Pigeons and disease

There have always been those in the media who hate pigeons and jump at any chance to convince their audience that their very lives are at stake if they go within a mile of a feral pigeon. The facts are a little different.

Save The Trafalgar Square PigeonsAvian Influenza

The threat of the arrival in this country of the H5N1 strain of Avian Flu, currently sweeping Asia and making its way across Europe, has handed the media an irresistible chance to whip up anti-pigeon hysteria – an opportunity they have seized upon with gusto. “Pigeons May Spread Avian Flu Pandemic” scream the headlines.  In reality, research by the United States Department of Agriculture has shown that pigeons are resistant or minimally susceptible to infection with the H5N1 avian flu virus (click here for more details of the research).

Other diseases

All wild birds have the potential to pass on diseases to other birds and to human beings but the chances of this happening are a million to one, certainly in the case of human beings. Pigeons are no more likely to transmit diseases to human beings than any other species of wild bird.

Why then do we read horror stories in the media every day about the 60 or 70 fatal diseases that pigeons are supposedly capable of transmitting to human beings? Because the pest control industry and those that have a vested commercial interest in controlling pigeons have a very efficient propaganda machine constantly churning out scare stories designed to sell their products.

Save The Trafalgar Square PigeonsPest control is a multi-billion pound industry worldwide and culling pigeons and selling proofing products represents a large proportion of the profits within this industry. Because scientific research has proved that culling pigeons is a completely ineffective method of control the pest control industry has to scare the public into believing that they need to be concerned about pigeons. The best way to do that is to link pigeons with diseases.

We read more and more reports about scientific and medical research programmes proving the links between pigeons and disease in human beings. What we do not ask and what we are never told is who funds these research programmes? Could it be the pest control industry? It seems that invariably this is the case. If these research programmes are funded by the industry that benefits from the control of the species that is being researched (in this case pigeons) can we really believe the statistics that we read?

What do the experts say?

The real experts in the field all agree that there is no tangible health risk to human beings from contact with pigeons:

Mike Everett, spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said, in The Big Issue Magazine, February 2001: "The whole 'rats with wings' thing is just emotive nonsense. There is no evidence to show that they (pigeons) spread disease.”
The Chief Veterinary Officer, when addressing the House of Lords in 2000 on the issue of pigeons in Trafalgar Square was asked if the large number of pigeons in the Square represented a health risk to human beings. The Chief Veterinary Officer told The House that in his opinion they did not.
Charlotte Donnelly, an American bird control expert told the Cincinnati Environment Advisory Council in her report to them: "The truth is that the vast majority of people are at little or no health risk from pigeons and probably have a greater chance of being struck by lightening than contracting a serious disease from pigeons."
Guy Merchant, Director of The Pigeon Control Advisory Service (PICAS) says, when talking about the transmission of disease by pigeons: "If we believed everything we read in the media about pigeons and the farcical propaganda distributed by the pest control industry we would ever leave our homes. The fact of the matter is that there is probably a greater risk to human health from contact with domestic pets such as cats, dogs and caged birds."
David A Palmer (B.V.Sc., M.R.C.V.S) said in an article entitled 'Pigeon Lung Disease Fatality and Health Risk from Ferals': "Obviously, since all these Allergic Extrinsic Alveolitis disease syndromes rely on the involved person having a very specific allergy before any disease, involving respiratory distress and very unusually death, can possibly be seen, it really makes absolute nonsense for a popular daily newspaper to suggest that pigeons present a health hazard and presumably need eliminating for the well-being of the nation’s health.”
David Taylor BVMS FRCVS FZS: “In 50 years professional work as a veterinary
surgeon I cannot recall one case of a zoonosis in a human that was related
to pigeons. On the other hand I know of, and have seen, examples of human
disease related  to contact with dogs, cats, cattle, monkeys, sheep, camels,
budgies, parrots, cockatoos, aquarium fish and even dolphins, on many
The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the New York City Department of Health, and the Arizona Department of Health all agree that diseases associated with pigeons present little risk to people. “We have never documented a pigeon to human transmission in the state of Arizona,” said Mira J Leslie, Arizona’s state public health veterinarian.

Save The Trafalgar Square PigeonsIf there was any real chance of pigeons spreading disease to human beings we would see epidemics amongst pigeon fanciers that race pigeons and spend much of their time in dusty pigeon lofts. We would also see all those involved with the rehabilitation of pigeons in wildlife hospitals worldwide dropping like flies. The facts speak for themselves. Pigeons do not spread disease and if we need to get rid of pigeons on the basis of the fact that there is 'potential' for them to pass on diseases to human beings then we need to get rid of all feral birds. At the end of the day 99% of so called 'pigeon problems' are, in reality, people problems. It is human beings that create the waste upon which pigeons feed and if we cleaned up our act we would have considerably less pigeons to worry about. So is it really the feral pigeon that is vermin?

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