Pigeons have become an everyday sight in North America living anywhere from cities to farms. With over 8 million pigeons being recorded, what is keeping the pigeon from taking over the bird population? There are several natural animals predators that help keep the pigeon population under control.
Some of the animal predators that eat pigeons include owls, hawks, peregrines, cats, otters, foxes, raccoons, and several types of snakes.
Pigeons live in the same habitats as predators that eat them and lack the skills to defend themselves, instead relying on flying.
Keep on reading to learn what animals pose the biggest threat to the pigeon in all its habitats and what you can do to discourage them or protect them!
Do Pigeons Have Any Natural Defenses Against Predators?
Unfortunately, pigeons do not have the ability to defend themselves against all the predators looking to make dinner out of them.
The only option they have is to fly away at the first sign of danger, regrettably, most of the predators have excellent skills to stay stealthy.
If you’re looking to determine whether a bird in your area is a pigeon, here are 7 sounds and noises pigeons make!
Where Can Pigeons Be Found?
Pigeons survive by living around humans and have a long history of codependency. Trash that humans leave behind, grains we plant, or bird seed we leave out all allow pigeons an easy, regular diet.
Commonly referred to as “rats with wings” pigeons can consume more trash and debris than any other bird to survive.
The possibility of shelter is also a reason for pigeons to live in close proximity since they prefer concrete and man-made building materials over trees or natural habitats.
They can be found in urban settings, suburban neighborhoods, and even rural farms. Anywhere people are, pigeons can thrive. Here are some of the most common places where pigeons nest near your home.
Most Common Animal Predators That Eat Pigeons
Although pigeons will avoid areas that are exposed to a higher predator population, they can’t always avoid these sneaky critters.
So what animals pose the most threat to pigeons?
Although owls are one of the most effective nighttime hunters, they surprisingly don’t hunt as many pigeons as you’d expect. Owls hunt at night when pigeons are asleep, however, when they cross paths pigeons are a favorite of owls.
There are 19 different species of owl in North America with the Great Horned Owl being the most common according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Owls have several advantages when it comes to hunting, starting with their amazing hearing. Owls can process sounds separately in their right and left ear allowing them to hone in on prey no matter where it is hiding.
They also have specialized vision that allows them to search for prey at night. Owls have oversized eyes which allow them to make the most out of the dim light at night and both eyes are faced forward to work like binoculars.
What Makes Owls Effective Predators Of Pigeons?
Owls’ necks have fourteen vertebrae, which allows them to pivot their heads 270 degrees for an expanded seeing range. Hard bird to play hide-n-seek with.
After using their amazing senses to locate their prey, owls are equipped with powerfully built talons that allow them to grab their prey.
Their feet are made of three talons facing forward and one talon facing back to allow a grabbing motion that scoops up prey or snags pigeons out of the air.
Once an owl locks on to their prey their feet lock down and hold on without having to use its muscles.
Prey doesn’t hear them coming thanks to their specialized feathers which allow them to swoop soundlessly.
How Owls Eat
Because owls can’t chew their food, they swallow their catch whole, if possible. If not, they use their beak to get smaller pieces. Any indigestible parts that are consumed get regurgitated in owl pellets.
Owls range in size from the small northern saw-whet, which is only about 8” long with a 17” wingspan and weight of 3 oz. Despite their small size, the northern saw-whet owl still preys on birds and supplements their diet with rodents and shrews.
The largest owl is the great horned owl at 22” long and a 44” wingspan. They are heavier at 3 lbs. Great horned owls are known to eat prey as large as rabbits and birds up to the size of ducks.
Pigeons are well within the great horned owl’s prey size.
The only benefit the pigeon has is not being nocturnal and having limited exposure to the owls canvasing the night sky mostly crossing their paths at dusk.
Hawks will eat anything from rats and snakes to small mammals, and pigeons are a succulent treat if they can catch them. The red-tailed hawk and Cooper’s hawk are two of the top hawk predators of pigeons.
Red-tailed hawks are identified by their rust-red tail and grow over 20 inches in length with a wingspan of over 20 inches. They can often be found nesting in city limits where they share territory with pigeons.
The University of Pennsylvania published an article about red-tailed hawks showing up on campus and cite pigeons as one of the lures. Well-fed city pigeons are a great treat for any of hawk species!
Red-tailed hawk mates stay together for years, sometimes using the same nests over many years. In order to protect their nests from parasites and pests, they bring in fresh greenery like pine needles as repellants.
A hawk that preys primarily on other birds is Cooper’s Hawk. They grow to 15-18 inches according to the Missouri Department of Conservation and forage in hedgerows and tree lines, even stalking bird feeders from time to time.
Because they are such agile flyers catching other birds mid-flight is not a problem. Their favorite meals are pigeons, doves, jays, and robins states Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Cooper’s hawk can be recognized by their short, round wing with blue-gray coloring along their back.
The male Cooper’s Hawk built the nest and fed the females and young, breeding once a year. Every clutch contains 2-6 eggs.
3. Urban Peregrines
Peregrine falcons living in urban areas are especially well known for preying on feral pigeons.
According to The University of Texas, 80% of the city-dwelling peregrine’s diets are made up of pigeons.
The peregrines are known for sitting on high perches where they can drive down and snatch pigeons out of the air. They are such awesome hunters they are the mascot for the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Their ancestral homes are very similar to the rock pigeon on cliffs and they have made the same shift into urban areas that pigeons have.
They also don’t have to compete with the great horned owl in cities where skyscrapers provide artificial cliffs.
How Did Peregrines Get Into Cities?
The rumor mill says that peregrines were introduced to cities to control pigeon populations, but the Indiana Department of Natural Resources denies this accusation claiming it’s a myth.
On the other hand, New York City claims to have the largest population of urban peregrine now.
Peregrines are the largest falcons in most of North America and can be identified by blue-gray on their back with barred underparts and a dark head with thick sideburns.
They can live 6-8 years on average with a possible lifespan closer to 20 in captivity or ideal conditions and they grow to be just over 20 inches tall.
House cats pose a threat to pigeons as much as any wild predator. According to North Carolina State University, a study shows that domestic cats have a larger effect than same-size wild predators on the local animal population.
Any bird is in danger from a preying cat, but pigeons tend to be on ground level looking for food quite often, putting them right in your cat’s range.
Cats can hunt 1.3 – 4.0 billion birds per year according to The University of Texas with a lot of those being pigeons. They are the greatest threat to North American birds.
Wild cats such as bobcats also look at birds, including pigeons, as a primary diet source.
How Cats Hunt
Cats have several benefits when it comes to stalking and catching prey.
Their vision has adapted to see especially well at night and in the evening. When pigeons are still grazing, but getting ready to settle down cats are on the prowl.
Not only is their seeing superior, cats are extremely good at hearing, explains Washington State University. They can hear sounds that not even dogs can hear using their large, curved ears.
Cats can hear 100,000 hertz while humans hear 20,000. Hertz refers to the vibrations that sound is measured by making it very hard for a pigeon to avoid being overheard while searching for food.
With 200 million cells that can sense odor in their noses, cats have amazing scenting abilities which help them hunt down unsuspecting prey in the shrubbery.
Even their innocent-looking whiskers help them out. Cats are notorious for being able to squeeze into small spaces when hunting prey. Their whiskers are made for helping determine if the space is wide enough for them to fit.
Their skeleton and muscular systems are also specially equipped to let them twist and turn as they chase prey.
Poor pigeons don’t really stand a chance against the well-equipped cat.
Because they are omnivores, foxes are not only a danger to roaming pigeons but are also known to hunt down their eggs for dinner as well.
The red fox often inhabits the same areas as pigeons in urban and suburban areas. They are known for using the transitional zones between foliage and open ground where scavenging pigeons are scouting for their next meal.
They are the most widespread predator spanning the entire northern hemisphere.
Since foxes have been known to rummage through trash being opportunistic hunters, they’ll sometimes come across pigeons as an unexpected dinner option.
Foxes are extremely nimble and can run almost 30 miles per hour which makes catching up to pigeons easy. They stalk their unsuspecting prey and pounce quickly.
How Big Do Foxes Get?
Foxes grow up to 15 pounds and slightly over 40 inches from nose to tail. They come in all colors ranging from the gray fox to the red fox, but all have a fluffy white-tipped tail.
There is even a fox that can be completely white called the arctic fox, but it only lives in the extreme north of Canada, Europe, and Asia.
They have superior night vision with vertical pupils, acute hearing, and amazing smell, allowing them to hunt small mammals and birds that hide out of sight.
Foxes are known for their dens, but actually only use a stolen den when they are raising their kits. They breed from late December through March and have an average litter size of 6, but can have up to 11 kits.
How Foxes Keep Their Kits Safe
The parents make sure that the dens have at least 2 escape exits and sometimes will have a backup den ready. They have been known to split the young between the two dens.
Young foxes are weaned at around 12 weeks and then go with their parents on foraging trips to learn how to hunt.
Foxes can live up to 15 years, but a wild fox is more likely to live around 5 years, states the College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Snakes are well known for eating small mammals and reptiles, but some will eat birds as well.
The coachwhip is active only during the day and can be found in the southern United States. They are the fastest snakes in their regions according to the University of Georgia and are able to run down prey.
Coachwhips can reach well over 8 feet long and are able to climb into small trees or bushes.
These agile snakes have been known to climb into bird’s nests and get their eggs, including pigeons’ nests.
Their coloration is very distinctive, making them easy to identify starting black at the head and fading to a light brown or white on the tail. Their name is because their coloration and texture make them look like whips used by stagecoach drivers.
They can normally be found in dry habitats with sandy soils, pine woods, or farmland.
The coachwhip lays eggs in the spring up to 24, and the young snakes hatch 45-80 days later.
Although there are several types of kingsnakes, the most common is the eastern kingsnake, which resides in most of the eastern United States.
They are a dark color appearing black and might have light circles or might be solid and grow to 36-48 inches in length.
These snakes can flourish in forests, swamps, wetlands, farmland, and around human neighborhoods.
The eastern kingsnake is known for eating both birds and bird eggs.
Kingsnakes are also known for eating other snakes, making them great to have around if you are trying to control pest species. They’ve been known to eat rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads.
Constriction is the most common hunting method for these snakes and they tend to hunt during the day.
Females lay up to 24 eggs in the spring and they’ll hatch around August or September.
The rat snake can range in color from black or gray to yellow growing on average to 3-5 feet according to the University of Georgia. They inhabit most of the United States and are known to eat both birds and bird eggs.
Since rat snakes are constrictors, they squeeze their prey before consuming. And because they are constrictors, they are particularly adept at climbing to get to bird nests.
They have been known to climb brick walls.
You can find rat snakes in forests, swamps, around rivers, and in rocky forest hills.
Less desirable than their nonvenomous counterparts, rattlesnakes also consume birds as part of their diet. Rattlesnakes are characterized by the rattle at the end of their tail.
They have large diamonds with cream borders on their back and large thick heads.
Rattle Snakes hibernate during winter, but during the warmer months can be seen hunting not only birds but also squirrels. Adults range from 30 to 60 inches but have been recorded as long as 6 feet.
These snakes can strike up to 2/3 their body length, explains The University of Florida. That means a 6-foot snake can strike 4 feet so make sure to keep your distance!
They can normally be found in pine woods or scrub areas where palmetto thickets grow.
These snakes are also known to take over gopher tortoise burrows and use the hole as their own.
Females will give birth to live young, up to 29, around August or September.
Raccoons, the distinctive bandits, are easy to recognize with their striped tails and black mask on their faces.
Raccoons can grow to 3-4ft and weigh up to 30 pounds! They range all of the United States except the rocky mountains and the Southwest. They can run up to 15 MPH for short distances.
Their feet have 5 toes that end with sharp claws and help harvest the raccoon’s meals. They are known to eat fruit, nuts, small mammals, birds, bird eggs, mice, fish, snakes, and even worms.
Despite being friendly looking they aren’t picky about what they eat and can often be found rummaging through trash.
Why Are Raccoons Hanging Around Pigeon Areas?
There are actually more raccoons in suburban neighborhoods than in rural areas for the same reasons pigeons can be found around people. There is plenty of food and shelter to take advantage of.
When they can’t take advantage of a house, they’ll nest in hollow trees, but will be quick to move in if they find an opening in your attic.
Nighttime is the most active time for raccoons, although you will see less activity during the coldest months of the year. Raccoons stockpile food in hopes of staying inside.
What About Raccoon Kits?
Raccoons give live birth to an average of 3 young after a 60-day+ gestation period. Mating takes place in early spring or late winter. These tiny raccoons will keep their eyes shut for 2-3 weeks.
Raccoons have been known to stay in the den until the following spring, staying with the female until ready for independence.
Raccoons do not stay together after mating and the females care for the young. Males range farther than females do, but on average one raccoon, every 12-107 acres is normal according to The College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Because of the overlap in habitat, pigeons make an easy meal for a hungry raccoon and pigeon eggs are even easier.
Last but not least, humans eat pigeons as well. The pigeons we know today aren’t native to North America but were brought over when European settlers came and brought pigeons for a food source.
Those pigeons escaped and established a population that thrived on its own.
Even Roman coins show images of pigeons and they were used as offerings to Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess.
Young pigeon meat is referred to as squab and is considered luxury meat that many people really enjoy.
How To Help Pigeons
If you are interested in providing a little help to the defenseless pigeons there are several things you can do to make your yard or home more pigeon friendly.
Allowing somewhere for pigeons to roost gets them off of the ground and protects them from ground-based predators. Try creating flat surfaces using the PeSandy Dove Rest Stand around your yard.
Another good technique is to place pre-made nests in safe places for the pigeons. The Orgrimmar Handmade Woven Straw Bird Nest is a good option for pigeons.
Just putting out birdseed can provide food for pigeons and keep them from spending as much time scavenging.
There are a lot of predators out there hunting for pigeons, but pigeons still flourish because of their ability to interact with humans and adapt their diets.
The most common predators of pigeons include:
- Urban Peregrines
These predators help population control, but there are several steps you can take to keep pigeons safe if you enjoy them hanging around.
As a bonus for making it all the way through this article, we also want to share our list of some easy tips to keep pigeons off your balcony if you do intend to keep them around.
Tanks for reading, friends. Good luck protecting your pigeons!
Santos, Carlos D., et al. “Personality and morphological traits affect pigeon survival from raptor attacks.” Scientific reports 5.1 (2015): 1-8.
Johnston, Richard F., and Marián Janiga. Feral pigeons. Vol. 4. Oxford University Press on Demand, 1995.
Williams, David E., and Robert M. Corrigan. “Pigeons (rock doves).” (1994).
Rodríguez, Beneharo, et al. “Introduced predators and nest competitors shape distribution and breeding performance of seabirds: feral pigeons as a new threat.” Biological Invasions 24.6 (2022): 1561-1573.Hutton, T. C., and J. Dobson. “The control of feral pigeons: an independent approach.” Structural survey 11.2 (1993): 159-167.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
Download My Free E-Book!
Take a look at my guide on Pest Proofing Your Home In Under a Day! I get into the nitty-gritty on the most common types of pests you’ll see on your property including BOTH insects and wildlife, along with the specific signs to look for regarding any pest you have questions about.