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Information about the Pigeon

Tree Rat or Tourist attraction

The common wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) is a large species in the dove and pigeon family. It belongs to the genus Columba and, like all pigeons and doves, belongs to the family Columbidae

Wood pigeons are often fatter than feral pigeons, as they have a better diet and can find food more readily. Wood pigeons like to nest where it's quieter. Woods, parks and gardens are great places to build their nests. Most nests can be found near roads and rivers, so that water is readily available to them

It is the property owner’s responsibility to ensure any works carried out are legal, no matter if they are doing it themselves or instructing a pest control company. The contractor is not legally liable.

The average person requiring guidance on how to legally and humanely deal with pest birds such as pigeons and seagulls will soon discover that the subject is complex, with many conflicting views available. This overview covers the legal issues surrounding the lawful removal of pigeons and seagulls from your property.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

The lethal control (killing) of pigeons, seagulls and other wild birds in the UK is legislated by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), courtesy of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Chapter 69), which effectively reports that it is illegal to kill or injure any wild bird, including pigeons and seagulls, unless general licensing regulations are complied with.

Anybody that experiences a wild-bird-related problem should be aware that whether they deal with the problem themselves, or whether they instruct a contractor to provide controls on their behalf, the responsibility to ensure that those controls are legal lies with them and not the contractor. It is a common misconception that, if a contractor provides controls on behalf of a third party, it is the contractor that is held legally liable should the law be compromised – this is not the case; it is the responsibility of the owner of the property upon whose site or building those controls are provided.

General Licences to kill wild birds

If you can’t resolve your pigeon issue using non-lethal methods, you may consider culling under a General Licence. These are free and only allowed if the type of work has a low risk for the conservation and welfare of the birds, and the conditions written on the licence are followed accurately.

As of 25th of April 2019 Natural England and DEFRA revoked the old system of General Licencing and introduced two new general licences in June 2019 which includes pigeons. The GL35 - General licence to kill or take certain species of wild birds to preserve public health or public safety which includes the feral pigeon and GL36 - General licence to kill or take certain species of wild birds to prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters which includes the feral pigeon and woodpigeon.

To undertake a culling operation and to ensure it is within the scope of the law, the property owner must be able to demonstrate the following:
1) The pigeon-related problems being experienced have resulted in, or are likely to result in, a risk to public health or safety.
2) All non-lethal methods of control have been tried and found to fail. Culling cannot be used as a method of control simply because pigeons are causing damage to a property through fouling. Culling for this purpose would always be illegal.

Access to these licences can be obtained online at General Licences for wildlife management.

As of January 2020 Natural England have made changes to licences for lethal control of herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls and will license gull control through individual licences, which will need to be prioritised. Natural England will consider the strength of need in each licence application individually but generally protecting human life and health will be the overriding priority.

In rural areas, where lethal control has contributed to declining populations, a sustainable number of birds could be killed or taken - equivalent to no more than 5% of the natural mortality total of each species - without harming their conservation status. Control levels of nests, eggs and chicks will not be limited in urban areas, where populations are thought to have better breeding success rates. However, Natural England will continue to promote the use of non-lethal methods such as bird spikes through integrated management strategies that reduce opportunities for gulls to nest and scavenge in problem areas within the built environment.

Animal Welfare Act 2006

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 deals with issues relating to cruelty and unnecessary suffering, deliberate or unintended, to animals and birds. An example might be where birds have become trapped behind nylon bird netting installed on a building and subsequently died of starvation as a result. If the property owner was challenged and faced prosecution on the grounds of cruelty and unnecessary suffering, the above law would most probably be applied and not the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

There is currently no law specifically available to stop a person feeding wild birds. Where the persistent feeding of wild birds such as pigeons and seagulls is deemed unreasonable and detrimental to the local community’s quality of life (for example, a build-up of food attracting rodents), then local authorities and police forces are sometimes turning to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to issue Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) or Community Protection Orders (CPO).

Pigeon is wonderful meat – deep, gamey and tender (when treated properly) and it has been eaten for centuries across many cultures. Aside from the flavour, pigeon have always been an attractive prospect due to being a quick, easy-to-find source of protein – the eating of pigeon was especially ubiquitous in the wartime years when meat was strictly rationed.

Wild birds are at their very best between September and November, plump and flavourful after greedily gorging on wild fruits but the autumnal season need not be strictly adhered to as farmed squab are generally of very high quality in the UK, ensuring their availability year-round. The more relaxed lifestyles and consistent feeding of these farmed birds make their meat tender and plump, so do not rule out this option.

How to cook pigeon

The best pigeons for fast-cooking are farmed squab and younger, plump wild birds. Quickly pan-frying breasts can yield beautiful results but remember that pigeon does not suit being served well done so aim for a pink finish. Rest the breasts for 4–5 minutes after cooking to keep them as juicy as possible and deglaze the pan to add even more pigeon flavour into sauces.

Chefs have also noted the benefits of cooking pigeon sous vide, as Colin McGurran does in his Pigeon with textures of beetroot recipe. Cooking the breasts for 15 minutes or so at a moderate heat results in tender meat that has been cooked gradually and evenly, with all of the juices locked in. Aromatics can also be added to the sous vide bag to add flavour, though do not add too many as the flavour will be quite concentrated.

Roasting pigeons is also a relatively quick process compared to other meats – simply brown the birds in a pan before roasting for around 10 minutes, or cover in butter before roasting for excellent results.

Pigeon legs take longer to cook than the breasts, so slow-cook the legs separately then use a quicker method to finish off the crown as Matthew Tomkinson recommends in his Wood pigeon salad recipe. The legs are also wonderful when confited.

For something completely different, Chris Horridge cures pigeon breasts in a spiced marinade for 48 hours then serves them carpaccio style.

What pigeon goes with

The variation in flavour between wild birds and farmed means that the flavour pairings should rely on the kind of bird you are using and how you are cooking it. Wild birds possess a deep, strong flavour that can take on a variety of bold flavours from spice mixes to rich berry fruits. Autumnal flavours pair well with pigeons generally – think nuts and root vegetables as in Pascal Aussignac’s Wild pigeon and Jerusalem artichoke recipe or earthy, sweet beetroot and tangy pickled mushrooms like in Matthew Tomkinson’s recipe.

Mark Dodson continues the theme of earthy flavour combinations in his Wood pigeon with blueberry jus, beetroot and potato crisps recipe but ramps up the fruity element by pairing with a blackberry jus. Marcello Tully serves his pigeon with a citrus sauce to cut through the richness of the pigeon.

Dominic Chapman takes elements from more traditional pigeon dishes such as redcurrant jelly, hazelnuts and a red wine reduction, and uses them to make a beautiful salad, with radicchio leaves, pine nuts and ham. Pigeon also works well in pies – not only is it a relatively cheap meat but it has a richer flavour compared with other poultry such as chicken. Greg Malouf flavours his Moroccan pie, Bistayeea, with braised, shredded pigeon and spices such as cinnamon and cumin.


Collared doves are a pale, pinky-brown grey colour, with a distinctive black neck collar (as the name suggests). They have deep red eyes and reddish feet. Their monotonous cooing will be a familiar sound to many of you. Although you'll often see them on their own or in pairs, flocks may form where there is a lot of food available.

Stock doves are similar in plumage and size to rock doves/feral pigeons. They are largely blue-grey with an attractive iridescent bottle green band on the back of the neck and a pink chest. In flight, they show black edges to the wing and two partial black bands near their back. Unlike rock doves/feral pigeons they do not have pale rumps.

They are widely distributed in the UK, except for parts of northern Scotland and Ireland, with particularly high densities in the English Midlands and South West. Over half their European population is found in the UK.

Turtle dove is a dainty dove, smaller and darker than the collared dove and slightly larger than a blackbird. Its upperparts are distinctively mottled with chestnut and black and its black tail has a white edge.

The gentle purr of the turtle dove is an evocative sound of summer, but has become increasingly rare following rapid and sustained population declines. One cause of the decline is thought to be lack of seed and grain as food during the breeding season, resulting in a much shorter breeder season with fewer nesting attempts. The species is now included on the Red List of conservation concern.

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