Do diseases from pigeons really pose a threat to human health?

A study comes to contrary results!

“About a number of pathogens and parasites in pigeons that pose a danger to humans, because they can be transmitted from pigeons to humans.” It is claimed on the websites of companies that offer their services in pigeon removal and professional pigeon droppings cleaning.

A study has now questioned diseases and parasites with regard to the actual risk of transmission from pigeons to humans. The result of the study does not come as much of a surprise to those who deal with their fellow creatures with a clear head: We don’t have to be afraid of pigeons! They do not harm us! The veterinary surgeon Jens Hübel from Leipzig draws the conclusion from the result of the investigation: “THE REPRESENTATION ON THE HOMEPAGE OF PEST CONTROLLERS ARE TO BE REGARDED AS COMPLETELY EXAGGERATED. The panic is stirred up and suggested to the readers by misinformation that pigeons would transfer a multiplicity at life-threatening illnesses.”


Aspergillosis (fungus) – Destruction of the lungs

Correction: No animal is a carrier of aspergillosis! Mold foci of Cryptococcus neoformans can form on soil and also on old pigeon droppings. Infection can occur with high exposure to air saturated with mold spores.

Conclusion: The claim is false.


Encephalitis (virus) – Inflammation of nerves

Correction: Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain. Neither the Robert Koch Institute (Berlin) nor the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (Hamburg) have information that pigeons transmit encephalitis. If PMV is meant, pigeons have a special form of PMV, which does not play a significant role as a zoonosis.

Conclusion: The claim is false.


Histoplasmosis (fungus) – Destruction of lungs

Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by a fungus called Histoplasma. The fungus lives in the environment, particularly in soil that contains large amounts of bird or bat droppings.

People can get histoplasmosis after breathing in the microscopic fungal spores from the air. Although most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick, those who do may have a fever, cough, and fatigue. Many people who get histoplasmosis will get better on their own without medication, but in some people, such as those who have weakened immune systems, the infection can become severe.

Prevention: Soak dirt or work in an area that could host the fungus that causes histoplasmosis with water before digging. This can help prevent the spread of spores into the air. You can also lessen your risk by spraying poultry coops and barns before cleaning them.


Coccidosis (fungus) – Destruction of the lungs

Correction: Coccidia are not fungi, but protozoa. Typical pigeon coccidia excreted in feces are harmless to humans and other mammals.

Conclusion: The claim is false.


Listeriosis (bacterium) – Meningitis

Correction: Pigeons can excrete this pathogen, but contaminated food is the most important source of infection, most of these germs spread from one person to another. An infection connection with pigeons is not mentioned in the Robert Koch Yearbook 2015.

Conclusion: The claim is false.


Myxovirosis (virus) – Eye inflammation

Correction: myxoviruses is an outdated name for orthomyxoviruses and paramyxoviruses. Both have no significance for humans.

Conclusion: The claim is false.


Ornithosis / Psittacosis (bacterium) – Fatal Pneumonia

Ornithosis are only reportable for birds and humans, because the disease is well treatable with antibiotics. The symptomatology of this disease is similar to influenza. In 2016, the Ro- bert-Koch Institute in Berlin confirmed that there have only been two proven cases of ornithosis caused by pigeons in the last 10 years. With a population in Germany of 82,176,000 (as of 2015) and a period of 10 years, 2 illnesses correspond to a probability of 1 : 420 million (i.e. the probability of hitting the Eurojackpot 5 times in a row). In total, 153 people fell ill with ornithosis in Germany from 2007 to 2016 (i.e. 15 per year, probability 1 …: 5.5 million), who had contact with geese, ducks, budgies, parrots, chickens and also pigeons.

Conclusion: The claim is exaggerated beyond measure.


Salmonellosis (bacterium) – Food poisoning

Correction: The salmonellae that infect pigeons are specific to pigeons (Salmonella typhimurium var. copenhagen). They are not a zoonosis and therefore harmless to humans.

Conclusion: The claim is false.


Toxoplasmosis (protozoa) – Inflammation of the liver and lungs

Correction: Pigeons are potential carriers, as are all warm-blooded animals. According to the Robert Koch Institute, however, two main routes of infection are responsible for human infection: oral ingestion of environmentally resistant oocysts via cat excretions (e.g., unwashed vegetables), and ingestion of so-called tissue cysts, through meat of infected animals (e.g., raw sausage, minced meat).

Conclusion: The claim is false.


Typhoid fever (bacterium) – Deadly diarrheal disease

Correction: Typhoid fever is a disease caused by special Salmonella strains (Salmonella typhi). These do not play a role in pigeons.

Humans are the only source of these bacteria; no animal or environmental reservoirs have been identified. Typhoid and paratyphoid fever are acquired through consumption of water or food contaminated by feces of an acutely infected or convalescent person or a chronic, asymptomatic carrier. Risk for infection is high in low- and middle-income countries with endemic disease and poor access to safe food, water, and sanitation…

Conclusion: The claim is false.


Trichomonasis (protozoa) – Swellings

Correction: Trichomoniasis is a venereal disease transmitted from person to person during the sexual act (Trichomonas vaginalis). Trichomonas gallinae occur in pigeons. These are of no significance to humans and, moreover, are not transmitted via feces but from adult pigeons to young pigeons during feeding, or to other bird species by ingestion of contaminated water.

Conclusion: The claim is false.


“Since even old, dried pigeon droppings can still harbor living pathogens of avian influenza, there is an absolute necessity for professional pigeon droppings disposal.”

Correction: In 2015, the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute, Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, proved that pigeons have a high resistance to avian influenza and a very low virus shedding to have. In Lower Saxony, pigeons were allowed to be transported and exhibited during the 2017 avian influenza because they played no role in the transmission of avian influenza.

Conclusion: The claim is false.


West Nile virus

Although West Nile virus is not directly transmitted from birds to humans, there is no evidence that a person can get infected from handling live or dead infected birds. However, You should avoid bare-handed contact when handling any dead animal. If you must pick up a dead bird, use gloves or an inverted plastic bag to place the bird in a garbage bag.

West Nile virus can be contracted if a human is bitten by a mosquito that has sucked the blood of an infected bird.

Prevention: Easiest way to avoid West Nile is to avoid mosquito bites. Wear long-sleeved shirts and slacks, treat clothing and gear, and take precautions to keep mosquitoes at bay both indoors and out.

Conclusion: The claim is false.


In addition to disease, pigeons are often blamed for transmitting parasites. True, pigeons, especially when weakened, can have numerous parasites and pathogens. However, these are for the most part pigeon or bird specific and completely harmless to humans.


Humans are protected from pigeon ticks as long as pigeons are present as hosts. They can infest humans as a false host, but die after a few days. The possible harmful effect comes from skin infections at the bite wound. A transmission of pathogens such as Lyme disease or TBE by pigeon ticks could not be proven in a single case so far.

Conclusion: The claim is only partly true.


It may well be a nuisance to humans.

Conclusion: The claim is true.


Correction: This animal does not exist. There are feather lice, which are highly species-specific and eat only feather substance or skin scales in pigeons. They are not interested in humans.

Conclusion: The claim is false.


Pigeons can be affected by the parasite. Its main damage is caused by sucking blood. To humans, the pathogen is a nuisance and could theore- tically transmit disease, just as the tick does, but this has not occurred. Bird mites are present in many bird species.

Conclusion: The claim is only partly true and does not only apply to pigeons.


Unfortunately, the voices of those who want to see a danger in urban pigeons are more glaring and much more present than the messages from the authorities. Sentences like: “City pigeons represent a considerable health risk for humans and can transmit more than 100 human-pathogenic infectious diseases” can be found in the press and on the Internet in such or similar formulations. The alleged basis for these fearsome statements is provided by articles that cite a high number of different diseases, including parasites, with which urban pigeons could infect us.

Caution is good, panic is unnecessary

Of course, every case of disease must be taken seriously and every possible route of spread of a zoonosis (infectious diseases transmissible from animal to human and from human to animal) must be checked. However, the probability of contracting a disease from urban pigeons is extremely low.

Of course, the right degree of attention and hygiene is always required for close contact with animals and their droppings – nesting sites and feces. This applies to dealing with pets living on the streets, such as urban pigeons, as well as to dealing with our pets and of course, wild animals. 

As Animal welfare in urban pigeon management, It is clear that more and better education is needed to improve the image of the urban pigeon and allow people to handle them without concern. The new study on the veracity of the claims on the sites of pest controllers and scaring companies is a good step in this direction and should be shared and made available to many people.

Another important step is the control of urban pigeon populations in accordance with animal welfare requirements. Here, supervised pigeon lofts offer the best solution for pigeons and humans. In the pigeon lofts the animals can be cared for and medically attended to, by controlling the brood the local population shrinks and the hungry flocks gradually disappear from the cityscape.

Since urban pigeons do not transmit any significant diseases to humans, they should not be called pests.