What are pigeons afraid of?

Pigeons are a common sight in cities around the world. These birds seem fearless as they strut around crowded sidewalks and flock to food scraps. But even pigeons have fears. Understanding what scares pigeons can help people coexist with these urban birds.

Why are pigeons in cities?

Pigeons live in cities because they find food and shelter there. Pigeons originated on the cliffs and mountains of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Flocks of pigeons were kept for food starting thousands of years ago in Ancient Mesopotamia. Over time, some escaped or were set free. These former domestic pigeons adapted to living alongside humans in urban environments.

Cities provide many of the things pigeons need to survive:

  • Food waste – Discarded human food like breadcrumbs, chips, pretzels, and leftovers
  • Water – Puddles, birdbaths, drips from air conditioners
  • Shelter – Ledges on buildings, underneath bridges, inside abandoned structures
  • Nests – Small crevices and ledges on buildings provide nesting spots

Access to these resources allows pigeons to thrive in the concrete jungles humans create. A pair of pigeons can produce up to 8 broods per year, each with 1-2 chicks. With abundant food and few predators, pigeon flocks can grow quickly.

While pigeons have adapted well to urban living, it does not mean they have no fears. A number of things can frighten pigeons and disrupt their otherwise bold behavior in cities.

Loud Noises

Sudden loud sounds alarm pigeons and cause them to take flight. The boom of fireworks or a clap of thunder will send pigeons on the ground flapping into the air. Pigeons resting on ledges and signs will often take off at loud noises too.

In cities, pigeons deal with plenty of shouting, traffic, sirens, and construction. But unexpected bangs and booms that are close by can still scare them. Things like balloons popping, pots banging, or car backfires can provoke a dramatic reaction.

Loud noises likely trigger an instinctual fear of potential predators. In the wild, abrupt sounds may indicate danger is approaching. While pigeons know city sounds are not a major threat, their innate reaction is to flee first. Once in flight, they can gain a safer vantage point to assess the situation.


Sudden storms with heavy rain, wind, thunder, and lightning will send pigeons seeking shelter. A flock resting in an open area will rush to hide under eaves, awnings, bridges, or inside buildings when storms roll in.

Pigeons seem to have some ability to sense approaching storms before they arrive. Researchers believe they can detect slight changes in air pressure that occur before rain or thunderstorms. When these signs of deteriorating weather are present, pigeons will become restless and hurry to find cover.

Once storms begin, the noise, wind, and rain can be quite frightening to pigeons. They will remain safely tucked away until conditions improve again. Pigeons appear anxious and reluctant to leave shelter immediately after storms too. Only once the rain ends and winds die down will they venture back out.


While pigeons face fewer predators living in cities than in the wild, some threats remain. Birds of prey like peregrine falcons and Cooper’s hawks prey on pigeons. Mammalian predators include raccoons, foxes, cats, and rats. For pigeons, these mid-sized carnivores are reason to be vigilant.

When a predator is perched or on the hunt, pigeons will notice its presence. A pigeon facing down a stalking cat or circling hawk will appear alert and unsettled. They may pace on the ground or fly off to escape.

Predators strike fear in pigeons because they have deadly intent. Pigeons caught out in the open by a surprise attack are in true peril. Their reaction is to flee and find cover from predators looking for a pigeon meal.

Aggressive Humans

While many people enjoy watching flocks of pigeons up close, some humans act aggressively toward them. Shooing away, swatting at, or throwing things at pigeons will frighten them. Although pigeons normally tolerate people, aggressive behaviors cross the line to harassment in a pigeon’s mind.

A pigeon being chased by someone intent on catching or hurting it will experience true panic. The pigeon’s fight or flight response will kick in as it hurriedly flaps away from the pursuing human. Even if the person gives up chase, that pigeon will remember the fear and avoid that person in the future.

Pigeons cannot understand human motives. They only know an angry, flailing human represents potential danger. Aggression causes pigeons to associate that person, location, or object with fear going forward.

Getting Caught

Pigeons seem to have a fear of confined spaces and restraint. A pigeon that gets trapped somewhere or caught by a human will struggle anxiously to escape.

Accidental entanglement in netting, fencing, or plastic is distressing to pigeons. They may thrash violently against the restraints in an effort to get free. A pigeon tangled in fishing line, kite string, or a balloon ribbon will twist and pull desperately. Without human intervention, the struggling pigeon may injure itself or perish.

Getting caught by a human produces a similar panicked reaction. The pigeon will try to wriggle free from the person’s grasp by flapping, pecking, and clawing. Handling does not hurt pigeons physically, but it triggers their fear response nonetheless. The confined pigeon just wants to escape at all costs back to the safety of freedom. This reaction shows that pigeons do not like the vulnerable feeling of being caught against their will.


People sometimes use deterrents to actively keep pigeons away. Things like metal spikes, netting, noisemakers, and chemical repellents frighten pigeons off of buildings. They associate these scary deterrents with danger and will avoid spots where they encounter them.

Shiny moving objects provoke alarm in pigeons. Pinwheels, spinning mirrors, and metallic ribbons will be avoided. These reflective moving distracters may simulate the flashing wings or eyes of a lurking predator to pigeons. Flashing lights can also startle pigeons away.

Chemical pigeon repellents create scents or sensations that irritate pigeons and cause discomfort. Pigeons flee areas with bad smells or that make their feathers feel unpleasant. The repellent essentially creates an invisible force field pigeons will not enter due to fear of contact.

Physical deterrents like spikes physically prevent pigeons from landing. They may perch nearby but will be too fearful to approach a surface covered in spikes. Netting creates a similar barrier pigeons will not pass through. Both types of devices exploit pigeons’ fear of getting caught or injured.


Most pigeons prefer to avoid bodies of water larger than a puddle. Swimming does not come naturally to pigeons. They must learn by watching other pigeons. Even then, most pigeons will be hesitant to voluntarily enter water.

When confronted with a large water feature like a fountain or pond, pigeons will stay firmly on dry land. They seem wary and apprehensive around standing water. If they fall in accidentally, the pigeon will flap frantically to get back on solid ground.

Pigeons’ feathers are not waterproof. Flight becomes more difficult with wet feathers. The extra weight of water-logged plumage also puts pigeons at greater risk of drowning. Their aversion to water helps pigeons avoid accidental soaking that could put them in jeopardy.

Fear of water does not apply to all pigeons. Some pigeons living near waterfronts will swim and bathe. But most avoid contact with more than a splash if given the choice.

Dogs and Other Pets

Dogs trigger a guarded reaction in many pigeons. The chasing instinct of dogs is strong, so pigeons keep a wary eye out for canines. Off leash dogs and escaped yard dogs are real hazards to pigeons. Some dogs do catch and kill pigeons when given the chance.

Even a calm dog being walked may make pigeons nervous. The pigeons will notice the dog and exhibit alert caution or fly away to a safe distance. Better to keep space between themselves and a potential chase threat.

Pet cats are predators of pigeons as well. While cats less frequently catch pigeons than dogs do, their stalking unsettles pigeons. A cat staring intently at pigeons may elicit some uneasy coos. The pigeons pay close attention until the cat loses interest.

Pigeons themselves are sometimes kept as pets. Interestingly, these domesticated pigeons show little fear of dogs and cats. They consider them fellow members of the human family rather than something to avoid. Hand-raised pigeons associate other pets with safety thanks to cohabitation. Feral city pigeons regard them with more suspicion.

Falcons and Hawks

Pigeons have a strong fear response to birds of prey, especially falcons and hawks. These formidable aerial hunters consider pigeons a tasty meal. Some types like peregrine falcons and Cooper’s hawks have perfected the art of pigeon pursuit. Their presence strikes panic into any nearby pigeons.

Pigeons eating on the ground will notice an incoming raptor before humans spot it. The pigeons become still and stare alertly at the sky. Then they suddenly scramble for cover as the hawk dives toward them.

A falcon on an urban hunting perch elicits a dramatic reaction from pigeons. They will avoid flying or landing anywhere in sight of the feared predator. If pigeons are already perched, they will take off in a rush to get away.

People may train falcons to deter pigeons on buildings. Pigeons quickly learn to steer clear of structures where they have encountered falcons. Raptors like these can create effective pigeon-free zones.

Flock Safety

Pigeons rely on group safety to avoid predators. Isolated pigeons away from their flock are more vulnerable. Flocks provide extra eyes to spot danger and mutual protection. There is safety in numbers.

When separated from the others even temporarily, a lone pigeon will appear anxious. It will land in a spot with cover and scanning the area for its flock. The pigeon may coo loudly to call its companions. Once the flock responds, the pigeon will hurry to rejoin them.

Young pigeons are especially fearful when alone. Staying close to their parents and the flock helps compensate for their greater naivety. Only once they mature will juveniles feel secure venturing farther from the safety net of the flock. Even adult pigeons prefer to remain near others as much as possible.

Nests and Young

Pigeons display strong protective instincts around their nest sites and young. They fear any disturbances that threaten their vulnerable eggs and nestlings. A pigeon guarding a nest will appear highly alert and on edge.

Nesting pigeons are very sensitive to sights and sounds near their sites. Unusual activity provokes a watchful, anxious response. The parents may abandon the area temporarily if people or predators linger too close.

If a person climbs near a nest ledge, the parent pigeons will frantically circle and coo. Some aggressively flap at intruders to drive them away. But too much interference will cause the pigeons to flee their nest for good. Even if eggs remain, the parents will not return once scared off a nest.

Young pigeons elicit protective alarm from parents too. A threatened squab being chased will emit squeaking distress calls. The parents will rush to intervene however they can. They fear for the safety of their offspring. Protecting the next generation overrides normal self-preservation instincts.


Pigeons thrive alongside people in bustling urban environments that meet all their needs. But despite their bold behavior, pigeons have innate fears too. Loud disturbances, storms, predators, and aggressive humans all provoke alarm. Pigeons rely on their fear reactions for self-preservation. Causing undue stress harms their wellbeing over time. Understanding pigeon psychology allows city dwellers to better coexist with their winged neighbors. With thoughtful management and tolerance, we can maintain a safe, humane environment for pigeons and people alike.

Leave a Comment