Pigeons are clean, friendly and intelligent birds who have been given bad press because they are so visible in town centres, because like all living beings they poop and because of a silly line in a film in which one character described them as a "good omen" but another character described them as "rats with wings".
The popular press and the pest control business likes to describe them as "disease carrying birds", but pigeons don't carry any more diseases than other birds, animals or humans and they certainly don't spread disease among humans!.
Pigeons are resistant to Avian Flu so less of a risk than many of the birds that are more popular because of their rarity.
Diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans are referred to as "zoonotic" and are rare. You have probably caught a few illnesses from your fellow humans already, and will most probably catch many more from them during your lifetime. You would be extremely unlucky if you caught a diseasea pigeon, the odds of that happening are so high!
But don't just take my word for it: Here are some authoritative quotes about pigeons and disease which show that the real experts in the field all agree that there is no significant health risk to human beings from contact with pigeons:
The British Government Chief Veterinary Officer, when addressing the House of Lords in 2000 on the issue of pigeons in Trafalgar Square was asked if the large number of pigeons in the Square represented a health risk to human beings. The Chief Veterinary Officer told The House that in his opinion they did not represent a risk to human health.
Mike Everett, spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said, in The Big Issue Magazine, February 2001: "The whole 'rats with wings' thing is just emotive nonsense. There is no evidence to show that they (pigeons) spread disease.”
Charlotte Donnelly, an American bird control expert told the Cincinnati Environment Advisory Council in her report to them: "The truth is that the vast majority of people are at little or no health risk from pigeons and probably have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than contracting a serious disease from pigeons."
Guy Hodge, Naturalist for the Humane Society of the United States: People worry that pigeons carry disease, but the danger is an exaggeration created by pest control companies looking for business.
Guy Merchant, Director of The Pigeon Control Advisory Service (PICAS) ( when talking about the transmission of disease by pigeons):
If we believed everything we read in the media about pigeons and the farcical propaganda distributed by the pest control industry we would ever leave our homes. The fact of the matter is that there is probably a greater risk to human health from contact with domestic pets such as cats, dogs and caged birds.
David Taylor BVMS FRCVS FZS:
In 50 years professional work as a veterinary surgeon I cannot recall one case of a zoonosis in a human that was related to pigeons. On the other hand I know of, and have seen, examples of human disease related to contact with dogs, cats, cattle, monkeys, sheep, camels, budgies, parrots, cockatoos, aquarium fish and even dolphins, on many occasions.
David A Palmer (B.V.Sc., M.R.C.V.S) in an article entitled 'Pigeon Lung Disease Fatality and Health Risk from Ferals':
Obviously, since all these Allergic Extrinsic Alveolitis disease syndromes rely on the involved person having a very specific allergy before any disease, involving respiratory distress and very unusually death, can possibly be seen, it really makes absolute nonsense for a popular daily newspaper to suggest that pigeons present a health hazard and presumably need eliminating for the well-being of the nation’s health.
Dr. Cornelius Kiley, DVM, Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Pigeons do not get avian influenza and don't carry the virus.
Dr. Joel McCullough, Medical Director, Environmental Health, Chicago Department of Public Health.
Pigeons are not a public health hazard. Nobody in public health is losing any sleep over pigeons. -
In response to questions about the effects of pigeons on human health, in 1986 the Association of Pigeon Veterinarians issued a statement that concludes, "…to our knowledge, the raising, keeping, and the exercising of pigeons and doves represents no more of a health hazard than the keeping of other communal or domestic pets."
There are a few sensible precautions that you should take when handling any sick or injured animal: When your doctor or your dentist examines you he will take care to wash his hands afterwards...use this sensible hygienic approach when handling any animal, including pigeons. If the pigeon appears to have a cold, or is sneezing, then it would be wise to wear a barrier mask, for the same reasons that a doctor would use a surgical mask when examining a person with a respiratory infection.
By law, pigeons can be culled to "prevent the spread of disease". This is the reason that most authorities will rely on to kill pigeons and most people assume from that that pigeons spread disease among humans. This is not true: The legislation is primarily to protect the food and farming industries!
The spread of disease that they fear is one that spreads among commercial poultry : Newcastle Disease.
Pigeons actually have a high resistance to Newcastle Disease, but they are susceptible to a close cousin, referred to as the "pigeon variant", Pigeon Paramyxovirus 1 (PPMV1) . Humans are not at risk from either Newcastle Disease or PPMV but a virulent strain of PPMV1 can cause a mild form of Newcastle Disease in domestic poultry if the poultry food becomes contaminated with infected droppings. And even if only one chicken in a poultry farm became infected, this would require the mass slaughter of all the birds and their removal from the food chain...at a massive cost to the government which would have to compensate the farmers because the Animal Health Act 1981 states that compensation for poultry which are slaughtered for disease control purposes but which are not diseased shall be paid at the value immediately before slaughter.
Spill over infection from pigeons into commercial poultry flocks are uncommon. The last outbreak of Newcastle Disease caused by pigeon poultry food contaminated by pigeon poop in the UK (East Lothian)was in 2006.
Pigeons have also shown a high resistance to avian flu . The few cases that have been found in the UK so far were waterfowl. If there were an outbreak of avian influenza in the UK, pigeons would be the most unlikely bird to have a role in spreading the disease.