The Rock Pigeon (Columba livia), or Rock Dove, is a member of the bird family Columbidae (doves and pigeons). In common usage, this bird is often simply referred to as the “pigeon”. The species includes the domestic pigeon, and escaped domestic pigeons have given rise to the feral pigeon.
Wild Rock Pigeons are pale grey with two black bars on each wing, although domestic and feral pigeons are very variable in colour and pattern. There are few visible differences between males and females. The species is generally monogamous, with two squabs (young) per brood. Both parents care for the young for a time.
Habitats include various open and semi-open environments, including agricultural and urban areas. Cliffs and rock ledges are used for roosting and breeding in the wild. Originally found wild in Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, feral Rock Pigeons have become established in cities around the world. The species is abundant, with an estimated population of 17 to 28 million feral and wild birds in Europe.
The adult of the nominate subspecies of the Rock Pigeon is 32-37 cm (12-14� in) long with a 64-72 cm (25-28 in) wingspan. It has a dark bluish-gray head, neck, and chest with glossy yellowish, greenish, and reddish-purple iridescence along its neck and wing feathers. The iris is orange, red or golden with a paler inner ring, and the bare skin round the eye is bluish-grey. The bill is grey-black with a conspicuous off-white cere, and the feet are purplish-red.
The adult female is almost identical to the male, but the iridescence on the neck is less intense and more restricted to the rear and sides, while that on the breast is often very obscure.
The white lower back of the pure Rock Pigeon is its best identification character, the two black bars on its pale grey wings are also distinctive. The tail has a black band on the end and the outer web of the tail feathers are margined with white. It is strong and quick on the wing, dashing out from sea caves, flying low over the water, its lighter grey rump showing well from above.
Young birds show little lustre and are duller. Eye colour of the pigeon is generally an orange colour but a few pigeons may have white-grey eyes. The eyelids are orange in colour and are encapsulated in a grey-white eye ring. The feet are red to pink.
When circling overhead, the white underwing of the bird becomes conspicuous. In its flight, behaviour, and voice, which is more of a dovecot coo than the phrase of the Wood Pigeon, it is a typical pigeon. Although it is a relatively strong flier, it also glides frequently, holding its wings in a very pronounced V shape as it does. Though fields are visited for grain and green food, it is nowhere so plentiful as to be a pest.
Pigeons feed on the ground in flocks or individually. They roost together in buildings or on walls or statues. When drinking, most birds take small sips and tilt their heads backwards to swallow the water. Pigeons are able to dip their bills into the water and drink continuously without having to tilt their heads back. When disturbed, a pigeon in a group will take off with a noisy clapping sound.
Homing pigeons, are well known for their ability to find their way home from long distances. Despite these demonstrated abilities, wild Rock Pigeons are rather sedentary and rarely leave their local areas.
The Rock Pigeon has a restricted natural resident range in western and southern Europe, North Africa, and into South Asia. The Rock Pigeon is often found in pairs in the breeding season but is usually gregarious. The species (including ferals) has a large range, with an estimated global extent of occurrence of 10 million km (squared). It has a large global population, including an estimated 17-28 million individuals in Europe Fossil evidence suggests the Rock Pigeon originated in southern Asia and skeletal remains unearthed in Israel confirm their existence there for at least three hundred thousand years. Its habitat is natural cliffs, usually on coasts. Its domesticated form, the feral pigeon, has been widely introduced elsewhere, and is common, especially in cities, over much of the world. In Great Britain, Ireland and much of its former range. A Rock Pigeon’s life span is anywhere from 3-5 years in the wild to 15 years in captivity, though longer-lived specimens have been reported. The species was first introduced to North America in 1606 at Port Royal, Nova Scotia.
The Rock Pigeon breeds at any time of the year, but peak times are spring and summer. Nesting sites are situated along coastal cliff faces, as well as the artificial cliff faces created by apartment buildings with accessible ledges or roof spaces.
The type of nest constructed is a flimsy platform of straw and sticks, put on ledge, under cover. Often window ledges of buildings. Two white eggs are laid with incubation that is shared by both parents lasting from seventeen to nineteen days.
The nestling has pale yellow down and a flesh-coloured bill with a dark band. It is tended and fed on “crop milk” like other doves. The fledging period is 30 days.
Pigeons are preyed upon by many different predators with Peregrine Falcons and Sparrowhawks being quite adept at catching and feeding upon this species, as shown by the high losses of racing pigeons to these predators. Some common predators of feral pigeons in the North America are Opossums, Raccoons, Great Horned Owls, and Eastern Screech-owls. Other predators include the Golden Eagle and American Kestrels. On the ground the adults, their young and their eggs are at risk from feral and domestic cats. Doves and pigeons are considered to be game birds as many species have been hunted and used for food in many of the countries in which they are native.
Pigeons have been falsely associated with the spread of human diseases. Contact with pigeon droppings poses a minor risk of contracting histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, and psittacosis. Pigeons are not a major concern in the spread of West Nile virus; though they can contract it, they do not appear to be able to transmit it. Pigeons are, however, at potential risk for carrying and spreading avian influenza. Although one study has shown that adult pigeons are not clinically susceptible to the most dangerous strain of avian influenza, the H5N1, other studies have presented definitive evidence of clinical signs and neurological lesions resulting from infection. Furthermore, it has been shown that pigeons are susceptible to other strains of avian influenza, such as the H7N7, from which at least one human fatality has been recorded.