Interesting facts about pigeons and doves


Pigeons and doves constitute the family Columbidae within the order Columbiformes.

There are 310 different species of pigeons and doves.

Pigeons and doves are likely the most common birds in the world.

They are distributed everywhere on Earth, except for the driest areas of the Sahara Desert, Antarctica and its surrounding islands, and the high Arctic.

They live in almost all types of terrestrial habitats from desert to dense forest and large urban areas.


Pigeons and doves will live for a relatively long period of time, generally about 10 to 12 years with some living quite a bit longer.

In general, the terms “dove” and “pigeon” are used somewhat interchangeably. Pigeon is a French word that derives from the Latin pipio, for a “peeping” chick, while dove is a Germanic word that refers to the bird’s diving flight.

The smaller species are often called doves and the larger species pigeons, but this is in no way consistently applied, and historically, the common names for these birds involve a great deal of variation between the terms. For example the species most commonly referred to as “pigeon” is the rock dove, one subspecies of which, the domestic pigeon, is common in many cities as the feral pigeon.


Pigeons and doves exhibit considerable variations in size, ranging in length from 15 to 75 centimeters (5.9 to 29.5 in), and in weight from 22 g (0.049 lb) to above 2,000 g (4.4 lb).

Pigeons and doves are stout-bodied birds with short necks, and short slender bills.

The wings are large, having 11 primary feathers, and have low wing-loadings; pigeons and doves have strong wing muscles and are among the strongest fliers of all birds; they are also highly manoeuvrable in flight.


The plumage of the family is variable. Many of the seed-eating species are buff, grey and brown colors, while the fruit-eaters are often more brightly colored. Many have ornamentation and iridescent feathers on the neck, breast, back, wings and face.

They range from sexually monomorphic to sexually dimorphic (condition where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics) , and molt annually after breeding.

Pigeons and doves can be solitary to very social and can be found in flocks of several thousand.


Dominance hierarchies occur in flocks. Many species roost communally at night (pigeons and doves are diurnal).

Some species are sedentary, and others are migratory. Some are nomadic and move as their food supply changes, and some make altitudinal movements as seasons change.

Seeds and fruit form the major component of the diets of pigeons and doves. In fact, the family can be divided into the seed-eating or granivorous species and the fruit-and-mast-eating or frugivorous species. In addition to fruit and seeds, a number of other food items are taken by many species including insects, snails, worms, lizards, leaves, buds and flowers.


Grainivorous species need to drink a lot of water in order to digest seeds.

Desert species get their water from succulent plants and have the ability to drink saline water.

Pigeons and doves are excellent navigators and use both the magnetic field of the planet and the position of the sun to find their way. A study at Oxford University found that they will also use landmarks as signposts and will travel along man-made roads and motorways, even changing direction at junctions.

Pigeons and doves have a variety of songs and calls that they use to find mates, signal danger, and defend territories.

While many pigeon and dove species are lifelong mates, some mate only for a breeding season. However, they are monogamous while they are together.

a pair of pigeons

Breeding is triggered by food availability and photoperiod and can be seasonal or year-round, depending on the species.

Some species breed colonially, some solitarily. The males bring nest material to the females who build the nest.

Clutch size is usually one to two eggs (occasionally three). Incubation lasts 11 to 30 days. Both males and females incubate, but females usually spend more time incubating than males. Chicks are fed by both parents. Unlike most birds, both sexes of pigeons and doves produce “crop milk” to feed to their young, secreted by a sloughing of fluid-filled cells from the lining of the crop. Chicks leave the nest after 10 to 36 days. Young doves and pigeons are called “squabs”.

pigeon chicks

The rock pigeon is the world’s oldest domesticated bird. Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets mention the domestication of pigeons more than 5,000 years ago, as do Egyptian hieroglyphics. Research suggests that domestication of pigeons occurred as early as 10,000 years ago.

Trained domestic pigeons are able to return to the home loft if released at a location that they have never visited before and that may be up to 1000 km (620 miles) away.

A special breed, called homing pigeons has been developed through selective breeding to carry messages and members of this variety of pigeon are still being used in the sport of pigeon racing.

homing pigeons

Flights as long as 1,800 km (1,100 miles) have been recorded by birds in competitive pigeon racing. Their average flying speed over moderate 640 km (400 miles) distances is around 80 km/h (50 miles per hour) but speeds of up to 140 km/h (90 miles per hour) have been observed in top racers for short distances.

The pigeon was used in both World War I and II, notably by the Australian, French, German, American, and UK forces. They were also awarded with various laurels throughout, for their service.

pigeon ww2

In 2013, a Belgian racing pigeon called Bolt has been sold to a Chinese businessman for a world record price of 310,000 euros (£260,000: $400,000).

Scientists have shown that pigeons are able to discriminate video images of themselves even with a 5-7 second delay, thus having self-cognitive abilities higher than untrained 3-year-old children who have difficulty recognizing their self-image with only a 2 second delay.

The Ptilinopus (fruit doves) are some of the brightest-colored pigeons, with the three endemic species of Fiji and the Indian Ocean.

fruit doves

Among the 10 species to have become extinct since 1600 (the conventional date for estimating modernextinctions) are two of the most famous extinct species, the dodo and the passenger pigeon.

A flock of the now extinct passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) seen in 1740 was 3 to 4 miles (4.8 to 6.4 km) long and 1 mile (1.6 km) wide, it was so dense that it blocked out the sun.

To stay warm, Inca doves (Columbina inca) form groups of up to 12 and stand on each other’s backs. They shift positions so that each bird takes a turn on the outside.

In shamanism, pigeons and doves are interchangeable and symbolize home and security.

According to the biblical story, a dove was released by Noah after the flood in order to find land; it came back carrying a freshly plucked olive leaf, a sign of life after the Flood and of God’s
bringing Noah, his family and the animals to land.

The use of a dove and olive branch as a symbol of peace originated with the early Christians, who portrayed the act of baptism accompanied by a dove holding an olive branch in its beak and also used the image on their sepulchres.

In Christian Iconography, a dove also symbolizes the Holy Spirit.