Many people enjoy feeding feral pigeons, but with such ample food supplies such as chips, pizza and kebabs dropped every day on the streets by humans, pigeons have reached plague proportions in some cities. Many restaurants and office blocks in urban areas employ bird control measures to keep their premises clean and free of diseases such as Ornithosis and Salmonella.
A by-law was passed in 2003 which made it an offense to feed the birds at Trafalgar Square and hawking was introduced to deter pigeons.
Now there is evidence to suggest that urban pigeons can learn to identity between their human friends and those who want to chase them away.
A study by French Researchers explored the capacity of feral pigeons to discriminate between friend and foe. The study was conducted in an urban park. An abstract from the report explains that:
Pigeons were fed by two experimenters of approximately the same age and skin colour but wearing coats of different colours. During the training sessions, the two human feeders displayed different attitudes: one of the feeders was neutral and the second was hostile and chased away the pigeons. During the two test phases subsequent to the training phase, both feeders became neutral. Two experiments were conducted, one with one male and one female feeder and the second with two female feeders. In both experiments, the pigeons learned to quickly (six to nine sessions) discriminate between the feeders and maintained this discrimination during the test phases.
The pigeons avoided the hostile feeder even when the two feeders exchanged their coats, suggesting that they used stable individual characteristics to differentiate between the experimenter feeders. Thus, pigeons are able to learn quickly from their interactions with human feeders and use this knowledge to maximize the profitability of the urban environment.
This study provides the first experimental evidence in feral pigeons for this level of human discrimination. Pigeons are intelligent birds. They know which side their bread is buttered on, and it’s usually lying on the street.