Keeping Pigeons in a suburban situation
By Dr Colin Walker BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, MACVSc (Avian health)
Councils are keen to make the correct decision involving all parties and for this purpose the following notes have been produced. Often the publics’ perception of pigeon racing differs from reality. For councils, pigeon fanciers, and the general publics’ interest, I researched the following information. These notes have been adopted as a reference by some Melbourne councils.
The main concerns for most people involve hygiene, noise and public health issues.
Almost everyone is familiar with the cooing sound made by doves. Pigeons make similar sounds. The flapping of wings is usually the loudest noise heard in the loft. When birds are in flight, they are silent. except for the sound of the wind through their wings, In 1995 the American Racing Pigeon Union, an organization with several thousand members, commissioned a noise survey of pigeon lofts and proximal areas. Various sounds were measured in decibels (dB) To put things in perspective the soft rustle of leaves is 10 dB, the level of noise in the average library is 35 dB, conversational speech is 55 dB and average street traffic is 85 dB. A loft containing 100 pigeons recorded 53 dB, inside the loft. Therefore inside a 100 pigeon loft it is about as noisy as people speaking in conversational tones. Commonsense dictates that at 20, 30 or 40 metres the noise levels would be comparatively less. A monitoring device was put on a fenceline approximately 10 metres from. the loft and this recorded a noise level of 56 dB. The pigeons were then removed from the loft and the noise level tested again. A level of 47 dB was recorded.
The source of noise with the pigeons removed is due to various background sounds such as wind in trees and cars in the distance etc. This means that at 10 metres the additional noise generated by 100 pigeons in their loft is approximately 10 dB which is equivalent as mentioned above to the soft rustle of leaves.
Racing pigeon fanciers follow strict medical regimens to ensure health and to prevent disease. Indeed other bird fanciers attempt to emulate racing pigeon fanciers standards for health excellence. Racing pigeons that are not healthy or not maintained in a hygienic manner are simply not competitive. Grain for feeding in order to ensure freshness is usually stored in sealed drums or other such containers, the lofts are cleaned daily and all droppings removed form the property in sealed containers and the vast bulk of fanciers ensure that their birds health is regularly checked by their veterinarian. At no time is food left lying in opera trays with the birds being hand fed twice daily.
MANAGEMENT AND HOUSING
Registered racing pigeons are kept in specially built and equipped lofts. Racing pigeons are kept inside their lofts by fanciers except when they are on training flights or competing in races. Racing pigeons are kept in a strict routine and are voice trained to return to the loft on the owner’s command. They do not “laze” about on buildings or neighbours homes as the common unbanded feral pigeon is wont to do. This is typical of the management of most fanciers with their birds being at liberty from 1 to 4 p.m. each afternoon. Their lofts are purpose built and designed with both ease of cleaning and bird management in mind. They are attractive and well constructed buildings and are painted in muted colours to match the house and garage.
PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS
The amount of disease that occurs in humans as a result of exposure to pets is relatively low.
Figures released by the Department of Human Resources in Victoria show that on average 2.5 people per 100,000 catch a disease from an animal in Victoria each year. This includes all people involved with animals from abattoir and stable workers through to pet owners. These figures should be compared to the 23 per 100,000 who on average catch a disease from a mosquito.
The two most common diseases caught from dogs cause twice as many cases of disease in humans per year as do all of the diseases caught from birds. This means, in fact, that the average pet owner is twice as likely to catch a disease from his dog as from any bird.
Are humans at risk from disease from racing pigeons? Are the neighbours of a pigeon fancier in any danger from the birds kept in the loft next door? These questions have been exhaustively researched by experts. Their finding is that racing pigeons do not pose any greater health risk to humans than the risk of keeping dogs, cats, other birds or indeed any other living pet. Pigeon parasites cannot and do not live on or in humans and vice versa. One reason is that pigeons have a body temperature of 41.8 degrees C, Their parasites, cannot live at our cool 35.7 degrees C. Dogs and cats on the other hand have temperatures of 38.5 degrees C. This is within the range of human temperature and each can to some degree accommodate the vectors of the other. It is important not to confuse racing pigeons with feral pigeons. Feral pigeons have the same relationship to racing pigeons as brumbies do to thoroughbred race horses. Feral pigeons are considered a nuisance by the serious breeders of racing pigeons. It appears that with all pets, including racing pigeons, that with basic hygiene and common sense the risk of infection to humans is very low. This should perhaps be balanced against the proven psychological benefits of keeping and caring for animals.
Most cases of avian zoonoses involve Chlamydophila (formerly Chlamydia). Chlamydophila is a bacterial infection, treated with antibiotics. Racing pigeons are not a common source of this infection, with the majority of cases being traced to either intimate contact with wild birds such as rosellas, for example through hand feeding, or the introduction of a carrier bird such as a budgerigar into the family home. Chlamydophila is a cause of respiratory infection in birds and as racing pigeons with any respiratory infection are simply not competitive, owners are concerned about its effective control. Most establish health programs with the assistance of an avian vet to ensure that their birds do not become affected. In an American study conducted in 1993 involving an estimated 18,000,000 bird keepers there were approximately 75 cases recorded, making it one of the rarest diseases in medicine. Normal hygiene greatly reduces the, risk of infection. If people do become infected the condition is readily treatable with antibiotics.
Avian Flu, given the recent press coverage, is worth mentioning specifically. Although avian flu can affect all birds, pigeons are not regarded as particularly susceptible. When infected they usually only show mild symptoms, quickly recover and do not develop into carriers. Currently avian flu does not occur in Australia.
Some people are allergic to the dust from pigeon feathers usually resulting in a disease similar to hay fever. More humans are recorded being allergic to the ‘dander’ of dogs and cats than to pigeon dust. The chance of a neighbour suffering an allergic reaction who lives at a distance from the loft is regarded as being low.
Other bacterial and fungal infections capable of being caught from birds generally are rarely recorded in people and the level of housing, care, hygiene and health maintenance required to keep a team of racing pigeons competitive makes them an extremely unlikely source of infection.