Bird Identification

Pigeons (Rock Dove)

The pigeon is familiar to most everyone, because it is found throughout the United States, The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Nassau, and many parts of the world. It was developed from the European rack dove and introduced into the United States as a domesticated bird. However, many of these birds escaped and formed feral populations. Today the pigeon is the most serious urban bird pest.

Identification

Typically, pigeons have gray bodies with a whitish rump, two black bars on the secondary wing feathers, a broad black band on the tail, and red feet. However, body color can vary from gray to white, tan, and blackish. The average weight is about 10 to 13 ounces, and the average length is 11 inches.

In cities, such as New York, pigeons tend to move in flocks of several hundred, which frequently move about, fly, and roost together. Occasionally, a smaller group will select a house or a few houses on which to roost, but in general they prefer large buildings. Pigeons inhabit roofs, ledges, drain spouts, lofts, steeples, attics, caves, and ornate architectural features of buildings, where openings allow for roosting, loafing, and nest building. Pigeons do not construct a typical bird nest. Instead, thei nest consist of sticks, twigs, and grasses merely clumped together to form a crude platform. Pigeons subsist on garbage, various grains, and other food materials provided for them intentionally or unintentionally by people. Adult pigeons consumes about a pound of food per week.

Pigeons are monogamous; that is, they have one mate at a time. The male cares for and guards the female and the nest. From 8 to 12 days after mating, the female lays one or two eggs. Approximately 18 days later, the eggs hatch. The squabs are fed a secreted substance called pigeon milk. The young leave the nest at 4 to 6 weeks of age. More eggs are laid before the first young are weaned. Breeding may occur during all seasons, but peak reproduction is in the spring and fall.

The House Sparrow

Although there are many species of sparrows in the United States and the New York City area, the house (or English) sparrow is not a true sparrow. It actually belongs to the family called weaver finches, which have their origin in North Africa. The house sparrow was introduced from Europe into the United States in 1850, and it is now one of the most common and numerous of our urban pest birds.

Identification

The house sparrow is indentified by its small, stocky appearance. The upper parts are reddish brown streaked with black, and the under parts are gray. The female and immature birds lack any distinctive markings, but the male has a characteristic block throat, gray crown, and chestnut-colored nape.

Flocks of house sparrows can be serious nuisances. In rural areas, they can be particularly destructive around poultry and other livestock operations, as they consume and contaminate large amounts of livestock feed and are capable of destroying building insulation. In cites, they inhabit parks, city streets, and zoos. They nest in and around all types of residential and commercial buildings. Large flocks often develop around warehouses, stadiums, and airports hangers. In residential areas they are a pest in garden, and in yards they frequently displace desirable songbirds.

The nests of house sparrows are usually built in, on, or near buildings. The nests are typically messy and are comprised of twigs, grass, paper, or almost anything else that the bird can carry. The number of places sparrows may nest is nearly unlimited. They often are situated around buildings in gutters and on roofs, ledges, and loading docks; inside buildings on roof supports; within commercial billboards and electronic signs; and in trees and shrubs. They use the same nesting holes and areas over and over again. Nests around power lines and in electric substations have created serious fire hazards.

Sparrows are prolific breeders. A few sparrows on the loading dock of a warehouse in April can result in a serious infestation by midsummer. Nest building and egg laying begin in March and April in the northern United States, such as New York City, and slightly earlier in the southern states. A clutch contains between three and nine eggs. The eggs hatch 11 too 17 days; the young are fledged at about 14 days. House sparrows will produce up to five broods per years. To help offset this high reproductive rate, there is an annual natural mortality rate ranging between 40 to 60 percent, often depending on the severity of the winter. Sparrows are gregarious (i.e., group loving)- They nest, roost, and feed together in flocks, usually within a small range covering only 1 or 2 miles. This is important in control operations, because where it is possible to eliminate a resident population, re-infestation by immigrant sparrows is usually slow.

The food of the house sparrow varies, but the preferred items grain. Other vegetables matter, such as the fruits and buds of some trees and bushes as well as the green leaves of dandelions, cloves, and others, are regularly taken. An adult sparrow eats about 6 grams of food daily. During the breeding season, the nestlings are fed insects. In rural areas, sparrows thrive at cattle feedlots, dairies, and hog and poultry farms where food and shelter are plentiful. In inner-city locations, sparrows depend almost entirely on human trash, which provides foods such as bread, fat, and table scraps. As such, they often become serious pests around fast-food parking lots and around commercial dumpsters where food is discarded.

The European Starling

Starlings were brought into the United States from Europe. They were released in New York City in the early 1890s by an individual who wanted to introduce into America all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works. Starlings are now found throughout the entire United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. The starling population in the United States is estimated at approximately 140 million birds. Starlings are pest in both city and rural areas. They travel in flocks, as do pigeons and sparrows.

In rural areas, they nest in trees cavities and on ledges around farm buildings. Starlings can be serious pests around grain elevators, corn fields, orchards, and in cattle and hog feedlots. Around livestock feedlots, they can devour enough of the food intended for the livestock to cause serious economic los to the livestock manager.

In city and suburban areas, starlings are pests because they use buildings, parks, and residential trees for roost sites. Normally, starlings spend the warm weather months in rural areas. When it becomes cold in the fall, thousands of birds often descend in large flocks on towns and cities at night to seek the warmth and shelter of large buildings, or roost in trees in residential areas and city parks. They also use commercial structures, such as lighted signs, marquees, and billboards. The vocalizations of starlings made at the roost sites and the fifth they produce are extremely annoying to nearby residents and building owners. In large tree roosts, they often damage or kill the trees.