What Does it Mean When You See a Pigeon Sitting Down?

Pet Care


December 7, 2021

When most people think of pigeons, they often think of the grey birds that are commonly seen in cities and urban environments, huddled in a flock around a garbage can or another source of food. When people see these birds, the birds are generally standing on their own and minding their own business.

With that being said, there are times when you see a pigeon sitting down not unlike how people sit. Upon seeing this for the first time, you may be confused or concerned, as this is not standard for a pigeon. That is to say, it is not normal to see for most people, though it doesn’t always signal trouble.

How Do Pigeons Sit Down?

There are two main positions that you will find pigeons sitting in. Some pigeons will sit with their legs tucked underneath them and other pigeons will sit in a position that is known as sitting splay-legged. This is when their legs are sticking out in front of them, the same way that young kids sit. These two positions have different meanings that should be considered.

As for how does a pigeon sit down, the answer depends on the way that they are sitting. When they are sitting with their legs underneath them, this is often known as a roosting position. As the name would suggest, this is a position that most birds take when they are incubating and protecting eggs. It is in the bird’s instinct to sit like this, so there isn’t much thought that goes into the action.

The other method of sitting, splay-legged sitting, is a little more confusing. There is some dispute between researchers on why pigeons sit like this and what causes them to do so, but with many of the proposed answers relating to intoxication either through alcohol or illness, it can be assumed that the method of sitting comes from nearly falling down and the pigeon being unable to sit upright properly.

Why Do Pigeons Sit in a Roosting Position?

As mentioned above, the most common reason why you will find a pigeon in the roosting position is because it is incubating eggs. The roosting position exposes many of the softer and warmer feathers of a bird’s abdomen to any eggs that are underneath, helping to increase warmth and comfort for the egg. The incubation time for most pigeon eggs is around three weeks, so you will see quite a bit of this after the mating season has ended as most pigeon couples try to keep their eggs warm.

Pigeons are known for setting up their nests wherever they want, with little regard to how the nest is exposed and who would see the nest. This makes it all the more common that you would see a pigeon sitting in this manner, as you are likely to come across a pigeon nest if you live in an urban environment with pigeon flocks.

Why Do Pigeons Sit Splay-Legged?

As for why does a pigeon sit down with its legs out in front of it, the answer to this is a little bit more murky. Researchers agree that it tends to happen when the pigeon is feeling unwell in some regard, but the type of unwellness is often disputed between researchers.

It is suspected that there is a fatal viral disease that can cause a bird to sit in this manner, but there are also reports of pigeons sitting this way and continuing to live healthy lives. Some people suspect that a specific food, such as popcorn and rice, engorges the stomach of a pigeon and leads them to sit this way, while other people suggest that fermented fruit causes similar effects as drinking alcohol, leading to the bird being unable to sit properly.

These are just a handful of the most common reasons why pigeons will sit splay-legged, and while the theories vary quite a bit, the general consensus is that pigeons only sit like this when they are unwell in some capacity. Some birds will get better with time and digestion, while others may not get better.

How Can You Tell If a Pigeon Is Ill?

If you are curious as to whether or not a pigeon is ill when you come across it sitting in a usual place, there are a few common signs that you can look for. Pigeons, being prey animals, are likely to fly away when approached by unfamiliar people or vehicles. Unless the pigeons in your area do not fly away when approached, a still pigeon is a good sign that the pigeon is ill and unwell.

Other signs that pigeons are unwell include labored breathing, which is often seen with an open beak or a tail that bobs with each breath, an unsteady posture, half-closed eyes, a loss of balance, sleeping far more than usual, or even vomiting food that has been eaten. Being able to notice these signs will take some amount of monitoring and observation on your part, but if you are able to notice them soon enough, you may be able to get the bird some help.

How Can You Help an Injured Bird?

The first step you should take if you suspect that a pigeon is sick is going to be to contact a local rehabilitation center that specializes in avian care. They will be able to direct you in how to handle the bird, if they find that it is necessary, and any other steps of care to take before they can bring the bird home.

If you must handle the bird, as directed by the rehabilitation center, you should make sure to grasp it firmly and keep its wings pressed against their body. You will need to be careful not to be too harsh with the bird, as bird bones can break easily, even if you don’t mean for that to happen. From here, the rehabilitation center should provide you with instructions on what to do with the bird next.

You should be mindful that even if the pigeon is sick, there’s a good chance that it is not used to human contact. This fact, combined with its nature as a prey animal, means that it is highly likely to try and fight against being picked up and held. You should make sure to protect yourself however you can, whether that is by wearing thick clothes or using gloves to hold the bird with, as even pigeons can cause a fair amount of damage to people if they feel threatened enough.

The Takeaway

Coming across a sitting pigeon can be humorous, and typically it is not a sign of any trouble. The most common type of sitting pigeon you will find will be a roosting pigeon that is keeping its eggs warm against the cold outside air. With that being said, if you come across a pigeon that is sitting with its legs out in front of it, that bird may be sick or injured and may need some special attention.

If you deem that the bird is indeed sick, you will want to consider speaking with a wildlife rehabilitation program to see what your next steps will be to take care of the bird and restore it to a condition where it can be released into the wild once again.