Europe's population of pigeons is estimated to be up to 28 million, with high densities in the center of major towns and cities as a result of low levels of predation and the year-round availability of food and breeding sites.
"Considered as a plague in many cities, pigeons in urban areas live close to human activities and exploit this proximity to find food -- which is often delivered by people," the team of French scientists wrote in the journal Animal Cognition.
Researchers carried out two tests in an urban park with two human feeders, one neutral and one hostile who would chase the birds away.
"In both experiments, the pigeons learned quickly to discriminate between the feeders," they reported.
"The pigeons avoided the hostile feeder even when the two feeders exchanged their coats, suggesting that [the birds] used stable individual characteristics to differentiate between the experimenter feeders," the researchers said.
"Thus, pigeons are able to learn quickly from their interactions from human feeders and use knowledge to maximize the profitability of the urban environment."