My Neighbor Took a City Pigeon as a Pet. Is That Legal?

Pigeons have a terrible reputation among New Yorkers, but they can make surprisingly good pets.

By Ronda Kaysen

Q: I live in a Little Italy rental building. My neighbor has taken in a city pigeon as a pet. I believe she ties down the bird’s foot with a piece of string attached to a metal rolling grocery cart. Aside from the harm she may cause the bird, couldn’t a pigeon endanger the health of other tenants by, say, contaminating the water supply or spreading disease? Is such a pet safe or legal?

A: Assuming the lease does not have a clause prohibiting birds, your neighbor can keep a pigeon, as the city’s health code does not prohibit pigeons as pets. However, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation strongly discourages the public from taking any animal from the wild and keeping it as a pet, and your neighbor would need to obtain a wildlife rehabilitator license from the state if the animal were injured and in need of long-term care.

Your neighbor’s choice for a pet may not be ideal, but it’s unlikely to put your health at risk.Pigeons are often derided as rats with wings, largely because we mostly see them devouring our food scraps and flocking around dirty sidewalks. But they generally don’t harm us. While large amounts of droppings — like what you might find in a poorly maintained air shaft or rooftop — may pose a moderate health risk, a lone pet pigeon will not endanger you, your neighbors or your water supply.

“People are way more likely to get sick from dogs, cats or even other people than they are from pigeons,” said Elizabeth Young, the founder of Palomacy, a San Francisco pigeon rescue organization.

Pigeons also make surprisingly good pets. They are highly intelligent homing birds, typically with a calm, mild disposition. “Pigeons are probably the safest, least problematic pet anyone could have,” Ms. Young said. “They don’t bite, chew or scratch, and they are very quiet.”

Pigeons are protected by animal cruelty laws, and the conditions you described do not sound good for this bird. It needs an adequate cage and space to roam in the apartment. If you are concerned that your neighbor is not providing sufficient care, leave a note under the door, perhaps with a printout about proper bird care from a group like Palomacy or the Wild Bird Fund, a New York City rehabilitation organization that offers educational programs. With the right information, your neighbor may be better able to care for the pet — or discover that she shouldn’t have it in her home at all.

If you suspect animal abuse or neglect, report your concerns to 311 or your local police precinct. Call 911 if you see a crime in progress.

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