Wimbledon Wants to Know: Are Pigeons Pests?

Pigeons gather under the Robert Street bridge in St. Paul, Minn., where they set up nests. A problem familiar to bridge inspectors everywhere, pigeons produce slightly acidic dung that can dissolve concrete and rust steel bridge beams. (Image credit: Jim Mone/AP)

Spectators at Wimbledon this week could argue that pigeons are nothing but rotten pests. The pesky pigeons were reportedly "dive-bombing" the tennis courts and surrounding areas.

Tournament officials are coming under fire by the animal activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), after officials called in marksmen to shoot down the pigeons, whose droppings on restaurant tables were thought to be a health hazard.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pest definition, pigeons would surely make the list:

"Any living organism that causes damage or economic loss or transmits or produces disease may be the target pest. Pests can be animals (like insects or mice), unwanted plants (weeds), or microorganisms (like plant diseases and viruses)."

A report by the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension brands pigeons as pests: "The pigeon is now the most common bird pest associated with people."

The Wimbledon pigeons were likely feral rock pigeons, as opposed to the domestic rock pigeons, which are also called homing pigeons.

Feral pigeons have a seemingly expert ability to target just about every piece of human property, from cars and park benches to unwary pedestrians, with droppings. While the splats of poop can deface and speed up deterioration of structures, even worse are the diseases carried in the white substance.

These include:

  • Histoplasmosis—caused by the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum, which can be contracted by inhaling fungal spores. The disease primarily affects the lungs and can be fatal if untreated.
  • Cryptococcosis—caused by the fungus Cryptococcosis neoformans, which can be contracted when a person inhales the fungal spores. Symptoms include fever, headache, or change in mental status.
  • Psittacosis—caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci, which can be contracted by inhaling dried bird secretions. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a dry cough.

(Typically only individuals with already compromised immune systems are susceptible.)

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.