Research should improve pigeon image: ‘Doesn’t hurt a fly’

research should improve pigeon image
research should improve pigeon image

They are also called flying rats: pigeons don’t exactly have a good image. Researchers from Utrecht University hope to change this with new research.

You see it everywhere, but still little is known about the city pigeon. That is why Utrecht University is starting research into the bird. “We want to map the exact numbers and distribution of the pigeon”, scientist Vivian Goerlich of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine tells EditieNL.


There are an estimated 40,000 city pigeons in the Netherlands. Many people are annoyed by it, Goerlich knows. “They experience nuisance from the birds and their faeces.” The investigation must show how great this nuisance really is.

Some people fear that pigeons transmit diseases. “But that chance is no greater than with other animals. The number of pathogens that they transfer to humans is very small. We quickly find animals that live on waste dirty, but it’s not that bad.”


Our opinion about pigeons strongly depends on the context, she notes. “When they are pets, we like them, in research we find them useful and on the street we find them dirty. I hope this research will lead to a better image, and that we will find a sustainable way to live with the pigeon. . ”


The urban pigeon descends from the European rock pigeon, according to urban ecologist André de Baerdemaeker of Bureau Stadsnatuur Rotterdam. “That’s a mountain pigeon. It was taken here by the Romans.”

The high buildings that were built here pleased the pigeon. “That’s why he stayed. The pigeons that you now see in the city are often the little ones who are missing half a leg or have iron wire between their wings.”

Rats and pigeons have both hitched a ride on the spread of humans. “They follow us, because we leave waste and food for them.”

Survive in the city

De Baerdemaeker has a lot of respect for the pigeon. “I admire the urban pigeon for its resilience and steadfastness, despite everything people do with them. They survive in one of the most difficult environments in the world. There are few animal species that do so well in urban areas. This is exactly what nature is: still managed to find a life in difficult circumstances. “

He also likes the appearance of the pigeon. “It’s a beautiful bird, with its metallic green shine. And they don’t hurt a fly.”

Pigeons per city

Research by Utrecht University in 2018 into the pigeon populations in the city centers shows that Amsterdam has the most pigeons per area. The capital has 190 city pigeons per square kilometer. In Rotterdam there are 85. Utrecht has 37 city pigeons per square kilometer.

Peaceful life

The urban ecologist therefore thinks it is time to improve the image of the bird. “To begin with, take a quiet look at what the pigeon does. They live their whole lives parallel to ours. They want the same thing as we do: live peacefully, happily and safely. Moreover, they enrich the city. We need to think more carefully about how we live in a peaceful way to live with them. “