When considering whether to help a baby pigeon, the advice for young Stock Doves, Collared Doves and Woodpigeons is broadly the same for other garden birds (see here). However, feral pigeons are, by nature, cliff nesting birds so their habits and behaviours are quite different. It’s also worth clarifying that, contrary to popular belief, pigeons are not ‘classed as vermin’ and there are no legal issues preventing you from helping them. They also have broadly similar legal protection to other birds meaning it’s an offence to disturb their nests or to cause or fail to prevent their suffering.
Baby pigeons can, broadly, be grouped into three different stages of development. Hatchlings are covered in yellow fluff with maybe a bit of ‘stubble’ where feathers are starting to grow. Nestlings will be partially or even mostly feathered but will have a short tail and may have some yellow fluff remaining around their head and neck. Fledgling pigeons will look largely the same as adults with the main difference being the lack of iridescent feathers on their neck.
When to rescue
If the bird has been caught by a cat
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of its age or species, will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia. Urgent action is required here.
If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.
A hatchling or nestling feral pigeon on the ground and you can’t find the nest
The parents will only feed the baby if it is in the original nest. Unlike most other species, they will not find and continue to care for it if you place it in a bush or tree. If you can’t return them to the original nest, the baby will need to be rescued.
A young collared dove with weak legs and sheathed feathers
Collared doves aren’t native to the UK. They naturally breed all year round but babies hatched in autumn and winter don’t get enough vitamin D to process calcium, leading to a calcium deficiency which manifests itself as a rickets-like problem with the legs and poorly developed feathers. These babies will not survive without help.
Both parents have been killed
Depending on the age of the babies, a single parent may cope with raising them alone. But if both parents are dead, they will certainly need to be rescued.
A woodpigeon with growths on its feet and round its beak
Young woodpigeons are particularly prone to suffering with a bird pox virus which causes round growths to appear on their face, legs and feet. Although there is no treatment, supportive care can help them through it.
You can find a wildlife rescue in your area by putting your location into the search facility on our map page.
When to take other action
A hatchling or nestling out of its nest which can be accessed
If you find a healthy, uninjured baby pigeon out of the nest and you can see and get to the nest, you can return it there for the parents to care for. Don’t worry, they won’t be upset by you handling the baby. Observe to make sure the parents return and continue caring for the baby.
When to leave alone
A well-looking fledgling out of the nest
As long as the baby is bright, active, runs away from you and can fly when needed, he can be left alone.
An apparently abandoned nest of baby pigeons
Once the babies get to about a week old and start to grow feathers, they no longer need to be 'brooded' by the parents to stay warm. Pigeons only feed their babies 4-6 times a day so you won't see them flitting back and forth frequently as you would many other species. Both parents are involved in raising the babies and both can feed them so it would be very unusual for them to be totally abandoned.
Baby pigeons have soft beaks so they can’t hurt you, but you can pick the bird up with gloves or a light towel if you prefer. Any small bird needs to be handled with care. Their bones are very delicate, and it would be easy to injure them by handling them roughly. They will usually feel more secure if you hold their wings against their body and support their feet.
If the bird needs to be rescued, place it in something like a shoebox or ice cream tub lined with tissues. If you need a lid to keep the bird contained, don’t forget to provide plenty of air holes. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away.
Any baby bird which needs rescuing should be taken to a wildlife rescue as soon as possible, ideally within an hour. A hatchling or nestling is likely to need supplementary heat as will a fledgling if it is sick or injured. An airing cupboard may suffice for nestlings and fledglings but, for hatchlings, put a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel at one end of the box, either inside, underneath or next to the box, ensuring the bird can get away from the heat if it wants to. As a rule, the baby should feel warm to the touch. If it feels cold it needs more heat, and if it is panting or feels very hot, it may need less.
Baby pigeons need specialist feeding so do not attempt to feed them – just get them to a rescue ASAP. Never attempt to force feed water to a bird as it is very easy to drown them and never offer cow’s milk, worms or alcohol.
NB: this advice is designed to cover the first couple of hours or overnight. If you are not able to get the animal to a wildlife rescue promptly, please at least speak to someone by phone for further advice about care beyond this period. If you want to care for the casualty yourself rather than taking it to a rescue, please read the information here.