Pigeons

Wood pigeons can be the most serious bird pest in gardens and allotments. They peck at leaves, tearing them, often just leaving the stalks and larger leaf veins behind. Pigeons will attack many plants, lilac, brassicas and peas are particularly susceptible.

Wood pigeon on lawn

Quick facts

Common name Wood pigeon
Scientific name Columba palustris
Plants affected Many but especially lilac, brassicas and peas
Main symptoms Torn foliage, often only leaf stalks left
Most active Year round

What are pigeons?

Pigeons are a pest mainly of agricultural crops, but can cause damage in gardens and allotments.

Pigeons attack a wide range of plants, but seem particularly keen on the leaves of brassicas (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages and cauliflower), cherries, lilac and peas. They will peck at the leaves and rip off portions, often leaving just the stalks and larger leaf veins. They may also attack and strip buds, leaves and fruits from blackcurrants and other fruit bushes.

Symptoms

You may not see the pigeons attacking plants, as they often visit in early morning. This is some of the damage they cause:

  • Torn leaves caused by the pigeons pecking and ripping off portions
  • In severe attacks, most of the foliage is lost, leaving only the leaf stalks
  • Heavy pigeon grazing prevents brassicas and peas from growing and no crop is produced
  • Pigeons also eat the fruit of cherries and currants

Typical damage to Brussel sprouts caused by pigeons pecking and ripping off leaves.
    Typical damage to Brussel sprouts caused by pigeons pecking and ripping off leaves.

    Control

    Shooting can be effective but is often not a safe or legal option in gardens or allotments. Scaring devices or repellent substances are likely to give, at best, only temporary protection. The only certain way of protecting vulnerable plants from pigeons is to grow them under netting or in a fruit cage.

    Additional information on living with pigeons can be obtained from the RSPCA

    Biology

    Pigeons are present throughout the year but are particularly damaging during early summer when peas and brassica crops are developing. Pigeons are also a problem on winter brassicas, especially when snow or frost makes other vegetation unavailable. In winter, flocks of up to 50 birds can descend on allotments but, at other times, they are seen in smaller numbers.

    Pigeons make their nests in trees and tall hedges, laying several clutches of usually two eggs during mid to late summer.

     

    Image: © GWI/Dave Bevan. Available in high resolution at www.gardenworldimages.com

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