Why a German town has held a referendum on pigeons

Paul Krantz
Paul Krantz - [email protected]
Why a German town has held a referendum on pigeons
A flock of pigeons scramble around bits of bread thrown on the street. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

After months of debate over how to manage its pigeon population, a small town in Hesse has held a referendum with a controversial outcome.


Along with the European election and the local district council election, voters in the town of Limburg an der Lahn, also decided on Sunday on the fate of around 700 resident pigeons.

A referendum was held to decide if the local population of city pigeons should be reduced in the next two years. Hundreds of local pigeons are to be killed by a falconer who will lure the birds into a trap and then break their necks.

The city council of Limburg an der Lahn had decided in November 2023 to kill the town's resident rock doves in this way, which drew criticism from animal welfare organisations. So the question was put to the town’s voters.

A little over 53 percent of the residents who voted in the referendum approved the killing of the pigeons – with a total of 7,530 yes votes cast.

"Today's result was unpredictable for us. The citizens have made use of their right and decided that the animals should be reduced by a falconer," Mayor Marius Hahn (SPD) told Der Spiegel about the vote.

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Does killing pigeons ultimately reduce populations?

Research shows that killing pigeons isn’t an effective method for reducing urban populations, because the birds will reproduce more and replenish the population. In fact, populations have been observed to increase above pre-cull numbers in the weeks following pigeon killings.


A well-documented example of this comes from Basel, Switzerland, which had a pigeon population of approximately 20,000. From 1961 to 1985, the city killed around 100,000 pigeons each year, but the population remained stable.

Ultimately a group called Pigeon Action was founded to promote a long term solution to the issue. The group came up with a programme – since referred to as the ‘Basel model’ – that included warning residents against feeding pigeons, and installing pigeon lofts from which eggs are removed. Through these methods, the population was halved within four years.

inside a pigeon house

A volunteer looks after the pigeons in the pigeon house at Berlin Südkreuz station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

A similar pigeon-control method comes from the Bavarian city of Augsburg. Here the city operates several supervised pigeon lofts where pigeons are cared for by a local animal welfare organisation. 

This allows for new eggs to be swapped for dummies, and has the added benefit of collecting a fair amount of pigeon droppings in one place.

Other cities have tried to curb pigeon populations with feeding bans, because pigeon population growth is directly related to abundant food supplies. 

But in 2021, Berlin’s state animal welfare officer issued a legal opinion that feeding bans against the birds were unlawful. The opinion argued that city pigeons are the offspring of neglected domestic pigeons, and also that feeding bans “do not lead to shrinking populations, but only to impoverishment”.

How are other German cities managing pigeon populations?

Limburg an der Lahn, which sits on the western edge of the German state of Hesse, is not the only town with a pigeon problem. A number of nearby cities, including many in the neighbouring state of Rhineland-Palatinate, are trying various tactics to control local pigeon numbers.

According to Südwestrundfunk (SWR), the cities Neustadt (Weinstraße) and Grünstadt have implemented feeding bans for pigeons. 


The city of Kaiserslautern is trying out the so-called Augsburg model, having constructed pigeon towers where birds are relocated and where their eggs are exchanged for plastic fakes. The towers are maintained and operated by volunteers.

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Similar pigeon lofts can be found in Mainz and Pirmasens. There are also controlled nesting sites in Ludwigshafen, and an inner-city pigeon house in Zweibrücken.

Also in Koblenz and Neuwied, pigeon eggs are collected and replaced.

Unfortunately for the pigeons in Limburg an der Lahn, these alternative options were not included in the vote.


pigeon - (die) Taube

referendum - (das) Referendum / (die) Volksabstimmung

feed - füttern

pigeon loft - (der) Taubenschlag / (das) Taubenhaus



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