How Do Pigeons’ Feet Get Injured?

Anyone who watches urban pigeons has probably noticed birds with injured or missing toes and feet. One of the most common problems that feral pigeons have is something we call “stringfoot.” Pigeons need twigs, straw or hay to build nests, but in urban areas, they are more likely to find string, wire and human hair. When they spend 12 hours of every day for 3 weeks out of every month in their nests, their toes become entangled in the nest materials, which leads to constriction, necrosis, infection, etc. If you can catch and untangle these poor birds, they can recover and survive very well, even with missing toes or stumps for feet.

You can read more here: Stringfoot Heartache. This blog post talks about Palomacy’s (formerly MickaCoo) efforts to catch and help one feral pigeon suffering from stringfoot.

If you often see birds who have stringfoot and want to help, check out our FAQ on what to do when you see injured pigeons, and our In Case of Emergency resource page.

Here’s a message for all the birds from our friends at Carolina Waterfowl Rescue:
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Thank you for noticing and helping the pigeons who share our urban environment!

14 Comments

  1. In addition to stringfoot, I was taught by my college natural history professor that urban pigeon’s toes are often eaten by rats – due to the rats prevalence in cities, and to the pigeon’s nesting locations that make them easy prey…. I think this helps to explain why we see so many pigeons with missing or mutilated toes.

  2. Amy, I think your professor is misinformed. It really truly is human hair and other fibers acting as a tourniquet. I too had my doubts, but I’ve rescued hundreds of pigeons and doves, and except for broken legs (usually, rolled by a car), it’s all embedded fiber and specifically, almost always, human hair. Hard to believe, I know. Dental floss, string and fine fibers from fabric are a distant second.

  3. Hello, I have a pigeon that flew into my front window very hard yesterday. It had some blood around it’s beak and couldn’t stand even hours after the accident. It seems to be able to move it’s legs but they wont support it’s weight. I brought it inside in a box and covered it with a paper towel to keep warm. Any hints on getting it to eat something ?? It has taken a small drink of water. I don’t want to do more harm by trying to take care of it than good. I don’t know of any bird shelters in my area, Barboursville, W.Va. Is it okay to see if it want’s to fly outside though it isn’t standing on it’s own in the house?? I just don’t want to do more harm than good. Thank you !!

    • Thank you for helping this pigeon. And no- if she’s unable to stand and fly indoors, she’s not ready to be released. Often swelling and pain/paralysis take a little while to resolve. Please find a pigeon-loving expert in your area to help you both. You can post on and search at Pigeon Talk (www.pigeons.biz/forums) to find folks close to you. It may take a little looking but you can always find a knowledgeable pigeon lover! You might also try contacting your nearest avian vet and asking them to refer you. Good luck!

      • Thank you for your reply and info, Elizabeth. Will see if anyone around here can help this poor bird. It does seem much more alert today than yesterday.

  4. I took the pigeon out in the sun in his box earlier. It stirred about some and even tried getting up but it couldn’t make it up. I wasn’t sure if the sun made the bird feel better or bothered it since it doesn’t feel great. I brought it back inside and the bird calmed down and is resting. Is direct sun good or bad for the pigeon right now ?? Also no luck feeding and no more than a few sips of water.

  5. This pigeon needs expert help! Please tell me you’ve found some. (Pigeons love sun but this bird is in distress and needs expert help.)

    • Thank you for your reply. Sorry to report no luck in finding help. As silly as it seems I just thought of posting on Facebook in hoprs of finding someone to help. I’m afraid I’m getting attached to this bird and would love to see it well and fly home. I am pleased to say it eats and drinks well and uses the bathroom too. Will continue to seek local help, thank you very much for your help.

  6. So glad to hear that the bird is improving. And Facebook isn’t a silly idea at all. Lots of people find rescue help there! Here are places to post & search to find a local person with pigeon expertise:
    MickaCoo on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MickaCooRescue
    Pigeon Talk http://www.pigeons.biz/forums
    Pigeon Chat http://www.pigeonchat.net
    Dovebook http://thecolumbidaescooer.webs.com/
    Ringneck dove – Streptopelia risoria Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/326067704171403/permalink/524667427644762/
    Pigeon Angels http://pij-n-angels.forumotion.net

    • Thank you for the links. Hey, I actually got a place to check from the facebook post ha ha. Thank you again, maybe one of these links will find someone even closer than the name I got.

  7. Is it only human hair that can potentially hurt Pigeons, or can cat or dog hair work for a nest and avoid the stringfoot?

    • Hi, Kathi- I can’t say for sure though I’d imagine the longer and more-curl-prone the fiber is, the more potential it has to constrict a pigeon toe. I doubt pigeons would be even bother to pick up a short hair for nesting material. They seem attracted to thin twig-like shapes that are atleast 3″ or longer. Thank you for looking out for the birds.

  8. found pigeon on roadside flapping and trying to fly. Took it in so it wouldn’t freeze and it is eating drinking and pooping. I don’t notice any outward signs of injury except it doesn’t seem to be able to stand.It flaps both wings and after 2 days confined in a crate it seems very alert now. When I pick it up it seems to only move one foot. Actually the other foot looks thinner also. It is snowing and cold here so I don’t want to put it outside if there is something else I can do to rehab it . Any ideas? Everyone thinks I am crazy to save a pigeon and say they carry disease. I feel sorry for any suffering creature and am inclined to try to help if I can.

    • Hello, Marilyn- Thank you so much for helping this innocent pigeon. As far as disease risk, petting a dog or cat or eating a hamburger are more dangerous. Where are you located? The best thing would be for you to find a pigeon-friendly wildlife rescuer to help you help this pigeon. Please check out the map on our Resources page & if you post your questions & photos of the pigeon on our Facebook page, you can find experts who can help there to. Thank you for your compassion. Pigeons are highly intelligent, emotional & loyal. They are harmless & deserve kindness as we all do.

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