Monday, August 2, 2010

Rock Pigeon and Psittacosis

Last week a Rock Pigeon (used to be named Rock Dove) spent two days in the garden. This species was introduced to North America by the first European settlers in the early 17th century.  Wild Rock Pigeons roost and nest on rocky cliffs, but have found human buildings an adequate substitute.

Our garden bird was banded with an orange band on the right leg.  Federal banders do not usually ring pigeons.  This band is not a Federal issue, rather one used by a private individual. Information on reporting pigeon bands can be found at

Although our visitor did not appear to be able to fly,  I did not get the band number.  I will not handle pigeons.  I worry about psittacosis, a disease caused by a bacterium, Chlamydophila psittaci.  The infection is transmitted to humans from parrots, turkeys and pigeons.  Psittacosis is usually contracted by inhaling dust from dried droppings from cages or from handling infected birds.  This disease is rare, only 100-200 cases are reported annually in the United States.

Human symptoms range from none to death (older folks), but usually are flu-like and not fatal.  Complications include brain disfunction, pneumonia, heart valve infection, and hepatitis.  People with compromised immune systems should not handle imported parakeets or other birds that may carry psittacosis. Birds may die from the disease, but can carry the bacterium and show no symptoms.  Bird symptoms include a ruffled appearance, eye or nose discharge and diarrhea.  Our pigeon looked fine, but did leave messy droppings in the garden.  I do not know the pigeon's fate, but suspect raccoons or neighborhood cats.

A medical doctor can administer tests to see if you have the disease, which usually shows symptoms in five days to two weeks.  Antibiotics usually cure psittacosis.  Previous infection does not give you immunity.

My sources for this information are the New York Department of Health website  ( and from A.D.A.M. (

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