Wood Pigeons

Some things you might need to know if you rescue a wood pigeon.

If you are looking for information on what to feed- and how to feed-  a baby wood pigeon please read Caring for a baby pigeon

For some reason I am not able to provide links to the paragraphs below so please scroll down to find them in the following order:

Woodpigeon Temperament (IMPORTANT!)
The Life of the Wood Pigeon
 Wood pigeon development in photos
Common Illnesses and Injuries

Hand raised wood pigeons will quickly imprint on humans and be too trusting but wild  fledglings, juveniles and adults can be extremely scatty and liable to panic.

If you approach a wild adult move very slowly and handle it gently.

If it opens its mouth and starts to pant stop whatever you are doing, leave it alone…fear can produce adrenalin rush and a heart attack. However, if you come across  a wood pigeon that is already breathing with an open mouth in could be suffering from canker.

Looking at a captive wild woodie in the eye can be extremely stressful for them and is best avoided. 

If you have an adult sick or injured woodie in a cage, cover part or all of the cage.

Even tame wood pigeons can panic if confronted with an unfamiliar situation.  A strange animal in the garden, a strange person in the aviary, an unfamiliar implement can all lead to a panic and once one starts the rest follow.   My woodies have panicked just because I carried a pink broom down the garden.

The Life of the Woodpigeon

The woodpigeon is the UKs largest and most common pigeon, grey in colour with a white band on the adult neck (not seen in juveniles) and white wing bands that appear with the first feathers.

The breeding period for wood pigeons in the UK is from March to October  but the peak months for fledging are July, August and September when the grain ripens.    70%  of the year’s  fledgelings will leave the nest during August and September.

A mated pair of wood pigeons  usually build  what can be a badly constructed platform of twigs in a tree for the nest, but  if they use the same nest time after time it will build up into a more solid structure.

Wood pigeons are often seen “prospecting” for suitable nesting sites in gardens  early summer.  

Their nests are often accidentally destroyed during the breeding season even though disturbing the  nest of any bird, albeit accidentally, is a crime under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.  This is why all tree lopping and hedge trimming should be confined to the months of November through to March.

Sometimes, before the eggs are laid , the male and female birds may take turns sitting on an empty nest for about a week.

When the eggs come they are laid over a period of two days.  

Both parents share incubation duties and later the feeding of their young. The female sits on the eggs during the night and for the early part of the day.  The male relieves her at around 10 am and she returns to the nest at about 4 pm., although in the wild during the peak breeding period this changeover can take place closer to 5 pm.

Sometimes food is hard to find and this causes one of the pair to delay the time of the changeover, this in turn leads the parent that is sitting on the eggs to go in search of food leaving the eggs unbrooded.

The eggs hatch roughly  17 days after being laid.  (Photo of baby wood pigeon hatching courtesy of Sarah Fletcher)

The parents will usually carry the empty egg shells away from the nest.

Baby wood pigeons feed by putting their beaks inside the parents’ beak and gaping…the parent regurgitates the crop contents into the baby’s beak.  This involves a lot of squeaking and wing twitching from the squab being fed and can look as if the adult pigeon is fighting with it or hurting it.

Baby wood pigeons are fed 92%  “crop milk”  ( this is nothing like dairy milk, it consists of high protein “milk” cells that develop on the crop wall and are shed into the crop when feeding is due ) for the first three days of their life.

After three days percentage of crop milk is gradually decreased ( to 49% by days 7-9, 33% on days 10 to 14 and thereafter around 20%. ) The crop milk is mixed with whatever their parents eat with ripe cereal grain, fed from the parent’s crop, being the most common and the most nutritious.  As baby pigeons need protein to develop feathers their food will also contain some animal matter at this stage: earth worms and their cocoons, snails (limax and succinga) and occasional insects

A baby wood pigeon’s eyes open on the third or fourth day of life .

Wing quills appear on the fourth or fifth day of life.

Once a baby wood pigeon is partly feathered it is able to inflate its crop with air and lunge at intruders with raised feathers and wings while expelling the air from the crop to make a hissing noise and snapping its  beak.

The young are fed frequently initially but the frequency is gradually reduced.  At 8-10 days they are being fed twice a day by each parent . By this time the parents will also stop brooding them, returning to the nest only to feed them at roughly the times that they did the nest changing routine.

The white wing bars appear with the first feathers but the neck band does not appear until they are mature.

Feathers break from their sheaths around the ninth day of life.

Youngsters have a soft, grey, spatulate bill.

At 16 days of life  a nestling wood pigeon weighs between 230 gms for those reaching the 16 day stage in June and July, but on average 288 grams for those reaching the same age in August and September when the availability of food (ripe grain) is increased.

The young leave the nest at about 22 days of life, but their parents continue to feed them for at least another week, probably two or longer.

After leaving the nest juvenile wood pigeons that have been bred in woods will tend to congregate in small group near the woods and feed as close to the woods as they can.


Juveniles have their first moult at around 6 weeks.

The average weight of an adult wood pigeon is 500 gms, varying between 465 and 560. 

The female wood pigeon weighs slightly less than the male.

The male wood pigeon has brighter plumage than the female.

Wood pigeons store their food in their crop , from where it is progresses gradually through the digestive system.  They  have a varied diet with their food choice varying according to seasonal availability.   In captivity the enjoy sunflower hearts,  pea shoots, lettuce, rocket , chard and water cress, peanuts, mixed corn and pigeon mixes. 

In the wild their foods include pea and bean shoots and leaves, clovers, the leaves of speedwell, plantains, ribwort, dandelion, filed madder, chickweed and knotweed, tree flowers and leaf buds from ash, hazel, beech, willow, oak,  elm, hawthorn and elderberry, fragments of harvested sugar beet, turnip and potato, the berries of the ivy (hedera Helix), elderberry, buckthorn, hawthorn,  rosehip, blackberry, dogwood , blackthorn. They also eat  wild oat, cultivated cereals, common vetch, wild pansy, grass seeds, beechnuts, acorns and hazelnuts.

During the breeding season wood pigeons are territorial   but in winter they are gregarious, feeding in a flock that clusters together and moves around the field as a unit,  and roosting in compact flocks at night.

In the UK wood pigeons are classified as pests but they are not a game bird…they can only be killed under the conditions of the General Licence drawn up and in theory enforced by Natural England .

Life expectancy :  In the sixties a number of  wood pigeon nestlings  in East Anglia were ringed to establish their longevity.  Most were recovered after being shot within 38 months  of life , the oldest recovered pigeon was in his 14th year of life when shot, the second oldest in his eleventh year.  This is well below their potential life expectancy in captivity and in protected conditions. These days many wood pigeons die shortly after fledging when they are mowed down by drivers.

If you rescue and release a wood pigeon of any age  try to make the release as far as possible  from land in which they are likely to be shot.

 (Source:  Much of the information on the wood pigeon comes from the book “The Wood Pigeon” by R K Murton)

Wood Pigeon Development in photos







 Adult Hen

    Adult Male

Common Illnesses and Injuries

These are the  illnesses most commonly seen in wood pigeons.  Apart from Ornithosis, none of these are zoonotic (that is people can’t catch these diseases from the pigeon), but common sense dictates that you should always wash your hands after handling a sick or injured animal.


This  is caused by protozoa called trichomonads and can be out of sight in the crop or other parts of the digestive system but  usually presents itself as a cheesy growth in the mouth.  If unchecked it will cover the oesophagus  – and cause starvation-  or the trachea which will cause asphyxiation.  Any attempts to remove the growths can result in a fatal bleed…treatment  by the administration of the antibiotic Cardinazole (sold as Spartrix, veterinary prescription not needed) which will usually clear up the condition in 10 days. 

The pigeon might need supplementary hand feeding of something like Poly Aid or Ready Brek mixed to a creamy consistency with warm water during this period.

Metronidazole, also sold under the name of Flagyl, is a good drug for stubborn cases of canker…a prescription is needed for this drug.



Pigeon Pox

Juvenile wood pigeons tend to get this disease in autumn, it usually presents itself as pustules on the feet, beak and eyes, but it will often affect the pigeon internally.  This photo shows the first signs of pox on a juvenile wood pigeon’s feet. 

Suggested treatments to fight pigeon pox are to strengthen the immune system with echinacia, give vitamin supplements, specially Vitamin A, and administer one pilule of the 30th potency of the homeopathic remedy Arsenicum  and one pilule of the 30th potency of the remedy Rhus Tox every two hours for 3 doses each.  If you see an improvement, stop dosing.


 In wood pigeons this illness tends to become wet or internal and therefore is often fatal…if internal wet lesions develop administer 1 pilule of the 60th potency of the homeopathic remedy Kali Mur and 1 pilule of the 60th potency of the homeopathic remedy Nat Sulph alternately once an hour for three doses, then reduce to once every three hours for three doses…if there is any improvement stop…if there is no improvement continue this treatment for a day.

This photo shows the beginnings of internal pox in a juvenile wood pigeon.  

Photos of Roger courtesy of Charlotte Biddle.