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.
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 disease from any animal.
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:
Department of Health UK : An officer of London Wildlife Protection wrote to Department of Health in the UK in 2013, to check the real risk of pigeon poop to human health she was told that the department was not aware of any cases of human infection arising from contact with pigeon droppings. This was their full reply:
'Thank you for your recent email to the Department of Health regarding health risks associated with feral pigeons. Your email was passed to the Emerging Infections and Zoonoses section in Public Health England.
We are not aware of any cases of human infections associated with contact with pigeon faeces. Whilst wild bird faeces including pigeon faeces can present a potential hazard from infections such asCampylobacter and Salmonella via faecal-oral transmission (i.e. when contaminated bird faeces is accidentally swallowed), there is limited documented supportive evidence for this occurrence. The use of simplehygiene precautions especially hand washing after touching potentially contaminated materials and before eating or drinking should reduce the risk of infection via the faecal-oral route.
A review of human health hazards posed by feral pigeons in 2004 concluded that, “In spite of the worldwide distribution of feral pigeons, the close and frequent contact they have with humans, their use as food, and the high prevalence of carriage of human pathogens, zoonotic disease caused by feral pigeons is infrequent. Although feral pigeons pose sporadic health risks to humans, the risk is very low, even for humans involved in occupations that bring them into close contact with nesting sites.” (Haag-Wackernagel & Moch, Health Hazards posed by Feral Pigeons, Journal of Infection, 2004, Issue 48:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15066331)'
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.