Conservation Status

A third of the 316 existing pigeon and dove species are believed to be Threatened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Many of these species occupy small oceanic islands and have very limited ranges. The passenger pigeon, once found in North America in flocks of millions, was driven to extinction by human hunting.

ROCK PIGEON

Columba livia

SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: Rock pigeons are blue-gray in color, with short tails and long, strong wings.

Geographic range: Rock pigeons are found worldwide.

Habitat: Rock pigeons breed in cliff areas or on human buildings. They occupy diverse areas including deserts and grasslands, as well as urban settings.

Diet: Rock pigeons eat grains and seeds.

Behavior and reproduction: Rock pigeons are strong fliers. They generally begin to roost before the sun goes down and wake at dawn. Rock pigeons do not sleep in trees but use a wide variety of crevices, including spaces under rooftops. Rock pigeons are extremely curious birds who investigate their surroundings carefully.

Courtship in rock pigeons involves both partners using their bills to preen, or smooth, their back feathers. Females may stick their bills in the male's bill during courtship, the way young pigeons do when they feed. Both partners then preen each other's heads and necks. The female lays two eggs at a time. Chicks hatch after seventeen or eighteen days. Young are fed crop milk and, later, seeds. Chicks are able to fly after four to five weeks.

Rock pigeons and people: The rock pigeon has been domesticated, tamed, several times, in several different places, by humans. The first domestication may have occurred as long as 10,000 years ago. Rock pigeons have been trained to carry messages. In urban settings, they may be a health hazard to humans since many pigeons carry disease and parasites such as mites and ticks.

Conservation status: Interbreeding with domesticated rock pigeons that have returned to the wild threatens the species, because their young then carry genes from the domesticated varieties, which are usually bred by humans. ■

Resident Breeding Nonbreeding

American mourning dove (Zenaida macroura)

Resident Breeding Nonbreeding

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