City pigeons in Bern

The city of Bern aims for a small but healthy pigeon population.


In the 1980s and 1990s, the city of Bern experienced a pigeon plague, with over 10,000 pigeons populating the settlement area of the city. As a result, a pigeon management was established that has had a positive effect: the pigeon population today still comprises around 1500 birds. The pigeon father, who had taken care of the city pigeons for more than 20 years with the support of the Bernese district police, gave up his work in spring 2011 due to old age.

A new pigeon concept

Pigeon control will be maintained. In December 2010, the Bern City Council decided to transfer responsibility for pigeon control to the Directorate for Safety, Environment and Energy and thus to Dählhölzli Zoo. A newly elaborated pigeon concept regulates the care, supervision and management of the pigeons, but it also names the contact points for the population in ‘pigeon questions’.

Pigeon in flight
Pigeon in flight
The urban pigeon is a bird of the pigeon family.
The urban pigeon is a bird of the pigeon family.

On the biology of the urban pigeon

The urban pigeon is descended from the rock pigeon (Columba livia). The rock pigeon was captured by humans, bred into a domestic pigeon and released into the wild as such. While the rock pigeon is threatened with extinction in declining populations, the urban pigeon has become a problem in many places.

What the rock doves found in the cliffs of the Mediterranean, the city doves find in the buildings of today’s cities all over the world. Here they find everything they need to live: Food and protected nesting sites.

The food spectrum of the rock pigeon ranges from seeds and buds to berries, insects and worms and is thus so broad that urban pigeons are very flexible in dealing with the food supply of cities and can easily feed on human waste or the food often offered.

Pigeons are capable of reproduction at the age of 6 months. Usually a pair of pigeons lives in lifelong monogamy. The male attracts his female to nest on ledges, crevices and caves (or ledges, crawlspaces and the inside of buildings). The partners build the nest together.

A clutch usually consists of two eggs, which are incubated by both partners for 18 days. Nestlings are hooted and fed crop milk by both parents. At 25 days they leave the nest, at 30 days the young are able to fly and shortly afterwards they are independent. A pair can raise several broods per year.

Rock pigeons live 10 – 15 years, urban pigeons 2 – 3 years.

Large accumulations of pigeons in places where they are fed undesirably. This can lead to noise pollution, soiling by pigeon droppings or uncontrolled breeding.

In many cities, the measures range from feeding bans, mechanical repellents such as nets, needles or wires as landing obstacles, to shooting, to active hunting by falconers. In Bern, the male pigeons are sterilised and the fertilised eggs are exchanged for artificial eggs in the pigeon lofts.

Pigeons mating
Pigeons are capable of reproduction at the age of 6 months
Many urban pigeons transmit diarrhoea bacteria
Many urban pigeons transmit diarrhoea bacteria

More Topics

Zoo Encyclopedia
Protection of species
Nature conservation
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