For the first time in my 16-plus years of New York City living, I saw a baby pigeon on the street. It was sitting -- and cheeping loudly -- near an adult pigeon on the sidewalk, just outside a popular pizzeria in my neighborhood. Susan Elbin, director of conservation and science at NYC Audubon, said the squab looked to be about 15 or 16 days old, about two weeks shy of (voluntarily) leaving the nest, judging by the photos. "Looks like something got him," she added, noting the pigeon's many missing feathers (see below). Likely suspects include a cat, a hawk or a raptor. The squab most likely fell from its nest after an animal tried picking it up by its feathers. Pigeons build nests atop air conditioners, on building ledges or anywhere that simulates the caves and cliff sides of their native habitats in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. They don't typically nest in trees or on rooftops.
As I watched, the pigeon appeared to solicit the attention of the adult pigeon, but the adult appeared to take little notice. "There could be a lot of different things going on with that," said Elbin. First, the pigeon wasn't giving the adult typical "feed me" cues by pecking near the adult's mouth. Second, as young pigeons mature, they begin having conflicts with their parents that will sound familiar to most humans. "The baby wants to be independent but still wants some resources from its parent. The parent provides resources but wants the kid to be more independent," she says. At 15 days old, the squab would have recently shifted its diet from "crop milk" -- a substance produced by both parents -- to seeds. (Perhaps that's why the nearby adult wasn't offering to share its piece of bread).
Finding baby pigeons is rare because they don't leave the nest until they're as large as -- or, usually, even larger than -- their parents.
For more on pigeons, visit Cornell University's Project PigeonWatch.
For pigeon rescue information, visit New York City's first wildlife rehabilitation center Web site here.