Bird words: Rock of pigeons. here’s why

For better or for worse, many species have chosen humans. Dogs, cats, backyard and feedlot animals, plants that nourish and house us, many bacteria that make us their home, and of course many viruses too, thrive or fail at our disposal.

Among birds, rock pigeons have been closely associated with us for around 5,000 years.

Living with people for so long has changed their species. These birds, colloquially known as ‘city pigeons’, have extended their range from the Mediterranean to temperate regions around the world, following the proliferation of granaries that concentrate the grains they eat and ledges. architectural features that mimic the rocky cliffs where they have historically perched and nestled. .

Human reaction to them has varied. Birds are sometimes vilified for having soiled venerated monuments, sometimes loved for the same action. They are both denigrated as “winged rats” and honored as beauties who invite our kindness.

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When we take the time to observe them, the beauty of their smooth, rainbow iridescence is evident. Living in and out of domestication for five millennia, they have been bred in many colors: rusty browns, ivory whites, sooty blacks, and endless mixtures of these hues. Some variations of the historic wild form seem to be the most prevalent: an orange eye in a slate-colored head that blends into a lustrous green neck, lavender shoulders, pale ashy wings with two black bars, perhaps a white rump, and a dark tail tilted towards black. For an attentive spectator, their well-lit feet stand out like their eyes: pink, sometimes strikingly bright.

Certain strains of domestic rock pigeon, notably the carrier pigeon and the carrier pigeon, have been bred for specialized uses. Rock pigeons navigate efficiently by sensing the earth’s magnetic field and noting the position of the sun. With these feats of navigation, these birds were bred in the service of the pigeon sport.

For this same skill, they were forced into military service. Small pigeons are usually referred to as doves, symbols of peace, so turning rock pigeons into tools of war is a curious case of turning plowshares into swords. Julius Caesar used them to convey military messages, a practice that continued during World War II.

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Birds were also trained as suicide missile guidance systems. Climbing into the missile, they pecked their target through a window; the location of their pecks would guide the missile towards the target.

Rock pigeons are prolific breeders. Males choose a nesting site on a ledge and coo to seduce a female there. A male then delivers twigs to the female, which she arranges in a fragile nest. She lays one to three eggs. Like other pigeons, both parents feed the young “pigeon’s milk”, a secretion rich in protein and fat from their cultures. The young grow up so fast on this rate that the pair can repeat the nesting process up to six times a year if the food, water and safety conditions are good.

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Despite their fertility, abundance and wide range, rock pigeons have not avoided the worldwide decline of living things. Their North American population has declined by about half over the past 55 years.

Go to for local birding programs and a calendar of activities open to the public.

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