There are five species of pigeon and dove normally present in the UK. Each has a different conservation and legal position.
Turtle Doves are on the red list indicating that they are of high conservation priority. Stock doves are on the Amber list as their numbers are sadly in decline. Turtle Doves and Stock Doves are unconditionally protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act meaning it is always illegal to harm or kill them or disturb their nests. In practice, they're very unlikely to cause an issue for the average householder.
Collared Doves are not a native species and only arrived in the UK in the 1950s. Nonetheless, they are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act and no longer feature on general licenses meaning they cannot be harmed or killed without explicit permission from the relevant SNCO. They are an inoffensive species, unlikely to cause issues for most householders.
Wood pigeons are a native species and on the green list as they are common. They are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act and it is only legal to harm or kill them with a licence if they are shown to be a threat to crops. They are unlikely to cause an issue for the average householder - most conflicts with wood pigeons are with farmers.
Most issues will be with Rock Doves aka Feral Pigeons. Feral pigeons, contrary to popular myth, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the same way as other wild birds are. They can be killed or their nests destroyed under license but only where there is a threat to public health or safety.
On this page, we'll cover the common complaints an average householder might have about the presence of pigeons. We won't be covering larger scale/commercial issues. PiCAS are a good source of information for this type of conflict.
'Stealing' food meant for other birds
Clearly, no bird understands the concept of ownership. If food is put out, they will happily partake. Contrary to popular belief, small birds like sparrows and tits are not generally 'scared off' by the presence of larger birds such as pigeons. Consequently it can be difficult to 'pick and choose' which birds you do and don't want to feed.
Rock doves/feral pigeons are naturally cliff nesting birds so balconies are perfect nest spots for them, closely resembling a ledge on a cliff. You should be aware that nesting feral pigeons are protected under law, just as other birds are. This means that it is illegal to disturb or harm their nests or eggs. The only exception is where there is a demonstrable risk to public health or safety and non-lethal methods are not practicable. This is extremely unlikely to apply in this situation - it's not enough to simply cite the common myth that pigeons are 'dirty' or 'spread disease'. The presence of a nest on a balcony is highly unlikely to pose a health and safety risk.
The problem with lethal control
Well there’s the obvious issues such as it’s cruel, unnecessary and unfair to take an animal’s life simply because it is causing you inconvenience. Aside from that it is difficult and dangerous and will be illegal in all but issues of health and safety. But above all it will not solve your problem!
If you kill the wood pigeon who is stealing your bird food, or the feral who is nesting on your balcony, but still leave your bird food easily accessible and your balcony welcoming, others will soon move in to the now-vacant territory and repeat the same behaviours.
Integrated Wildlife Management is a more intelligent, science-led approach to ‘pest-control’. Rather than simply shooting or poisoning the ‘offending’ creature, which will only bring about a very temporary solution, it uses an understanding of wildlife behaviour and ecology to find a holistic, humane and effective long term solution.
The most effective method of resolving a wildlife conflict is to remove what is attracting the animal. These basic tips will help to make your garden less interesting
- Clear up any food such as pet food, spilt bird food or fallen fruit
- Feed birds in hanging feeders, not on a flat table. Pigeons do generally have a different feeding style to smaller birds, and are less inclined to feed from suspended feeders. Choose versions with small holes or an outer guard which larger birds can’t access
- Do your composting in a secure compost bin
- Place all refuse in wheely bins
- Tidy up any overgrown trees which might be providing shelter or nesting sites (outside of nesting season only, otherwise you risk breaking the law)
If that proves ineffective, the next step is to actively deter the animals. To do this, you need to offend as many of their senses as possible. Birds rely more on sight and hearing than taste and smell so that’s where to focus your approach. However, these methods are likely to affect all birds, not just the ones you consider undesirable.
- use brightly coloured wind spinners or CDs hanging from string to create random movements
- drive stakes into the ground and fix plastic bags or sheets of tinfoil to them. As they flap in the wind the birds will find these quite daunting and avoid the area
- commercially available silhouettes of cats or birds of prey can help to deter them
- sonic deterrent devices or windchimes create unpleasant sounds which may deter them
In the case of nesting pigeons, your only legal option is to wait until the babies have fledged and the nest is no longer in use and then take measures to clear the balcony and prevent the nesting birds returning. Often, just ensuring the balcony is clean and tidy without areas for the birds to hide under will be enough to deter them from nesting there again. It also helps to go out there regularly so the birds see human activity in the area. If the issue persists, the most used solution is to block access to the balcony with netting. However, this must be professionally installed and regularly maintained otherwise it becomes loose and birds can become trapped in it. If this occurs you would be liable for prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act if any suffering is caused.
There are also growing number of humane pest control companies using the same holistic principles as us. You can find details of some here.