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How do you keep pigeons out of your garden?

Most of us welcome birds in our garden, but wood pigeons, though they look attractive, are often a pest. So what measures have you taken to keep ‘em off your cabbages?

Living in London, I don’t see many wood pigeons. But I am often greeted by a flock of city pigeons, flying at sufficient distance so as to not ruffle me with their feathers, but just close enough so that I’m urged to duck.

I can’t say I’m their biggest fan, but then I’m sure I’m not on their Christmas card list either…

Wood pigeon numbers booming

It’s a different story in the New Forest; from whence I originate. Wood pigeons gather in smaller numbers, although they all seem to enjoy perching on the branches of an impressive oak tree that happens to sit at the foot of our back garden. This is usually of no consequence, except when our car is parked beneath the tree and we’re greeted by carefully placed pigeon droppings on the windscreen of a morning.

In the autumn these droppings are coloured a deep shade of purple – pigeons seem to have a penchant for blackberries. The car is rarely parked under that oak tree anymore.

Apart from blackberries, there isn’t much in our garden for the wood pigeons to feed on, so they’re very welcome to stick around. However, in our 2013 survey of garden problems, over a third of people who had an issue with pests and diseases said pigeons were their biggest headache.

And their numbers are booming, with a current population of 2.7 million wood pigeons in the UK according to the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch.

They apparently have a voracious appetite for brassicas, including spring cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts (watch out this Christmas!), and will quickly strip the leaves off these plants until they’re down to bare stalks.

Testing wood pigeon deterrents

So the Which? Gardening team wanted to see what methods were best to keep wood pigeons off your veg crops. In September 2014 they planted 1,000 square metres of spring cabbage at our trial site in Gloucestershire, which has an established population of wood pigeons. They covered the plot with horticultural fleece until the young plants were well established.

After five weeks they removed the fleece and placed a different deterrent in eight separate 40-square-metre plots of spring cabbage. Each plot was separated by at least six metres. Two of the deterrents were a kite and sonic scarer, which were separated by at least 50 metres from the nearest other sites to prevent any interference between them. Two plots with no deterrent on them were left as control sites.

They then recorded the amount of damage by birds on each plot three times a week until, after 16 days, 95% of the control plots had been destroyed.

I’m afraid I’m going to leave the results a mystery (Which? Gardening readers can see the results in the November 2015 issue), but let’s just say that the owl figure with a rotating head was about as scary to pigeons as a mouse would be to a cat. Which is shame considering we have owl figures placed atop the roofs of Which? HQ. Perhaps city pigeons are more easily intimidated.

Do you think wood pigeons are a nuisance? What do they like to eat in your garden? Do you have any special methods or products to keep them off your brassicas?

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Tom Lehrer – Poisoning Pigeons In The Park

All the world seems in tune on a spring afternoon
When we’re poisoning pigeons in the park
Every Sunday you’ll see my sweetheart and me
As we poison the pigeons in the park

When they see us coming
The birdies all try and hide
But they still go for peanuts
When coated with cyanide

The sun’s shining bright
Everything seems all right
When we’re poisoning pigeons in the park

[Do not do this @ home]


…And maybe we’ll do
In a squirrel or two,
While we’re poisoning pigeons in the park.


What a delightfully morbid poem, thank you very much for sharing it.


That is but one of Tom Lehrer’s great songs. I wonder if his fine LP is still available?


About a dozen are from Amazon. Some, however, are compilations.


I’ve had a listen to his song ‘Poisoning Pigeons In The Park’ on Spotify – all the more entertaining when sung.


Agh!……but watch out for twitchers
and RSPB snitchers
While we’re poisoning…………….


As the song says:

“We’ve gained notoriety,
And caused much anxiety
In the audubon society”

That’s yer American equivalent of the RSPB….


Then there’s the swarms of bees
Concealed in the trees
While we’re poisoning…………………… 🙂


He was a Mathematics lecturer at Harvard. Seems this was a ‘just for fun’ hobby, until his students’ reactions encouraged a couple of shows. Seems the satire ‘revolution’ was on both sides of the pond.


In educational circles, Lehrer’s ‘Elements song’ and ‘Lobachevsky’ (Plagiarise) are well known. The relevance to this Convo is that no pigeons were harmed. 🙂

Renditions of both can be found online.

Phil says:
13 July 2017

‘Tis due to pigeons
That alight
On Nelson’s hat
That makes it white.

Spike Milligan


We find Wood Pigeons delightful. Stupid, but delightful. We have a couple of mating pairs around our gardens and they often get up to all sorts of antics. Their nest-building, however, makes us wonder how the species continues.


Ian -I agree with you I feed the birds in the garden with propriety seed bought from a well known supplier ,particularity one wood pigeon who I have now built up to a very fat state . They mate for life and I like them , what I dont understand is why pigeons are picked upon there are two birds that are real problems one is starlings who do all the things that people here seem to complain about and the other is Magpies . You know that well known black bird with a touch of white , that kills baby birds in nests and eats their eggs I have watched two destroy a whole tree of small birds . As I feed the small birds starlings descend 30/40 at a time kicking the small birds out of the way ,they are flighty birds but over the years a pattern set in when feeding along with other birds – blackbirds -sparrows -dunnocks etc they fly up all at once . When the other birds see that they fly away , not the sly starlings they come back in minutes to eat ,if any other birds do return ,they fly up again and those birds fly away ,they then return and have all the food to themselves -the small birds starve . I have to say I love nature having grown up in a city but always went for walks in the country and I was a member of the YHA . I love to hear the birds singing , the breeze through the trees , the mooing of cows I become part of nature and I can actually feel it in me and surrounding me . No drug,potion, cigarette (I dont smoke ) aphrodisiac can compare to that wonderful feeling , I touch the trees and feel the life in them , I try not to kill good insects and have great sympathy for animals and nature , but sorry to say that doesnt apply to all human beings who can be evil beyond belief -torturing -killing destroying just for political and financial gain . Humans have a higher intellect they should know better but many can be bought or sold for a few $$$ doing the most vile things to other human beings . I realise its not nice to say but if those were removed from the face of this earth there would be no more wars -rapes-pillage sometimes to cure a problem you have to metaphorically use fire.