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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Rock Pigeon

Columba livia ORDER: COLUMBIFORMES FAMILY: COLUMBIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A common sight in cities around the world, Rock Pigeons crowd streets and public squares, living on discarded food and offerings of birdseed. In addition to the typical blue-gray bird with two dark wingbars, you'll often see flocks with plain, spotted, pale, or rusty-red birds in them. Introduced to North America from Europe in the early 1600s, city pigeons nest on buildings and window ledges. In the countryside they also nest on barns and grain towers, under bridges, and on natural cliffs.

Learn more about BirdSleuth
Jane Kim Mural

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
11.8–14.2 in
30–36 cm
Wingspan
19.7–26.4 in
50–67 cm
Weight
9.3–13.4 oz
265–380 g
Relative Size
Larger than a Mourning Dove; smaller than a crow.
Other Names
  • Pigeon biset (French)
  • Paloma bravia (Spanish)
  • Rock Dove, Domestic Pigeon (English)

Cool Facts

  • Pigeons can find their way home, even if released from a distant location blindfolded. They can navigate by sensing the earth’s magnetic fields, and perhaps also by using sound and smell. They can also use cues based on the position of the sun.
  • Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets and Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that pigeons were domesticated more than 5,000 years ago. The birds have such a long history with humans that it's impossible to tell where the species' original range was.
  • Rock Pigeons carried messages for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I and II, saving lives and providing vital strategic information.
  • Charles Darwin kept pigeons for many years after returning from his five-year voyage on the Beagle. His observations on the great variety of pigeon breeds, and the huge differences found between captive breeds and wild pigeons, helped him formulate some aspects of his theory of evolution.
  • Pigeons come in many different shades and plumage patterns. People have named some of the common forms, so keep an eye out for these varieties: The typical “blue-bar” form (a bluish-gray bird with two black bands on the wing and a black tip to the tail); a “red bar” version (similarly marked, but with rusty red replacing bluish gray); “checker” (birds that have spots on the wings); “spread” (all black or all gray); “pied” (birds of any color that are splotched with white); and mostly red or mostly white forms.

Habitat


Town

Urban areas, farmland, and rocky cliffs. May gather in large flocks in urban parks where people feed them.

Food


Seeds

Seeds, fruits, rarely invertebrates. Pigeons also readily eat food intentionally or unintentionally left by people, including bread crumbs and littered food.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–3 eggs
Number of Broods
1-6 broods
Incubation Period
18 days
Nestling Period
25–32 days
Egg Description
White.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless, with sparse yellow or white down.
Nest Description

During nest building, the female sits on the nest and makes a flimsy platform of straw, stems, and sticks from materials brought to her one at a time by the male. Pigeons reuse their nests many times, and they don't carry away the feces of their nestlings the way many birds do. This means that over time the lightweight nest grows into a sturdy, potlike mound, sometimes incorporating unhatched eggs and mummies of dead nestlings.

Nest Placement

Building

Males typically choose the nest site, then sit in place and coo to attract a mate. The site is a nook, cranny, or ledge on either cliffs or manmade structures, often beneath eaves or an overhang. Pigeons may nest in stairwells, in rooms of abandoned buildings, or rain gutters.

Rock Pigeon Nest Image 1
© René Corado / WFVZ

Rock Pigeon Nest Image 2
© René Corado / WFVZ

Behavior


Ground Forager

Pigeons peck at food on the ground and drink by placing their bill in water, using it like a straw. When threatening a rival, pigeons may bow and coo, inflating their throat and walking in a circle. A male pigeon courts his mate by bowing, cooing, inflating his throat, and strutting in a circle around the female. The pair may preen one another and the male may grasp the female’s bill, regurgitating food as a courtship gesture. When ready to mate, the female crouches and the males jumps on her back. The male brings one twig or stem at a time to the female to build a nest. He incubates the eggs from mid-morning to late afternoon; she takes her turn in late afternoon and overnight to mid-morning. Both parents brood the young and feed them by regurgitating a milky liquid secreted by the lining of the birds' crops.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Rock Pigeons are abundant and widespread, though there has been a small decline in their population since 1966, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 120 million with 7 percent occurring in the U.S., 2 percent in Canada, and 2 percent in Mexico. They rate a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. Rock Pigeons' adaptability and ability to thrive in urban areas has allowed them to disperse into and colonize almost every area of the globe.

Credits

Range Map Help

Rock Pigeon Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident

Backyard Tips

Pigeons are attracted to open areas where they can find food on the ground. However, seed on the ground can attract rodents, so it’s best to provide only as much food as the pigeons can eat during their visit, or offer grain such as dried corn, peas, or sorghum on a platform feeder. In areas where pigeons are considered pests, some cities have ordinances against feeding pigeons.

Find This Bird

Look for Rock Pigeons in urban parks and neighborhoods, around farms, under highway or railroad bridges, and around tall rocky cliffs.

Get Involved

Pigeons can give students a whole new way to look at the world. Read the article "Pigeons Can Make a Difference."

Rock Pigeons are a focal bird species for the Celebrate Urban Birds! project. Conduct a 10-minute count and record whether or not you see pigeons.

You Might Also Like

Bird of Paradox — Rock Pigeons May Be More Helpful Than We Realize

Rock Pigeon: Noble in its proper place (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center)

Darwin's Other Birds: Common domestic pigeons may well have provided the main inspiration for Charles Darwin. Read the article at Living Bird magazine

Pigeon Color Morphs poster

A Tale of Three Superdoves, Living Bird, Spring 2014

All About Birds blog, Not Just Sparrows and Pigeons: Cities Harbor 20 Percent of World’s Bird Species, April 29, 2014.