-made structures into their new natural environment.

3. Tied Relationship:

The relationship between humans and feral pigeons is a prime example of an intertwined relationship that has developed due to humanity’s progress into urban living. These pigeons are descendants of domesticated rock doves that mated with other wild birds, resulting in a smooth transition from their natural habitats to urban environments.

As humanity settled in groups, so did these adaptable and curious birds. Pigeons have coexisted with humans for centuries, sharing cities and parks as their natural habitats. Humans have built ornate buildings and structures that mimic the cliffs and rocky terrains where these birds once thrived, providing a new home for them to flourish.

The pigeon’s natural curiosity and adaptability have helped in the formation of an intertwined relationship between humans and birds. Just like a child born in a city calls it home, a pigeon chick hatched in a metropolitan area will instinctively consider it their natural habitat.

This intimate relationship of urban coexistence between humans and pigeons can be observed in places like Trafalgar Square in the UK, Bryant Park in the US, and Piazza San Marco in Italy. The pigeons have grown to become an inseparable part of these cities, sharing them with humans in a mutually beneficial way.

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Food, safety, and shelter:

Pigeons have adapted quickly to urban environments and have learned to take advantage of several factors that make city living beneficial for them. These factors include ample resources, easy access to food, lack of natural predators, and accommodation that provide safety and security. They have also developed an affinity for man-made structures that mimic their natural habitats.

Furthermore, their excellent navigation skills and higher reproductive capacity have contributed to their thriving populations in the cities. Therefore, it is no surprise that they have become a ubiquitous part of urban landscapes across the globe.

One major factor that contributes to the thriving pigeon populations in cities is the ready access to food. Pigeons in cities rely heavily on human food such as bread, seeds, and other scraps. In fact, some pigeons have developed a preference for certain types of food regularly found in urban environments. As long as there is a constant supply of food, there will always be a steady pigeon population in cities.

Another reason why pigeons are so successful in urban environments is their accommodating living conditions. Pigeons have a natural affinity to nesting and roosting in buildings with ledges and crevices, as they provide adequate shelter from inclement weather conditions.

Additionally, pigeons have an incredible homing instinct that enables them to navigate their way back home regardless of their location, making it easy for them to locate their preferred breeding locations.

Lastly, pigeons have adapted to urban environments due to a decrease in natural predators. The majority of predators that pigeons have in their natural habitat are usually absent in cities, giving them a higher chance of survival.

These factors combined have made it easier for pigeon populations to continue thriving in cities with regular, reliable food sources and the ability to take advantage of man-made structures.

1. Accommodation:

Pigeons have undoubtedly found their niche in the city environment, as evidenced by the lack of mass exodus to rural areas. These resourceful birds have much to gain from city living, one of which is the abundance of available accommodation.

Thanks to the hard surfaces and man-made structures that exist in urban landscapes, pigeons have ample opportunity to shelter themselves from the elements. From the humble garden shed to towering skyscrapers, there are structures in urban areas of all sizes and shapes that provide viable dovecotes for these birds.

In many inner city areas where buildings are packed together, and some of the constructions hold historical significance, pigeons have even more options for safe roosting and nesting. It’s not uncommon to see pigeons coexisting peacefully among intricate architectural wonders.

2. Ample Resources:

Cities provide an overflow of food resources for pigeons. Older, more established cities contain expansive green areas that offer a variety of trees, plants, bushes, and flowers. In addition, residential areas and allotments can also provide food sources for the birds. Pigeons can even benefit from rooftop gardens and window boxes that offer an abundant supply of natural bird feed.

However, the most abundant source of food comes directly from humans. With millions of people needing to eat every day, a significant amount of food waste is generated. Some of this waste is unintentionally dropped on the ground, providing a scavenging opportunity for these adaptable birds.

Pigeons have learned to thrive in our fast-food and throwaway society by adapting to the ample resources available in cities. They’ve become experts at capitalizing on the natural habitats and human waste that are prevalent in urban areas.

3. Safety and Security:

Cities provide pigeons with ample shelter and protection, something they don’t necessarily have in rural areas where they are exposed to natural predators and harsh weather conditions. The roosting options in cities are numerous, ranging from overhangs and building ledges to dovecotes and even artificial pigeon houses. This shelter ensures that the birds are able to survive even in extreme conditions like winter snow and ice.

In urban areas, there is also little to no deprivation of food as they have easy access to human food scraps, which is a major source of their diet. The pigeons’ natural affinity for living alongside humans makes this possible, as they have learned to survive in highly populated areas where there is an abundance of food per bird.

Moreover, cities retain more heat than rural areas due to buildings absorbing warmth from heating systems during the day, and releasing that heat at night. This residual heat helps keep pigeons warm during the cold winter months and mitigates the risk of hypothermia. In addition, the heat generated by millions of vehicles on the road further adds to the all-around temperatures in cities.

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4. Dovecotes: Man-made Houses For Pigeons:

Dovecotes, or man-made pigeon houses, have been around for centuries. These structures were originally built as a way to encourage pigeons to nest in specific areas, but also served as a sign of honor and prestige for the owner. Today, dovecotes can still be found in some parts of Europe and Asia, where they are appreciated for their unique structure and design.

One significant aspect of dovecotes is their ability to mimic the natural nesting habits of pigeons. These structures provide a safe and secure environment for pigeons to breed and raise their young, attracting feral and domestic pigeons alike. Thanks to their strategic locations, dovecotes often serve as beacons for these birds and can be seen from far distances.

In terms of structure and design, dovecotes are typically constructed from durable materials and feature multiple small compartments, each with its own entry point for the birds. This design helps to prevent overcrowding and allows for better control of the pigeon population.

Interestingly, dovecotes were specially built for domesticated pigeons, also known as rock doves. These birds were introduced to the United States by European settlers in the 16th century and quickly found a home in American cities. The high population density, ample food sources, and relatively low number of natural predators made cities an ideal habitat for these birds.

5. Easy Access To Food:

Easy access to food is one of the key reasons why pigeons have been able to successfully adapt to city life. They are able to thrive in dense human populations due to their ability to consume human leftovers. This makes pigeons one of the few avian species that are able to survive in urban environments.

City pigeons are often seen scavenging for food from sources such as leftover rice, bagels, doughnuts, buns, and potato chips. Given that cities have a large human population, there is always an abundance of food for pigeons to consume. This easy access to food has resulted in pigeon populations that have grown and thrived.

However, this adaptation to urban life has also had a negative impact. The abundance of food and lack of natural predators has led to an increase in feral pigeon populations. This has resulted in issues such as bird control systems, the poisoning of pigeons, and a decrease in the number of other bird species in urban environments.

6. Easy Shelter:

In their original habitat, rock pigeons are natural dwellers on cliffs near the sea. With the boom of cities and urbanization near coastal areas, these birds quickly adapted to their new surroundings. Buildings, to these pigeons, are simply cliffs that present themselves in a fresh form, with better architecture that the birds have taken a liking to.

Pigeons are a perfect fit for city living. They possess the skill and expertise in nesting on man-made structures that mimic their hard and rocky natural habitat. Cities have no shortage of desirable nesting places for pigeons such as fire escapes, AC units, walls, ledges, and overhangs that their ancestors used to inhabit along seaside cliffs.

With easy breeding, year-round reproduction, and ample resources in the form of human food leftovers, pigeons can establish large feral populations easily and across vast areas. The proliferation of pigeons is therefore attributed to their ability to adapt to urban areas due to easy access to food and shelter.

More Reproduction

Pigeons don’t need much to kickstart their reproductive cycle – easy access to ample resources is enough. These birds breed year-round, so restless periods can quickly turn into extended mating sessions when food is abundant and easy to find.

This feature of pigeons makes them a likely species to proliferate in urbanized locals, where food and shelter are in abundance. Consequently, cities often experience an uncontrollable increase in pigeon populations.

1. Excellent Navigating Capabilities:

Pigeons have gained a reputation for being excellent navigators in cities. Their navigation abilities make them successful in moving through the complex cityscape. Scientists are still working to understand how they do it. Pigeons can travel hundreds of miles away and return to their home, demonstrating their remarkable navigation prowess.

Infrasound, which is an extremely low-frequency sound wave found near the ocean and reverberating throughout the planet, plays a role in pigeon navigation. Studies published in the Journal of Experimental Biology have shown that pigeons make mental maps of their surroundings through these signals. Researchers believe this phenomenon aids their navigational repertoire.

Pigeons have an extraordinary vision that contributes to their navigation and search for human food in any neighborhood. Their big eyes have five color receptors, as compared to three in human eyes. Pigeons can see things that human eyes cannot even imagine, and with their navigation skills, they can quickly locate sources of food.

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2. Dearth Of Natural Predators:

The reason why pigeons thrive in urban areas is the scarcity of apex predators like falcons and hawks. Pigeons used to be on the menu of these raptors, but their populations dwindled after the usage of DDT, a pesticide applied on crops and fields in the US after World War 1. DDT thinned the eggshells of raptors, which led to a decline in their reproduction and population.

Pigeons have a natural ability to avoid predators such as falcons, crows, and gulls. Their excellent flying skills and aerobatics make it difficult for these predators to catch them. In fact, studies have shown that pigeons are among the best flyers in the animal kingdom, and rarely get into accidents while maneuvering through complex cityscapes.

To monitor pigeon populations, bird enthusiasts and researchers conduct reliable bird surveys that track the numbers of pigeons and their activities in urban areas. Despite being labeled as “pests” by some, these humble birds have adapted well to city life, thanks in part to the absence of their natural predators. However, pigeon populations can become too large, which is why some cities implement bird control systems to manage their numbers.

When The Pigeon Population Exploded Beyond Control

Urban areas have become a haven for pigeons due to overpopulation, food scraps, and easy access to resources. In cities like New York, the number of pigeons has reached levels where people feel they are in direct competition with them.

In Bryant Park, for instance, there were so many pigeons that a professional falconer was hired to scare the pigeons away in 2003. The goal was to make pigeons leave the area and prevent them from roosting and feeding in the park.

In some cities, pigeons have become a nuisance beyond just littering. These birds have been identified as a disease vector, putting public health at risk. Bangkok is an example of that. Flocks of pigeons have expanded to the city limit, and the local government had to consider measures to control their population.

One such measure being considered is to ban feeding pigeons, which could lead to a fine of 25,000 baht (~$800) or 3 months of imprisonment, or both. Venice in Italy has already seen success in reducing the pigeon population through anti-feeding laws.


Why do pigeons prefer urban areas over natural habitats?

Pigeons thrive in cities due to the abundant food sources provided by human activities. They adapt well to urban environments where there are plentiful food scraps, seeds, and grains available, making city life more appealing than natural habitats.

Are cities safer for pigeons compared to other environments?

Yes, cities often provide a safer environment for pigeons. The presence of tall buildings and ledges mimics the cliffs they would naturally inhabit. Additionally, urban areas tend to have fewer predators and offer shelter from harsh weather conditions.

Do pigeons choose cities for nesting and breeding purposes?

Absolutely, cities provide ample nesting opportunities for pigeons. They utilize building ledges, rooftops, and other structures as nesting sites, taking advantage of the sheltered spaces that urban landscapes offer.

Are there any specific features of cities that attract pigeons?

Pigeons are attracted to the architecture of cities. The ledges and nooks of buildings mimic natural roosting spots on cliffs, providing them with suitable perches and nesting spaces. Moreover, the warmth generated by buildings can be appealing during colder seasons.

Do pigeons rely on humans for survival in cities?

Pigeons have adapted to coexisting with humans in cities but aren’t entirely reliant on them. While they benefit from human-generated food sources, they can also forage for natural food if available, showcasing their adaptability to diverse environments.

Are there any drawbacks to pigeons living in cities?

Although pigeons flourish in urban settings, overcrowding can lead to health and cleanliness issues due to excessive droppings. Additionally, some people view pigeons as pests, causing conflicts in certain urban areas.


Pigeons live in cities for several reasons. First of all, they are excellent navigators and have a natural affinity for complex city landscapes. Secondly, human food is widely available in cities, making it a desirable place for pigeons to find sustenance.

Additionally, there are fewer natural predators in urban areas than in the countryside, which increases the chances of survival for these birds. Lastly, the abundance of artificial pigeon houses and programs designed to control pigeon populations means that feral pigeon populations continue to thrive in cities across the world.

Kathy Gonzales

I'm an author of pigeonsmatter.com. I have kept pigeons as pets for over 20 years and have written several articles. Here in this blog, I cover topics such as how to care for pigeons, what to feed them, and how to keep them healthy.