Can you eat a pigeon off the street?

Eating a pigeon that you find on the street is generally not recommended. Pigeons can carry a number of diseases that can be harmful to humans if consumed. Additionally, pigeons living in urban environments may have been exposed to pollutants, pesticides, or other contaminants that could make them unsafe to eat.

Why you shouldn’t eat pigeons off the street

There are a few key reasons why eating a pigeon off the street is not advised:

  • Disease risk – Pigeons can carry over 60 infectious diseases that are transmissible to humans, including histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, and psittacosis. Eating an infected pigeon could make you sick.
  • Parasites – Pigeons often have internal parasites like worms and external parasites like mites or lice. These could be transmitted to you if the pigeon is consumed.
  • Pollutants – Pigeons living in urban areas are exposed to pollution, pesticides, and other contaminants that can accumulate in their tissues. Ingesting this could be harmful.
  • Food safety – Pigeons off the street are not slaughtered or processed safely for human consumption like poultry is. There are risks of bacterial contamination.
  • Legality – In many places, it is illegal to capture, kill or consume pigeons without proper permits as they are considered wildlife.

For these reasons, public health agencies uniformly advise against eating feral pigeons found in urban settings. The risks outweigh any potential benefits.

Diseases carried by pigeons

Some of the main diseases that pigeons can transmit to humans include:

  • Histoplasmosis – Caused by a fungus that grows in pigeon droppings. Can cause flu-like illness, pneumonia, and other problems if inhaled.
  • Cryptococcosis – Also caused by a fungus in droppings that can infect the lungs and brain.
  • Psittacosis – Bacterial disease that can cause fever, chills, headache, rash, and pneumonia.
  • Toxoplasmosis – Parasite that causes flu-like symptoms and brain/eye damage in some cases.
  • Campylobacteriosis – Bacterial infection leading to diarrhea, cramping, fever, and vomiting.
  • Salmonellosis – Caused by Salmonella bacteria, leads to diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.
  • West Nile Virus – Mosquito-borne virus that pigeons can transmit. Causes fever, headache, and in some cases neurological damage or death.

The microscopic spores from fungus and bacteria that pigeons come into contact with can linger in their droppings and on their feathers. A person eating or handling an infected pigeon can accidentally ingest these organisms and become ill. Proper cooking would be needed to kill the pathogens, but consuming a raw or undercooked street pigeon poses a significant health hazard.

Parasites found in pigeons

Pigeons are prone to a variety of internal and external parasitic infections, including:

  • Intestinal worms – Roundworms, tapeworms, and other parasitic worms are common in pigeons, shed in the droppings, and transferable to humans.
  • Mites – Red mites, feather mites, and bird mites feed on pigeons and can bite humans, causing itching.
  • Lice – Wing lice, body lice, and head lice infest pigeons and can be passed on through direct contact.
  • Fleas – Pigeon fleas can jump from pigeons to humans and their bites can cause irritation and itching.
  • Ticks – Ticks feeding on pigeon blood occasionally bite humans. They can transmit Lyme disease.

When preparing or eating a pigeon, these parasites can come into contact with humans directly or contaminate cooking surfaces, food, or utensils. This poses a risk of ingesting the parasites or getting bitten. Proper cooking would kill most parasites, but handling and preparing the pigeon carries risks.

Pesticides, pollutants, and other contaminants

One of the main risks of eating a pigeon from an urban area is ingesting harmful chemicals that the bird has been exposed to:

  • Pesticides – Pigeons are often exposed to pesticide use in cities that targets rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes and other pests. The chemicals accumulate in tissues.
  • Heavy metals – Pigeons near industrial areas or highways can ingest lead, mercury, cadmium, and other metals from pollution.
  • Air pollution – Car exhaust, industrial emissions, and other contaminants can settle on pigeons and enter the tissues.
  • Plastics – Pigeons often eat discarded food containing plastic bits, as well as litter, which introduces toxins.

Eating the meat, organs, or other parts of a pigeon contaminated with these substances could expose you to dangerous chemicals that have accumulated in the bird. The health risks depend on the type and level of contamination but could include nerve damage, organ failure, cancer, birth defects, and other long-term problems.

Food safety risks

Unlike poultry raised specifically for human consumption, pigeons off the street pose some significant food safety risks:

  • No health screening – Pigeons are not tested and cleared for diseases before being caught and prepared.
  • No sanitary processing – Pigeons are often prepared in unsanitary conditions leading to bacterial contamination.
  • No regulation – There are no enforced standards for safe preparation compared to commercial poultry.
  • No inspection – Meat, organs, and eggs are not inspected by food safety authorities before consumption.
  • Risk of undercooking – Improperly cooked pigeon can expose people to dangerous bacteria and parasites.

Following basic food safety principles like handwashing, fully cooking meat, cleaning surfaces, and avoiding cross-contamination can reduce risks. However, due to the lack of regulation and screening, eating pigeons captured live in urban areas poses unavoidable food safety risks.

Local laws and regulations

Before considering trying to capture and eat a pigeon, it’s important to understand what laws and regulations may apply:

  • Hunting regulations – Most places prohibit hunting, capturing, or killing wildlife like pigeons without proper permits.
  • Food safety laws – Preparing pigeons for consumption outside of regulated facilities may violate food handling codes in some areas.
  • Animal cruelty laws – Inhumane treatment of pigeons may be prohibited even if you intend to eat them.
  • Trespassing – Attempting to catch pigeons on private property without permission could lead to trespassing charges.
  • Public nuisance – Catching pigeons in city parks, streets or public areas may be prohibited in some municipalities.

Fines, criminal charges, and other penalties are possible if local laws and regulations are broken while trying to capture, kill and consume pigeons found on the streets. It’s best to research applicable rules thoroughly before taking any action.

Alternatives to consider

Instead of attempting to capture and eat feral pigeons, here are some safer and more responsible options to consider:

  • Raised pigeons – Seek out properly raised pigeons from regulated breeders and processors for food purposes.
  • Other fowl – Ducks, geese, quail and turkey can offer similar tastes and textures as alternatives.
  • Canned or frozen pigeon – Canned or frozen pigeon meat from approved sources, though difficult to find, would be safer than a live street pigeon.
  • Alternative protein sources – Chicken, beef, pork, and plant-based protein can provide sustenance without the risks of eating a street pigeon.

While it’s possible to reduce some risks by properly cooking and preparing pigeon meat, there are inherent uncertainties about the health and cleanliness of a pigeon captured live off the streets. A better option is finding responsibly sourced poultry or alternative protein sources.

Risks of eating specific parts of a pigeon

Some parts of a feral pigeon pose higher risks than others if consumed:

Pigeon part Potential risks
Meat Salmonella, Campylobacter, parasites if undercooked
Organs (liver, heart etc) Accumulated pesticides, heavy metals and other contaminants
Gizzard Ingested bits of glass, metal, or plastic
Eggs Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. Coli
Brain/nervous system Heavy metal accumulation, neurotoxins
Blood Blood-borne pathogens if undercooked or raw

Any part of a pigeon scavenging in an urban area may contain dangerous levels of toxins or microbes. However, some organs and tissues may concentrate higher levels of contaminants and require very careful preparation and cooking to avoid illness.

How to reduce risks if eating pigeon

While not recommended, if you do end up preparing and consuming a pigeon caught from the street, here are some tips to reduce health risks:

  • Wear gloves – Protect yourself when handling raw pigeon to avoid direct contact with microbes.
  • Wash hands – Thoroughly wash hands with soap and hot water after preparation to avoid transferring bacteria.
  • Clean tools – Sterilize all equipment, surfaces and utensils used to process the pigeon.
  • Isolate meat – Keep pigeon meat completely separate from other foods during prep to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Cook thoroughly – Cook all meat and eggs to an internal temperature of at least 165°F to kill pathogens.
  • Avoid raw consumption – Do not drink raw blood or eat other raw parts, which poses a very high risk of infection.

In general, fully cooking the meat can kill most pathogens, but does not eliminate the risks of toxins and chemicals which may have accumulated in the pigeon’s system. Avoiding consumption altogether is the only way to completely avoid risks.

Cases of illness linked to pigeons

There are a number documented cases of people becoming seriously ill from direct pigeon contact or eating undercooked pigeons:

  • In 2019, eight people were hospitalized with psittacosis in Brisbane, Australia after being exposed to pigeon droppings.
  • In 2013, over 200 people were infected with Salmonella from backyard pigeon coops in Washington and Oregon, requiring hospitalization.
  • In 2009, two men in France developed severe neurologic symptoms after eating pigeon brains, linked to vitamin B deficiency in the birds.
  • In 2005, at least 15 cases of toxoplasmosis were linked to consumption of undercooked pigeon meat scrapple in New York.

These examples help confirm that eating feral pigeons or consuming them raw involves significant risks of dangerous bacterial, viral, parasitic and other illnesses. Proper handling and cooking is critical, but does not eliminate the risk, which is highest for those with weakened immune systems.


Eating pigeons found on urban streets carries major health risks and is generally not recommended. Pigeons can harbor dozens of diseases transmittable to humans, may contain high levels of pesticides and pollution, and lack regulation as a food source. While risks can be reduced through proper cooking, the safest option is to avoid eating pigeons captured live from public areas altogether. For those who wish to consume pigeon meat, finding a controlled source from regulated breeders is far less risky than eating one raw off the street.

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