If I were to compile a list of frequently asked questions about pigeons, one of the top entries would be: “where are all the baby pigeons?”
The easy answer to the question is: the baby pigeons are in their nests. After hatching, pigeons spend a long time in their nests—about a month—growing and getting fed by their parents, until they finally leave the nest, or fledge. Pigeon nests are tucked away in many corners of the city, particularly on ledges and windowsills, under bridges, over awnings, and lots of other surfaces that are reasonably protected. It’s difficult to see a newborn pigeon chick in the “wild” of the city (the ones I’ve seen were all housed in lofts readily accessible by people). But it’s actually quite possible to see a very young pigeon if you keep your eyes open.
Even when you can’t see them, you can sometimes hear them. I was recently on a visit to Denver and walked through the archway of an open-air pavilion downtown, when I was treated to a chorus of baby pigeon squeaks. I looked up and saw that the inner ledge of the pavilion was home to perhaps a half a dozen busy pigeon nests; the tails of the parents waved back and forth as they leaned in to the nests to feed their chicks.
Once their feathers fill out, young pigeons are able to sit in the nests by themselves while their parents go off to find food. In my neighborhood in Boston, I’ve seen these youngsters lounging on ledges under windows or on top of air conditioners. Although they are in plain view, someone glancing quickly might mistake them for regular adult pigeons.
After they leave the nest, you can often see a new fledge bird with its parents. The fledglings look very similar to adult pigeons, but they still have that slightly bulky black beak without a white growth, or cere, on top, and they are often small and thin, with delicate feet that are grayish-pink, not bright red. They peck the ground tentatively, watching their parents as examples, and are more skittish when people approach.
Sometimes I see young pigeons on streets or in parks that are clearly just shy of this fledgling stage. They have left the nest too early or been abandoned, or perhaps lost their parents. I’ve read that orphan fledglings can often survive by begging for food from other adults nearby or simply picking up the normal feeding strategies of pigeons. But I’ve seen several young birds that obviously are not going to be successful. I saw another one in the Boston Public Garden recently. Although it looked like a pigeon in form, it didn’t act like one. Instead it stood still under the shade of a tree, back hunched and black feathers flared as if it were cold, and simply watched the other pigeons. It didn’t wander around pecking for food or snaps its neck back and forth. It could only wait for food from its parents, which did not seem to be around. To me, this pigeon stood out like a sore in the park, but no one else noticed it as they passed on the nearby path.
So the other answer to the question of where the baby pigeons are is: right under our noses. They are not trailing behind their parents in a cute line like ducklings, but they are learning the ways of pigeonhood—or failing to learn them—in plain view.