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Pigeons and Doves

The Domestic Pigeon

The natural range of the rock dove or feral pigeon (Columba livia) was probably regions of the Mediterranean basin with rocky cliffs where these birds can nest. However, this species has been domesticated by humans, and it has now been introduced to suitable habitats around the world, including North America. The rock dove may now be the world's most widely distributed bird.

The domestic pigeon is the cultivated variety of Columba livia that is raised for food. It is most commonly the young birds, which are known as squabs, that are eaten.

The domestic pigeon develops an intense affinity for the place where it nests and roosts at night. This bird is also very skillful at finding its way back to its home roost after it has been taken some distance away. Humans have exploited this characteristic by using "carrier pigeons" to transport messages over long distances. The invention of the radio and other methods of long-distance communication eventually replaced carrier pigeons, but competitions are still held to test the homing abilities of individual racing birds.

Domestic pigeons have also been bred into some very unusual varieties of color, feather displays, and body shape. People who find the aesthetics of unusual pigeons to be interesting form clubs, and they avidly compare, trade, and sell their varieties of domestic pigeons.

Feral pigeons are domestic pigeons that have escaped and are breeding in the wild. Feral pigeons usually live in cities and other built-up areas, although they sometimes breed in more natural habitats as well. These birds are often considered to be pests, because they can be a nuisance when abundant, soiling statues and buildings with their excrement, and sometimes fouling people walking along streets or in parks.

However, feral pigeons are among the few non-human creatures that can tolerate the environmental conditions of cities, and they contribute a positive aesthetic to urban areas. Many people enjoy hand-feeding urban pigeons in parks and other public places where these birds can be abundant and tame.

A few other species of pigeons are kept in captivity, usually as pets. Common ornamental pigeons include the collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto), spotted dove (S. chinensis), turtle dove (S. turtur), and ringed turtle dove (S. risoria). Some of these birds have escaped from captivity and established feral populations outside of their natural range, for example, in southern parts of the United States.

A Victoria crowned pigeon (Goura victoria). Both sexes of this species possess the crest, but only the male performs the courtship display in which it is shown off. Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind - Early Ideas to Planck lengthPigeons and Doves - Biology Of Pigeons And Doves, Pigeons Of North America, The Domestic Pigeon, The Passenger Pigeon