Guide to Britain’s Pigeons and Doves: Species and How to Identify Them

There are five species of pigeons and doves found in the British countryside. Three of them are common – the wood pigeon, the collared dove and the stock dove – and two are extremely rare – the wood dove and the rock pigeon.

There are no major differences between these five species, which all share many of the same characteristics. Their head is small, their beak thin and their body round. They have short, scaly legs and are well known for their cooing calls.

What species of pigeon lives in the city?

Pigeons are one of the most common bird species in our cities and towns. These “wild” pigeons descend from domestic pigeons. which were originally bred from wild rock pigeons – and now rare.

What family do doves and pigeons belong to?

Pigeons and doves belong to the Columbidae family of birds. There are 344 species of Columbidae in the world, divided into 50 genera. Five of these species reside in the UK.

What do doves and pigeons eat?

Doves and pigeons feed mainly on fruits, berries, seeds and plants. They can also eat insects and spiders.


Types of pigeons and doves in the UK

dove

Summer is the time to listen to sweetness purr dove / Credit: CreativeNature_nl, Getty

Our smallest dove with gorgeous tortoiseshell feathers on her back and wings. Purring is a delight. A migrant, it arrives on farmland in late spring, but Britain’s population has fallen by 95% since 1970.

Learn more about doves.


collared dove

bird on branch

Collared Doves are usually seen singly or in pairs / Credit: Mike Lane, Getty

A small dove of farms, parks, gardens and woodland, it was first recorded in the UK in the 1950s but is now very common. Pale gray, pinkish, with a black neck band; its call sounds like “un-i-ted, un-i-ted”.

Learn more about collared doves.


wood pigeon

bird on branch

According to the RSPB, there are 5,400,000 breeding pairs of wood pigeon in the UK/Credit: Robert Bannister, Alamy

Our largest pigeon with a purple breast, white nape and white wing spots that help identify the bird in flight. Very common in gardens, parks, woods and farmland. The call was described as “take two Taffy cows”.

Learn more about wood pigeons.


rock dove

bird on rock

The rock pigeon is the rare and wild ancestor of the common “wild” city pigeon/Credit: Liam Bunce, Alamy

The wild ancestor of the domestic pigeons and therefore of the “city pigeon”. Pure rock pigeons are rare, and in the British Isles they are now found only on the north and west coasts of Scotland and Ireland where they nest on cliffs.

Learn more about rock pigeons.


Dove

bird on branch

Doves weigh between 290 and 330 g/Credit: Steve Round,

A bird of woodland farmland with plumage similar to the wild Rock Dove but with a jet black eye. The wood pigeon’s white feathers are missing. Has a delightful, insistent brooding call. The numbers have dropped recently.

Learn more about doves.

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