Sour Crop in Pigeons: Problems & Prevention

Sour crop is a condition suffered by many species of birds including chickens, parrots and pigeons.

It is an infection in the crop and as It is a disruption to the digestive process of the bird, it is vital to recognise and treat it quickly.

What is the Crop and Its Purpose?

The crop is an important part of a pigeon’s digestive system.

It is an extension to the oesophagus and part of the alimentary tract, the crop is a pouch where food is stored prior to digestion.

It is also known as the craw, croup, sub-lingual pouch, or ingluvies.

This expanded, thin-walled muscular pouch is located near the gullet (throat) and is not usually visible in pigeons.

There are three main purposes of the crop in pigeons:

  1. Safety: It enables the pigeon to eat a lot of food quickly and then move on from the source meaning the bird doesn’t have to hang around in one place.
  2. Nutrition: It enables the bird to eat more food than it needs, reserving excess food for later when maybe food cannot be found.
  3. Breeding: It is where the crop milk is made and stored ready to feed baby pigeons.

What Is Sour Crop?

Sour crop is a common problem that pigeons can develop.

It is a yeast infection that affects both the crop and the digestive tract, causing the crop to shut down and any food items within it to turn ‘sour’.

The most common reason for sour crop to develop in a pigeon is the consumption of poor quality grit and poor quality grains.

It usually happens when food had been stored for too long in the crop.

The food begins to break down and ferment causing an imbalance in the bird’s natural digestive bacteria and activating and increasing the candida fungus which is already present in the crop.

The fermented food tastes and smells sour.

Sour crop may also occur in young pigeons as a result of hand-rearing and feeding.

How Does Sour Crop Affect Pigeons?

Sour crop has a number of different negative impacts on a pigeon’s health and day-to-day life.

Some of the most common symptoms of the infection that a bird will display if unwell include:

  • A crop that swells and looks to fill up like a balloon containing lots of water.
  • A newly developed disinterest in food. The pigeon will not have the will to eat anything.
  • A strong sour odour that will be immediately detectable if you open the pigeon’s beak and try to smell around the revealed area.
  • A significant drop in total body weight, which will be as a result of the reduced eating habits that are being caused by the sour crop.
  • The pigeon will begin to noticeably flick and shake its head from side to side, an indicator of the discomfort that it is feeling from its swollen and fluid filled crop..
  • You will notice that adult pigeons struggling with sour crop will often begin to pull out their feathers.
  • There will be frequent periods of vomiting, and this vomit will almost certainly have a putrid odour thanks to the internal souring process that is taking place.
  • In more mild cases of the infection, you might also notice signs of thrush developing in small white coloured spots in the throat. This is often mistaken by some to be canker.

How to Treat Sour Crop in Pigeons

You should always try to seek the help and guidance of a veterinary surgeon if you suspect that your pigeon is suffering from sour crop.

If you want to try to ease the discomfort of your bird before you can get to a professional vet there are some home remedies you might try before an appointment at a pigeon friendly animal clinic

1. Fasting:

Take away any feed and withhold food and water from the pigeon for a period of 24 hours.

This will allow some time for the bird’s crop to naturally begin to empty as much as possible.

If successful, that can reduce the swelling and some discomfort compared to if the bird had continued to eat the poor quality grit and mouldy food that started the problem to begin with.

You should isolate your bird – not because of any risk of contagion but because the pigeon with sour crop is the only one that should go without food and water.

2. Apple Cider Vinegar:

Once the crop is empty after the period of fasting, you can perform the procedure of administering some diluted apple cider vinegar via a syringe into the side of the pigeon’s beak.

Apple cider vinegar has beneficial properties for pigeons including being able to start an internal healing process in the crop before the vet takes over.

Please note that it is important you follow the specific dilution guidelines on the bottle of whichever ACV you choose.

3. Break the fast:

Around twelve hours after administering the apple cider vinegar solution, allow the pigeon to drink water. The water should be tepid, and they should only have a few sips.  

Also, give them around a teaspoon-sized portion of soft solid food.

They will have been fasting for a long time at this point, so reintroducing food and water back on a small scale is important to prevent any potential accidents and incidents of overfeeding or over-drinking.

Add to this, the fact that the crop will likely still be inflamed.

pigeon eating

Until you are able to get your pigeon properly assessed and treated by a vet, all you can do after performing these actions is monitor the progress and status of the pigeon, checking routinely to make sure that the sour crop has diminished or vanished.

Over time, you can begin to gradually build up back to normal rations of both food and water for the bird.

Other treatment options are:

  • Massage the crop gently to help break up the food so the pigeon can digest it to clear the crop.
  • Follow the process outlined above but substitute a dilution of Epsom salts for the apple cider vinegar.
  • Again, follow the outlined process but use a solution of diluted molasses.
  • A mix of olive oil and oregano oil can be administered by syringe. Both these oils have anti-bacterial properties.

Until you are able to get your pigeon properly assessed and treated by a vet, all you can do after performing these actions is monitor the progress and status of the pigeon, checking routinely to make sure that the sour crop has diminished or vanished.

Over time, you can begin to gradually build up back to normal rations of both food and water for the bird.

If you prefer to trust in medication over home remedies, your options in over-the-counter medicines are:

  • 2% miconazole cream
  • Nystatin
  • Flucanazol
  • Bird antibiotics

How to Prevent Sour Crop in Pigeons

The only real effective way of preventing sour crop in pigeons is to make sure that they are provided with access to good quality grit at all times.

The grit that pigeons ingest is essential to the process of breaking down and digesting their food properly, so if the grit is of a poor quality, the digestion process in and around the crop will also be of a poor quality.

Alongside good quality grit you also, of course, want to make sure that the quality of the food that you give your pigeons is also top-notch.

Ensure your pigeon has a good diet with a varied mixture of recommended grains, seeds, fruits and other vegetation to give them the best chance of not developing sour crop.

The key thing when it comes to the food that you provide for the pigeons is that you make the effort to check that no section of the ingredients or mixture has turned mouldy.

If any food you find has gone bad, you need to dispose of it immediately.

If other birds in your loft/coop/cage still have some of the spoiled feed, dispose of it immediately and clean the feeders thoroughly before filling them with fresh food.

Sour crop can definitely be prevented if you are vigilant and fastidious about the way you care for your birds.

Don’t cut corners when it comes to the quality of the food and grit that you provide, your pigeons will be grateful!


This article was written by our qualified veterinarian Cristina.

This is part of our commitment to providing you with the most trustworthy veterinary advice for your pigeons.


Denise Bereford

Denise Bereford is a full-time writer and researcher with a long-standing passion for pigeons.

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