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?Rock Pigeon
Conservation status: Least concern
Rock Pigeon in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
Rock Pigeon in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Columbiformes
Family: Columbidae
Genus: Columba
Species: C. livia
Binomial name
Columba livia
Gmelin, 1789

The Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) is a member of the bird genus Columba, family Columbidae, doves and pigeons. The species is also known as the Rock Dove, which was the official name used by the British Ornithologists' Union and the American Ornithologists' Union until 2004, when they changed their official listing of the bird to Rock Pigeon. The domestic pigeon is this species, and escaped domestic pigeons have given rise to the feral pigeon. In common usage, this bird is often simply referred to as the "pigeon".


The birds have been used extensively as experimental subjects particularly in cognitive science.

Cognitive science

They have been trained to distinguish between cubist and impressionist paintings, for instance. In another project, pigeons were shown to be more effective than humans in spotting shipwreck victims at sea. Research in pigeons is widespread, encompassing shape and texture perception, exemplar and prototype memory, category-based and associative concepts, and many more unlisted here (see Pigeon intelligence and discrimination abilities of pigeons).


File:Rock pigeons on cliffs.jpg

Feral Rock Pigeons in semi-natural habitat perched on sea cliffs

The Rock Pigeon has a restricted natural resident range in western and southern Europe, North Africa, and into South Asia. Often found in pairs in the breeding season but usually gregarious.[1] Fossil evidence suggests Columba livia originated in southern Asia and skeletal remains unearthed in Israel confirm their existence there for at least three hundred thousand years.[2] 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 Britain, Ireland and much of its former range, the Rock Pigeon probably only occurs pure in the most remote areas. 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.


File:Columba livia.jpg

A feral Rock Pigeon with wild-type plumage characteristics

The Rock Pigeon is 32–37 cm long with a 64–72 cm wingspan. The white lower back of the pure Rock Pigeon is its best identification character, but the two black bars on its pale grey wings are also distinctive. The tail is 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.


Pigeons on the ledges of the recovered bridge of Dakar in the Naval Museum, Haifa.

The head and neck of the mature bird are a darker blue-grey than the back and wings; the lower back is white. The green and lilac or purple patch on the side of the neck is larger than that of the Stock Dove, and the tail is more distinctly banded. These birds come in many different colours, dark grey, light blue/grey, brown, peach, grey and white, pure white and more. 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.


A feral rock pigeon at San Francisco's Embarcadero Station

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.



Courtship display

File:Blue Rock Pigeon I4 IMG 3038.jpg

Feral Pigeons in foreplay in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

The bowing courtship, when the metallic lustre of the neck is fully displayed, often takes place on ledges where Guillemots and Razorbills sit.

The nest is usually on a ledge in a cave; it is a slight structure of grass, heather, or seaweed. Like most pigeons it lays two white eggs. The eggs are incubated by both parents for about 18 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.


Main article: Domestic pigeon
File:Rock dove - natures pics.jpg

Rock Pigeon in flight

Rock Pigeons have been domesticated for several thousand years, giving rise to the domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica). As well as pets, domesticated pigeons are utilised as homing pigeons and carrier pigeons, and so-called war pigeons have served and played important roles during wartimes, with many pigeons having received bravery awards and medals for their services in saving hundreds of human lives.

Feral pigeon

Main article: Feral pigeon

Many domestic birds have escaped or been released over the years, and have given rise to the feral pigeon. These show a variety of plumages, although some look very like the pure Rock Pigeons. The scarcity of the pure wild species is partly due to interbreeding with feral birds.

Spread of disease

Though feral pigeons are often associated with the threat of disease, this is actually a fairly recent idea. Pigeons have been associated with a variety of diseases, including histoplasmosis and cryptococcosis.[3]

In addition, pigeons do not spread West Nile Virus; though they can contract it, they do not appear to be able to transmit it. In fact, they are no longer monitored as an indication of the presence of the virus in the area (as crows still are). Pigeons are also at potential risk for carrying and spreading avian influenza, but have been shown to not carry the deadly H5N1 strain.[4] [5]

Certainly pigeons, like any other wild animal, carry some risk of disease. They are known, in particular, to be susceptible to salmonellosis, tuberculosis, and ornithosis (None of these have been proven to be transmitted from pigeons to humans, however). It is wise, therefore, to use precautions when handling them.

Extreme fear of pigeons is known as peristerophobia.[6]



  1. Gibbs, David; Eustace Barnes, John Cox. Pigeons and Doves: A Guide to the Pigeons and Doves of the World, 624, United Kingdom: Pica Press.
  2. Blechman, Andrew (2007). Pigeons-The fascinating saga of the world's most revered and reviled bird., St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press.
  3. Facts about pigeon-related diseases. (Web article) The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. URL accessed on 2008-01-04.
  4. Turner, Brad Avian flu virus H5N1 and pigeons: the facts.. (Web article) Purebred Pigeon Magazine. URL accessed on 2008-01-01.
  5. Susceptibility of pigeons to avian influenza.. (Web medical article) Pubmed-National Library of Medicine. URL accessed on 2008-01-01.
  6. Why do we hate pigeons so much? - BBC News 23 April 2007

Further reading

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
  • Hill Pigeon (Columba rupestris)
  • Snow Pigeon (Columba leuconota)
  • Columba (genus)

External links

  • BirdLife International (2004). Columba livia. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 08 May 2006.

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