15 Fun Facts About Baby Pigeons
Oh, dear God, what is that? Chewed gum? Something the cat spit up? No, that, my friend, is a baby pigeon.
If you've ever wondered why you see tons of adult pigeons but never any babies, there's a reason for that. And it's not the fact that they look like a hairy, undercooked chicken breast.
Find out why, plus everything else you've never thought to ask about baby pigeons.
Baby Pigeons Are Called a Few Different Names
Most baby birds are called chicks, but pigeons can't be normal, can they? No, these weird trash chickens call their babies squabs, or squeakers if you feel like being cute about it.
Squab is the official term, however.
They Look Really, Really Weird at Birth
As if we haven't insulted the poor things enough, let's be even meaner. It's not like they can read this, so we're not holding back. Newborn pigeons are ugly. They can have pink or darkish skin, or a mottled combination of the two that gives them a decidedly bruised look.
They're covered from head to tail in yellowish fuzz that later turns into feathers. Their beak, wings and feet are oversized, and their giant feet are a dark shade of slate gray.
These undeveloped dinosaurs are born with their eyes closed and can barely lift their heads initially. They open their eyes around 4-5 days after hatching, but they remain dependent on their parents for much longer.
They're Tiny, Too
Super tiny, actually. Pigeon babies are only about two inches long at birth, and weigh about half an ounce. Baby pigeons increase their mass by an ounce or two per week, weighing around 8-12 ounces by the four-week mark.
For comparison, they only reach up to 14 ounces fully grown, so most of their growth occurs in the first month of life.
Hatching Takes Them Hours, Not Minutes
The movies always make hatching eggs look like a fast process. It takes about 16-19 days for the eggs to incubate after they've been laid. This can happen any time of year, and the greatest number of squabs are born in the spring and summer. Both male and female pigeons incubate the eggs, with dads typically taking the mid-morning to late-afternoon shifts and moms handling the night watch.
When it's time to hatch, it takes up to 24 hours from the first "pip," when the squab starts pecking through the shell, to the time it's fully hatched. Pigeons usually lay eggs in pairs, and both eggs typically hatch at the same time.
Once They're Born, Baby Pigeons Have Great Parents
Father pigeons don't just help incubate the eggs. After they hatch, dad continues to be involved in his babies' care. Both male and female pigeons produce "crop milk," which is a nutrient-rich secretion fed to their young.
It's not like cow's milk at all, but is produced by the lining of an organ called the crop and regurgitated to the chicks.
Baby Pigeons Have an Odd Diet
Crop milk is first fed to newborn pigeons in the first two hours of life. They continue drinking crop milk for the first days, after which parents also begin feeding them small seeds for the next five days.
By day nine, baby pigeons transition to eating a normal adult pigeon diet, just delivered to them by mom and dad instead of tracked down themselves.
Seeds and fruit are their favorite foods, but they occasionally eat invertebrates too.
Squabs Are Rarely Seen
While we're delighted never to have seen these odd-looking creatures in person, we couldn't help wondering why. Pigeons prefer to nest in high, secluded locations out of sight.
Since baby pigeons don't leave the nest until they're juveniles, by the time they're out on the streets hunting for leftover hot dogs, they look roughly the same as adult pigeons.
What Baby Pigeons Lack in the Looks Department, They Make Up for With IQ Points
We were surprised too. Pigeons look like they have the intelligence of a rock, but that's far from the truth. Pigeons can pass the "mirror test," unlike the majority of animals.
The test simply identifies if a creature can recognize their own reflection, and pigeons have been acing the test since 1979.
Squabs Have a Better Sense of Direction Than You Do
All the dads who hate asking for directions will hate this one. Pigeons don't need GPS or gas station attendants to guide them. They have built in GPS, and were once used as carrier pigeons to deliver messages across the country.
There's no need for carrier pigeons today, thanks to the internet and smartphones, but you can still send people letters by pigeon if you feel like it.
They Also Have a Keen Sense of Sight
When squeakers first hatch, their eyes are tightly shut. Baby pigeons develop rapidly, however, and by the time they're a few weeks old, they can see more than 25 miles away.
They also have a remarkable sense of hearing. Unlike humans, they can pick up infrasonic vibrations produced by storms and volcanic activity. They're like seismographs before seismographs were invented.
Fledgling Pigeons Tend to Look Like Scrawny Adults
After leaving the nest, pigeons still look a little odd for a while. Every pigeon species looks slightly different, but the white part of the pigeon's beak, known as the cere, is more pink in color in young pigeons.
Their feathers are also more sparse, and it takes time for them to develop that shimmering green and purple coloration that adults have around their necks.
The next time you spot a flock of pigeons waddling around, see if you can pick out the juveniles among the bunch.
Learning to Fly Takes About Six Weeks
Pigeons start flapping their wings when they're about four weeks old. Initially, they don't catch much air, just skittering close to the ground. By the six-week mark, they can fly like the grownups.
Pigeons don't get many flying lessons from mom and dad, but they don't need them. Flight is completely instinctive for pigeons, and all pigeon parents need to do is coax their young to keep trying until they get the hang of it.
Baby Pigeons Take Longer to Mature in Winter
Feeling like a late bloomer? If you were born in winter, maybe you're secretly a pigeon. Baby pigeons born in winter spend more time in the nest than pigeons born in spring or summer.
Spring pigeons leave the nest as early as 25 days after hatching, but in winter, some pigeons hang out with their mom for up to 45 days. This is because food is scarcer in the winter months, so it takes them a little longer to put on enough weight to branch out on their own safely.
The Living Conditions for Squabs Leave Something to Be Desired
Imagine raising a newborn in a bathroom. Yeah, that's what pigeons do.
They use nests over and over again, simply building new nests on top of old ones to cover up last year's accumulated pigeon poo. Delightful.
Some nests are used for years, and the oldest ones can weigh up to five pounds.
What Should You Do If You Find a Baby Pigeon?
If you see a baby pigeon hopping around on its own, it probably doesn't need your help. In all likelihood, the parents are close by. Just observe the fledgling pigeon for a while to make sure it's safe from pets or other predators. Approaching can scare away the parents, so stay away unless it's absolutely necessary.
If the baby pigeon seems to be hurt or shows no signs of trying to fly, contact your local wildlife rescue for further instruction.
Still got birds on the brain? Keep reading about these fine-feathered friends on Always Pets.