Pigeons are some of the most recognizable birds in the world. They have been around since the dawn of civilization, and they continue to be an important part of many cultures. This article will explore some interesting facts about pigeons that you may not have known before, from the unique ways they communicate to their impressive navigation skills. Read on to learn more about remarkable facts about pigeons.
1. They’re the first domesticated bird
It is widely believed that the city pigeon is one of the earliest birds to be domesticated by human beings. The earliest evidence of this domestication can be traced back to Mesopotamian art of these birds from as far back as 4500 BCE.
These artworks are considered to be the first recorded images of pigeons and their significance to humankind. For thousands of years, these birds have also been a staple food source for humans.
2. Pigeons with white rump feathers have advantages in a life-or-death situation
Pigeons have a distinctive appearance characterized by their plump bodies, short necks, and small heads. Some of them have white rump feathers, helping them to have an advantage in life.
According to scientific studies, wild falcons are less likely to attack pigeons with a white patch above their tails. If they do, the attacks are usually unsuccessful. The white patches serve as a distraction to birds of prey.
In nature, falcons hunt by diving from above at high speeds to attack other winged animals. To avoid being caught, some species employ a defense mechanism by rolling away in midair. The white rump feathers on a spiraling pigeon can distract the falcons. This can cause them to misjudge their target and fly right past their chosen target.
These birds are characterized by their smooth and colorful plumage, which can range in color from gray, white, brown, blue, black, and green. Their legs are short and pink, with black toes. The eye is orange-red, with a small circular black pupil. Their short beak’s pointy tip allows them to pick up little things from the ground.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the birds is their size variety, with some weighing as little as an ounce and the biggest can weighing almost 10 pounds. They have a size ranging from 5 to 19 inches, females are smaller than their male counterparts.
3. Pigeon species
There are more than 300 different types of pigeons. They all come in colorful plumage with gorgeous patterns on the head. Here are some of them:
– Pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) is a species native to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. It is a critically endangered species, with small population size and limited range.
– Common pigeon (Columba livia): This species is also known as the feral pigeon, rock pigeon, or rock dove. It is the wild ancestor of all domesticated pigeons and is often referred to as the city or street pigeon. They are found all over the world and are well-adapted to living in urban areas.
– Roller pigeons are a breed of domestic pigeons known for their acrobatic abilities in the air. They have a unique rolling and diving flight that is performed in a looping manner, hence the name “roller.”
– Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius): This species was once abundant in North America but became extinct in the late 19th century due to hunting and habitat destruction.
– Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus spp.) is usually found in the tropical forests of Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. They feed on fruit and have brightly colored plumage.
– Common wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus) is a large species that is found in Europe and Asia and is a common resident of woodlands and forests.
There are many more beautiful pigeons and doves in the world, including wild and domestic ones. They come in interesting features (feathers on feet) and various colors like blue, yellow, blue bar, albino, black and white, grizzle, rainbow, etc.
You may find some similar names, such as the American fantail, brown frillback pigeon, Indian fantail, the modena, pheasant, Chinese owl, king, or the German owl. You can see the list of the most beautiful pigeon breeds here.
4. Range and habitat
They are found all over the world, including North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. These birds in the wild frequently reside on or near big, rocky cliffs, and other rocky environments. In these habitats, they build nests in crevices and on ledges, where they can safely raise their young.
Pigeons in cities and towns are completely reliant on humans for their basic needs, including food, shelter, and places to roost and nest. These birds build their nests on window ledges, air conditioners, traffic lights, roofs, business signs, bridges, and other man-made structures.
Fact: In contrast to popular thought, these species are not dirty species that carry diseases. They’re actually quite clean birds. The risk of contracting a disease from them is very low.
5. They are extremely smart
The pigeon is one of the most intelligent species in the world.
a. They comprehend space and time
A 2017 Current Biology study found that pigeons possess the ability to comprehend abstract concepts of both time and space. The experiment involved showing the birds a sequence of horizontal lines on a computer screen. The length of these lines and the time they were displayed on the screen varied.
These birds were taught to judge the line’s length or the length of time it was exhibited. Surprisingly, the creatures perceived longer lines existed for longer periods and the lines would be longer if they were displayed for longer periods of time.
The results of this study suggest that pigeons, similar to humans and other primates, can understand the ideas of time and space.
b. They can recognize themselves
Pigeons are one of only a few species that can pass the ‘mirror test,’ which is a self-recognition test. They can recognize themselves by looking at an image of another pigeon.
c. They can differentiate arts and words
These animals possess remarkable recognition skills, including the ability to differentiate between the paintings of two well-known artists: Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet. They could even recognize artwork by other painters within the same movements.
This is not their limit because they can distinguish between pictures of numerous persons. They can tell the difference between watercolor and pastel paintings, recognize photographs of woods and aquatic bodies, and even distinguish between various persons in a photo.
Additionally, they can distinguish between real words and random letter strings. Although they cannot read, they are capable of identifying visual patterns, which enables them to tell words apart. Pegions could even recognize words they had never seen before. They can also do simple math like abstract numerical rules.
d. They’re multitasking
A study has shown that pigeons are more efficient multitaskers compared to humans. Scientists assembled a test group including 12 birds and 15 humans. They are all trained to perform two easy tasks, such as pressing a keyboard when a light bulb is turned on.
The participants were then tested on their ability to switch between tasks, sometimes they have to do this immediately. The results showed that both humans and pigeons were able to change between tasks at the same speed.
This could be because the avian brain has more densely packed nerve cells. This allows these species to process information faster than humans in certain conditions.
6. They are navigation professionals
Homing pigeons are known to be expert navigators, with the ability to find their way back home from distances of up to 1,300 miles away. A study conducted at Oxford University found that pigeons use landmarks as navigational aids and will fly along man-made roads and highways, even adjusting directions at intersections.
They can do so even when they are relocated in total isolation to an area they have never visited before. People even rotated their cages during transportation to obscure any sense of direction. How they navigate without any visual, smell, or magnetic cues remains a mystery. Some scientists believe that the birds possess both compass and map mechanisms.
Their ability to navigate makes them ideal carriers of long-distance messages. In the 5th century AD, people in some countries (Syria and Egypt) used these birds to deliver messages. Several of the ancient pigeon towers of Egypt remain today.
In ancient Greece, the results of the Olympics are claimed to have been carried by trained pigeons. In the east, Genghis Khan maintained communication with both allies and rivals by using a pigeon-based mail network.
Although these animals can still be trained to deliver messages, the practice of using them as messengers has largely been discontinued. The final pigeon post was closed in India in 2004.
7. They saved thousands of human lives
During the war, these birds were frequently utilized to carry messages, including crucial updates. This saved numerous human lives throughout history. One such pigeon, named G.I. Joe, informed British troops of an imminent bombing in an Italian town they were occupying. With only five minutes to spare, the troops were able to evacuate and avoid tragedy.
During World War 2, Cher Ami – a pigeon carried 12 crucial messages for the US forces. Despite being shot in the breast on his final mission, Cher Ami tried to travel for an additional 25 minutes and complete his mission. This saved 194 stranded U.S. soldiers on October 4, 1918.
Because of their remarkable intelligence and excellent eyesight (can see about 26 miles), they are trained to assist in the rescue of people who have become stranded at sea. They find persons wearing red or yellow life jackets and alert rescuers to their location.
Their vision is so good that they can detect the ultraviolet light that surrounds a person in the water, making them more dependable than humans in making sea rescues. However, they may not see well in the dark.
Pigeons are omnivores animals. They can eat vegetables, fruit, seeds (like sunflower seeds), berries, buds, insects, and other invertebrates like earthworms and snails. Bread and chocolates are very toxic to birds in general.
In urban environments, they will consume almost anything edible. They often scavenge for food scraps and other food waste from humans like garbage. Human garbage has many food items that they can eat.
They have a versatile digestive system that allows them to feed on a wide range of food sources, including some considered unpalatable to other birds.
Fact: Pigeon droppings are considered a nuisance now, but they were once highly valued. They were regarded as the finest available fertilizer and was guarded by armed guards (around their houses) to prevent theft from stealing them.
9. They are fast
Although these birds have a plumb body, they are pretty fast. They can fly over 500 miles in only a day with a speed of 60 miles per hour or more. What’s surprising is that they don’t need to stop for food or water.
This speed is not their best. These birds can soar at altitudes of up to 6000 feet and beyond, with an average speed of 77.6 miles per hour. The fastest recorded speed is 92.5 miles per hour. Because of this speed, people have created a pigeon-racing contest (like the malta federation of racing pigeons). They even breed to create racing pigeons like the Janssen.
10. Doves vs Pigeons
Pigeon and dove are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. They are both birds that belong to the family Columbidae, however, there are differences between them.
The difference between doves and pigeons lies in their physical characteristics. Doves are smaller and slender birds with longer tails and softer, more delicate feathers. On the other hand, pigeons are larger with plumper bodies, shorter tails, and coarser feathers.
In common usage, the terms “dove” and “pigeon” are often used interchangeably to refer to any bird in the Columbidae family.
11. They are related to dodos
DNA testing has revealed that the birds are genetically connected to the dodo. The bright Nicobar pigeon is the closest genetic relative. This near-threatened creature is a colorful bird that lives on small islands in the South Pacific and Asia.
Unlike doves and pigeons, dodos couldn’t fly and they live on the island of Mauritius near Madagascar. They had no predators until humans showed up with cats, pigs, rats, and dogs. The dodo population began to decline and eventually disappeared by the end of the 17th century.
12. They are peaceful symbols in several religions
Pigeons hold a special spiritual meaning in many religions across the world. In the Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu religions, people believe in feeding and caring for them as a form of devotion.
In Christians’ thought, white pigeons symbolize peace, purity, and the holy spirit. They have a specific role in Islam and must be treated with reverence. You can see large flocks of pigeons surrounding mosques, being fed on grains. These birds have been granted safety, purity, serenity, and freedom by people here.
In Mecca, they are usually fed by pilgrims. In commemoration of Guru Gobind Singh, who was considered a friend of the rock dove, the Sikhs feed and care for these birds.
In India, some religious groups hold the belief that when a person passes away, their soul inhabits a pigeon and they watch over their loved ones in this form.
13. They are very sociable
Pigeons are known for their highly social nature and interaction. Unlike many bird species, these birds tend to live in groups that can vary in size from 20 to 30 individuals. This is due to their desire for companionship and socialization.
If you choose to keep pigeons as pets, you’ll realize that they don’t want to be alone. They prefer to be in the presence of others. If there are no birds, these species are more likely to approach and stay close to you. They can handle human contact, including being held and touched, far better than other birds. However, when these birds believe you are a threat to their offspring, they will attack you.
These birds are diurnal, they sleep at night and sleep a lot. Like magpies, pigeons can sleep for 10 hours per night. They can be on the ground or in high places. These creatures cannot swim.
14. They mate for life
The breeding season of the birds can occur all year round, particularly in regions where food is abundant. However, it usually happens during spring and summer
Pigeons are monogamous, meaning they mate for life. However, if one of them passes away, the other will usually look for another partner. When attempting to attract a partner, they produce a continuous cooing sound.
Males will frequently engage in courtship behavior while they are looking for food with females. He will follow the female closely, periodically circling her while expanding his neck feathers and fanning his tail, cooing and bowing until he successfully gets her.
Like other birds, pigeons mate by having the female crouch down to provide a level and secure surface for the male to mount. To maintain balance, she may also bend or bow her head. The male then mounts and fertilizes the female. The whole procedure takes approximately 2 – 3 seconds.
To increase the chances of eggs being fertilized, both birds may mate several times a day. After 8 to 12 days, the female will lay her eggs.
15. They make milk
Pigeons build their nests differently than other bird species. Instead of trees, they build them on flat rooftops, covered urban places, and rocky rural areas.
The male brings twigs to the female, one at a time, to build the nest. The nest isn’t very robust at first. However, because the birdsuse the same nest for multiple broods, the buildup of droppings, shells, and the carcasses of deceased hatchlings over time reinforces and hardens the structure.
Each year, a pigeon pair can produce up to six broods, although the number falls with age. The females can start laying eggs at the age of six months and typically lay two white eggs per clutch. However, they can only lay one egg per day. 8 – 10 days after mating, the female will lay her first egg, and the second one will be laid after 24-48 hours. Before laying eggs, the females may spend a day or two in the nest.
Like emperor penguins, pigeons are great parents. They both assist in incubating eggs until the young hatch. However, the mother will spend more time for their babies, from mid-afternoon until mid-morning. The father will take over from mid-morning to mid-afternoon so that the female can eat and rest.
After 18 days of incubation, the young (also called squabs) hatch and are taken care of by their parents. They are fed with milk. However, it’s not the milk that mammals produce, it’s the crop milk.
Crop milk is a white liquid produced from regurgitated food by both parents and fed directly into the young’s mouth. This crop milk has enough proteins, nutrients, antioxidants, and fats a baby bird needs. Like mammal milk, the production of crop milk is controlled by the hormone prolactin.
This milk is produced by both male and female mature pigeons in their crop. The crop is a small portion of a bird’s esophagus that is used to temporarily store food. The young will rely on crop milk until they can eat a wider variety of foods.
These creatures are one of a few vertebrate species that have the fastest-growing. In a day and a half, the young will have doubled in size. By the 28th day, the birds have developed their tails and full feathering and reached the weight of an adult. They will start flying after 30 days.
The juvenile stay close to the nest for another week or two before venturing out on their own. That’s the reason you barely see them in the flock. They’re nearly completely developed and appear like an adult by the time they leave the nest after around 6 weeks. However, these young are not complete yet. Their eyes lack the red pigment which will appear when they are between seven months and one year old.
In the wild, their lifespan is about 3 – 6 years. However, in captivity, their life expectancy is much longer, about 15 years, if they are well taken care of.
16. They have excellent hearing abilities
Pigeons possess exceptional hearing capabilities compared to humans. They can hear low frequencies that we cannot. As a result, they may frequently identify storms, even before meteorologists can detect them on their radar.
Not only that, they can also sense a potential volcanic eruption, which humans cannot accomplish solely by listening.
17. They can identify cancer as doctors
In 2015, researchers at the University of California Davis educated pigeons to differentiate between benign and malignant biopsies. After being trained, they were able to apply their acquired knowledge to accurately diagnose new biopsies they had never encountered before.
Individually, these species displayed an average accuracy rate of 85%. When working in groups, this percentage increases to 99%, a level of accuracy comparable to that of a doctor.
18. They have celebrity fans
Pigeons are loved by many people, from ornithologists, and those who hold religious beliefs, to many famous people such as royalty, politicians, celebrities, etc.
- Queen Elizabeth, King George, and King Edward all kept a royal loft.
- The famous inventor, Nikola Tesla, would care for injured wild pigeons in his hotel room. He once said that they gave him a purpose in life.
- Elvis Presley and current Mike Tyson both have a love for these birds and keep several as pets.
- Famous designer Maurizio Gucci also keeps pigeons as pets and paid $10,000 for a single American pigeon.
- Charles Darwin belonged to pigeon clubs in London and socialized with notable breeders. He even devoted two chapters in his 1868 book “The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication” to these creatures.
- Other famous fans include Ray Rice, Walt Disney, Paul Newman, and Joanna Woodward.
Pigeon faces several natural predators, including birds of prey like falcons or seagulls. In urban areas, they serve as a primary source of food for peregrine falcons. With the speed of over 100 miles per hour, these falcons can easily hunt down the doves.
However, humans pose the greatest threat to these birds. They do widespread control methods to keep their population in check in urban areas. In some regions, they are perceived as pests and therefore hunted and killed.
The passenger pigeon species once thrived in North America with an estimated population of between three to five billion at the time of European colonization. However, they early become extinct by the early 20th century.
Pigeons may bother you, but they are among the most amazing birds in the world. So, you can get rid of pigeons without killing them by doing the following methods.