You’ve probably never looked at a pigeon and thought “yum.”
But despite their pesty reputation, so-called sky rats are completely edible and full of nutrients. In fact, they’re already quite a popular dish in many places around the world. Most people know them as squab, a Scandinavian word meaning “fat and juicy.”
There are a few caveats you should know, however, so buckle up and learn all about eating pigeons.
Is It Safe to Eat Pigeons?
Yes, you can eat pigeons safely…for the most part. In a pinch, a pigeon is just one of many survival foods that you can eat.
There’s some concern with mites, ticks, and other diseases that pigeons are known to carry. However, there is little to no evidence showing any human illnesses directly related to pigeons.
Obviously, the safest pigeons to eat are those that have been bred for the primary purpose of food because you know exactly what you’re getting.
Choosing the Right Type of Pigeons
While all pigeons are relatively safe to eat, there is a degree of quality, depending on location, that you should be familiar with before you decide to eat pigeon.
Some people actually farm pigeons on their homesteads and breed them explicitly for food, just like chickens and ducks. These are by far the safest to eat and the best quality. Since squabs haven’t flown the coop yet, their meat is very tender.
Squabs, or baby pigeons, are typically four weeks old or less and are very common in culinary cuisine. Some culinary experts place their quality right up there with veal.
You’ll also find wild pigeons, or forest pigeons, that live off of fruits, grains, insects, and worms. It’s not uncommon for avid hunters to take up pigeon hunting during the winter months as a source of fresh meat when all other game are out of season.
While not as good as squab, these pigeons can still provide a quality source of nutrition during hard times. Once pigeons begin flying, their meat gets much tougher, making them less desirable than traditional squab.
There’s some debate on whether pigeons in metropolitan areas are edible because their diet consists of whatever they can find, and they are often seen pilfering through garbage and waste.
Additionally, people in urban areas often use poison as a means of controlling pigeon infestations, leaving you with potentially tainted meat.
While it’s important to exercise more caution with these city dwellers, they’ll prevent starvation. Still, you should definitely consider the added risk before partaking.
Can You Eat Pigeon Organs?
Yes! You can eat the organs just like you do with chicken. Some people consider the heart, liver, and gizzards to be the best part of the bird.
While it is equally safe to eat the lungs and kidneys, they may have a distinctively unpleasant flavor.
According to Forager Chef, eating poultry brains in the United States isn’t recommended, but the reason is unclear. Even though it’s not recommended, apparently, it’s safe to eat partridge brain, which is in the same family as pigeon.
Can You Eat Pigeon Eggs?
Absolutely! Pigeon eggs can be prepared and eaten just like chicken eggs and are a great source of protein. Of course, you’ll need a lot more of them.
Now that you know you can eat pigeons, you’re probably wondering what it’s actually like to eat pigeons.
What Does Pigeon Taste Like?
You might be surprised to know that pigeons don’t have white meat like other poultry. Its meat is actually red and as such, when prepared properly, has a tender gamey flavor.
However, the flavor of pigeon meat can actually change depending on the pigeon’s diet. Pigeons that eat a lot of grain, for example, tend to have a sweeter taste.
Likewise, those that live off insects and worms will be more savory. And the ones that eat from storefronts? Apparently, they’re not so bad either.
Is Pigeon Good for You?
Pigeons are a good source of protein, iron, and B Complex vitamins. They are also low in fat and cholesterol and only 141 calories per 100 grams.
Protein is an essential nutrient for proper cell function and keeping the body operating the way it should, whereas iron is necessary to keep oxygen traveling through the body. This makes pigeons quite nutritious, and if you’re in a survival scenario, you might not want to turn down such nutrients, no matter the package.
How to Catch or Kill Pigeon
There are a number of ways to catch or kill pigeons. Inside city limits, where the discharge of firearms is usually not allowed, they can be netted, trapped, snared, or baited.
Most hunters use shotguns, but a BB gun or air rifle is equally sufficient. Even a small crossbow or slingshot will work.
Just make sure you know the legalities in your area to ensure you’re not breaking any laws.
If you’ve netted or trapped your sky rat, then a quick snap of the neck or BB through the brain is the most humane method.
How to Prepare Pigeon for Cooking
You must first pluck all the feathers from your bird, which is surprisingly easy and can be done in just a couple of minutes.
The head, wings, and feet can all be cut off with your favorite survival knife or a set of kitchen shears. While you can eat the legs and wings, the amount of meat is hardly worth the effort.
Once your bird is de-feathered with head and limbs removed, make a nick just above the anus wide enough for your fingers. Work your fingers up the breastbone to the backbone, and then pull out the insides, cleaning out the cavity.
If you have any concerns about the quality of your bird, you can cut the gizzard in two to reveal what your pigeon has been eating lately.
On the other end, slip your knife through the neck, and cut just a little to separate the neck and remove the windpipe.
How to Cook Pigeon
Pigeon is most often cooked on the rare side since the meat is small and can dry out easily. There are a number of ways that pigeon can be prepared, but here are the simplest methods that would be most conducive in a survival scenario.
Pan-frying pigeon can be done quickly by simply browning the pigeon on both sides, aiming for a pink finish. This usually only takes a few minutes on each side.
Resting the meat for an additional three to four minutes after cooking helps retain the juices. You can also deglaze your pan to add even more flavor.
Brown your pigeon in flour on both sides, then place it in a roasting pan. Cover it in butter and cook for 30 minutes covered at 425°, then an additional 15 minutes uncovered.
Cook on a grill, survival stove, or open fire until the meat is done. For added flavor, place half a jalapeno on one side, and then wrap in bacon, basting with your favorite beer once or twice.
Stewing is best for older birds with tougher meat. Cook slowly in a Crock-Pot, or add to chili or stew.
Probably the most famous of all the pigeon recipes, the pigeon pie is a rustic dish of bacon, leeks, mushrooms, and pigeon. Make a thick gravy and combine all the ingredients in a pie crust and bake.
Is it Legal to Hunt Pigeon?
In the United States, like most things, the rules vary from state to state, so always check your own state laws first. In most cases, pigeons are considered a nuisance, just like rats.
Since they’re not a protected species, you can kill pigeons on your own property, or you can hunt pigeons outside the city limits. If you live inside city limits, netting or trapping is your best bet since it doesn’t require a firearm.
Now that you know pigeon is a healthy alternative that’s more than just a survival food, you could get ahead of the game and start stocking up now. You can freeze them raw or cook and freeze them to serve later.