Few people are apathetic about pigeons. They love them, like Bert from "Sesame Street" (though they probably haven't made up a pigeon dance), or they hate them and call them "rats with wings." However, no one can deny their ubiquity. Pigeons have managed to thrive just about everywhere. It seems odd, then, that sightings of baby pigeons are so rare.
Pigeons first came to the United States on boats with Europeans in the 1600s. They were domesticated and kept in cages, but occasionally one would escape to the wild. The ones that could survive on their own are the forefathers of the wild birds seen across the country.
Feral pigeons breed year-round, though breeding in winter is not common. A pair of pigeons spends six to 10 months each year building a nest, laying and incubating eggs and raising young. The female generally lays two eggs, and she and her mate take turns keeping them warm for about 18 days. About 70 per cent of the eggs that are laid hatch. The two eggs are laid about 40 hours apart, and they hatch about a day apart. Typically, the first chick is a male and the second is a female.
Assuming both eggs hatch, the new babies are a day-old male chick and a newborn female. Since male chicks are bigger than females to begin with, and the male has been fed for a day longer than his newborn sister, he is much larger than she is. She therefore has to compete with a bigger, more developed chick for food. If there is plenty of food, this usually doesn't pose a problem. Younger chicks grow faster than their older siblings, and catch up in size by about two weeks of age. However, if there is a shortage of food, the parents will feed the older chick more, and the younger one may die.
For the first few days, newly hatched chicks eat only "crop milk," a substance that both male and female adults produce that is loaded with proteins and fats. When the babies are about four days of age, the parents will start introducing a couple of seeds into the diet along with the crop milk, and by day 10 the babies eat almost only seeds.
Baby pigeons are tiny, with pink skin showing through a sparse yellow fluff. Their eyes are closed and their beak is shaped rather like that of a dodo. By the time they are eating only seeds, though, their eyes are open and regular grey feathers have started covering their body. Feathers finally replace the last of the yellow fluff, which remains on the head, at around 23 days of age.
Leaving the Nest
Pigeons can take care of themselves by the time they are a month or so old, when they leave the nest. The reason you rarely see baby pigeons is by that time, they look just like their parents.
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