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Overview

Brief Summary

Taxonomy

There is clear distinction between wild rock pigeons, domestic pigeons and feral pigeons.Some people speak of ferals as “free-flying domestics”, but we have seen that feral pigeons have developed themselves as being independent of human interference. However, you will see feral pigeons often referred to as Columba livia domestica, though this is a combination that is, nomenclaturally, wholly unrecognised. This is because the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature pertains only to “natural” biological, and not to those created by human selection. For Feral pigeons it is not suitable anyway, because they are not created by human selection. Some authors employ the convention of the variety (C. livia var. domestica), which is not a formal category in zoological nomenclature either. And the same for form or forma; C. livia f. domestica is invalid according to the rules of the Code.Knowing all of this, how to refer to feral pigeons then? To begin with, since feral pigeons are not domestic pigeons, they should not be called domestic pigeons. Not vernacularly or otherwise. If someone will someday propose to call them “C. livia ferina” or “C. livia urbana”, that are names to avoided as well, because feral pigeons have multiple origins. The only valid scientific name for feral pigeons is Columba livia, after there original ancestor. And the preferred vernacular name is feral pigeon.

Other common names
  • Common pigeon
  • Town pigeon
  • City pigeon
  • Street pigeon
  • Park pigeon
  • Field pigeon
  • Urban pigeon


Some history
In the 10th edition of his Systema Naturea, Linnaeus described his ‘blue pigeon’ after Aldrovandi’s Oenas s. Vinago. According to Linnaeus the species was bluish-grey with a glossy green neck and a black bar on his tail and wings. (“caerulescens, collo supra viridi-nitente, fascia alarum apiceque caudae nigricante”). He named this pigeon Columba oenas, and that was quite a good description of the stock dove indeed.However, Linnaeus did not mean the stock dove specific. He meant all pigeons, wild and tame, what in his opinion meet this description. So both the stock dove and the rock pigeon and all tame pigeons with a comparable plumage colour. According to him it was all the same species. However, within the species oenas Linnaeus distinguished specifically the so called tame pigeons or dovecote pigeons. This variety he called Columba domestica. Besides their colour these pigeons didn’t differ at all from the ‘wild form’.Next Linnaeus described a few domesticated breeds as if they where original forms (species). Because he mentioned them apart from his oenas and domestica it is obvious that he didn’t know these pigeons actually were domesticated forms. Also in the 12th edition of his Systema Naturea he still didn’t know and among others he mentioned as being original species the following pigeons:
  • Columba hispanica (runt)
  • Columba cucullata (Jacobin)
  • Columba turbita (Turbit)
  • Columba laticauda (Fantail)
  • Columba gyratrix (Tumbler)
  • Columba turcica (Indian)
  • Columba tabellaria (Carrier)
  • Columba hispida (silky feathered pigeon)
  • Columba gutturosa (Pouter)
Between 1788 and 1793 Gmelin’s revision of Linnaeus’ 13th edition was published. In Tom I.2 (1789) Gmelin mentioned Columba oenas as well but he did mean the Stock dove only. And he also described Columba domestica, but now separated from oenas.According to Gmelin this ‘Common Pigeon’ is ash-grey with a white rump and a black bar on the tail and wings (“cinerea, uropygio albo, alurum fascia, caudaeque apice nigricante”). Just like Linnaeus Gmelin described next a few related, but distinguishable forms of which we know nowadays it are domesticated breeds. It’s remarkable that he discerned these forms (20 in total) as varieties of Columba domestica. This may indicate that Gmelin knew that all those pigeons derived from each other. But at least he knew they had nothing to do with the stock dove.The first variety within domestica he started with is Columba livia. Most important difference between domestica and livia, according to Gmelin, is the double bar on the wings (“alarum fascia duplici”). Who originated from who was still not yet completely clear. However, by this Gmelin was the first who had scientifically named the rock pigeon. If he really meant the wild rock pigeon, or tame pigeons with the same colour, is not clear but that does not matter. In those days tame pigeons were often kept in a semi wild state so that it was not easy to tell the difference and they are the same species anyway.
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Introduction

Columba livia is the pigeon. There are 3 types of pigeon:
  • rock pigeons (natural)
  • domestic pigeons (artificial)
  • feral pigeons (outlaws)
The feral pigeons, found in our towns and cities, stemmed almost entirely from the old-time dovecote pigeons. These dovecote pigeons were semi-domesticated birds that originally derived from wild rock pigeons (Columba livia).The feral pigeons are often ignored by ornithologists. Perhaps because:
  • they are not native wild birds
  • the result of man’s interference with nature
Feral pigeons live in an artificial environment, like the townspeople who feed them, but they are not pariahs.Feral pigeons have lived in our towns for so long now that it is hard to say they are not native. Their original ancestor, the rock pigeon, is a native wild bird - this makes the feral pigeon a fully-fledged species as well, which does not deserve to be ignored or hated.
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Comprehensive Description

Description

Feral pigeons must be familiar to almost everyone. Typically they are similar to wild rock pigeons in general shape but often have proportionally narrower bodies, longer tails, broader bills and larger ceres. They differ in colour from the blue rock pigeons. Chequer is still the commonest colour in feral pigeons, though the original blue is probably second common.
  • Blue is the natural colour of the rock dove.
  • General plumage is blue-grey, usually pale blue-grey on wings.
  • Two conspicuous black bars across the wing, and a broad black bar at the end of the tail.
  • Rump usually white ore pale grey, but often same grey as rest of plumage.
  • Neck and upper breast iridescent green and purple.
  • Blue chequer is as in blue, but the wing bars are wider and the rest of the wing feathers with black markings, giving a spotted effect.
  • Much variation from lightly spotted birds to dark blue chequers in which the closed wing appears black and the rest of the plumage is also darker. But even in the darkest chequer the tail colour is always blue with the black bar visible at the end. This distinguishes dark chequers from real black (spread) pigeons in which the rump and tail is also solid black.
Other colours like red, black, grizzle, pied and white also often occur, but the ratio of colours differs in each population (town).
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Distribution

Geographic Range

Wild rock doves are native to Europe, North Africa, and southwestern Asia. Rock doves are found worldwide, including throughout all of North America. It should be noted that occurrence within this range is not evenly distributed (see habitat).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Introduced ); ethiopian (Introduced ); neotropical (Introduced ); australian (Introduced )

Other Geographic Terms: cosmopolitan

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Geographic Range

Wild Columba livia are native to Europe, North Africa, and southwestern Asia. Feral pigeons are found worldwide, including throughout all of North America. It should be noted that occurrence within this range is not evenly distributed (see habitat).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Introduced ); ethiopian (Introduced , Native ); neotropical (Introduced ); australian (Introduced ); oceanic islands (Introduced )

Other Geographic Terms: cosmopolitan

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: Native to Eurasia. Introduced and established throughout most of world.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Rock doves typically have a dark bluish-gray head, neck, and chest with glossy yellowish, greenish, and reddish-purple iridesence along their neck and wing feathers. Females tend to show less iridesence than the males and males tend to be slightly larger than females. The bill is dark grayish-pink. Two dark bands across the wings are seen in most pigeons, and one bluish-gray band across the tail. Feral rock doves are highly variable in color and pattern, though, ranging from white to black and mottled pattern to uniform patterns. Adult rock doves have reddish-orange eyes, juveniles less than 6-8 months old have medium brown or greyish eyes.

Average mass: 350.0 g.

Average length: 32.0 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; male more colorful

Average mass: 358.7 g.

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Physical Description

The rock dove has a dark bluish-gray head, neck, and chest with glossy yellowish, greenish, and reddish-purple iridescence along its neck and wing feathers. Females tend to show less iridescence than the males. The bill is dark grayish-pink. Two dark bands across the wings are seen in most pigeons, and one bluish-gray band across the tail. Rock doves and feral pigeons can be divided into a large number of different phenotypes, or groups based on outward characteristics. Some of these classifications are the blue-bar, blue checker, dark checker, spread, and red phenotypes.

Average mass: 358.7 g.

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Size

Length: 32 cm

Weight: 542 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Wild rock doves nest in crevices along rocky seaside cliffs, close to agriculture or open shrub vegetation. Feral pigeons live in old farm buildings in rural areas. In cities, the skyscrapers and other buildings tend to take the place of their natural cliff surroundings. They need high, inaccessible places like cliffs or tall buildings for their nests to protect their young from predators. Rock doves are not aggressive birds and cannot generally drive away predators from their nests.

Rock doves can survive in exposed areas quite well and seem to do well with extremes of heat and cold. They will huddle in groups during cold weather to stay warmer or seek refuge in covered or sheltered areas.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

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Wild rock doves nest in crevices along rocky seaside cliffs, close to agriculture or open shrub vegetation. Feral pigeons live in old farm buildings in rural areas. In cities, the skyscrapers tend to take the place of their natural cliff surroundings.

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest

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Depth range based on 94 specimens in 2 taxa.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 19 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 9.557 - 12.471
  Nitrate (umol/L): 1.402 - 12.829
  Salinity (PPS): 32.748 - 35.245
  Oxygen (ml/l): 6.137 - 6.590
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.306 - 0.734
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.987 - 8.436

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 9.557 - 12.471

Nitrate (umol/L): 1.402 - 12.829

Salinity (PPS): 32.748 - 35.245

Oxygen (ml/l): 6.137 - 6.590

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.306 - 0.734

Silicate (umol/l): 0.987 - 8.436
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Comments: In wild state along rocky seacoasts or inland in gorges, river valleys, caves, and desert oases. Feral birds occasionally in natural habitats, more abundantly near human settlement, especially in cities and around farms. Nests in cliff ledges, caves, building ledges, bridge structures, monuments, abandoned houses and barns, and in palm trees (e.g., West Indies).

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Rock doves feed in the early morning and in the mid-afternoon on the open ground. They eat mainly seeds. Studies of pigeons in a semi-rural part of Kansas found that their diet includes the following: 92% corn, 3.2% oats, 3.7% cherry, along with small amounts of knotweed, elm, poison ivy, and barley. In cities, rock doves are often fed popcorn, cake, peanuts, bread, and currants, though they will eat almost anything that they can find. Rock doves, and all other members of their family, the Columbidae, suck water through their beaks like straws. This is unusual among birds that mostly have to take a sip of water and lift their beak to the sky to allow the water to fall into their throat. Female rock doves need to eat a diet somewhat higher in protein and calcium in order to have the nutritional resources to lay eggs.

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

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Food Habits

Rock doves feed in the early morning and in the mid-afternoon on the open ground. They eat mainly seeds. Studies of pigeons in a semi-rural part of Kansas found that their diet includes the following: 92% corn, 3.2% oats, 3.7% cherry, along with small amounts of knotweed, elm, poison ivy, and barley. In cities, feral pigeons also eat popcorn, cake, peanuts, bread, and currants. Female rock doves need to eat a diet somewhat higher in protein and calcium in order to have the nutritional resources to lay eggs.

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Comments: Eats mainly seeds; also bits of vegetation and refuse.

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Behaviour feeding

Feral pigeons live independently of but usually close to humans, their buildings, and agriculture products. Their long history could well have produced birds that are more independent of humans than ferals seem to be. And it is worth noting that even wholly wild Rock pigeons today take advantage of humans as resources for food, as in agriculture fields.In some towns all or part of the pigeon population may fly out into the surrounding country to feed, returning to roost and nest on the buildings. The same individuals may feed both inside the town and in the surrounding fields. Feral pigeons living in large towns often feed inside the town itself. Some natural food is obtained from exposed earth or grass plots in parks and gardens but the greater part consist of bread or other artificial food which is found by them in the streets.Feral pigeons show a strong tendency to roost in company. In a town where pigeons are abundant any good roosting site, such as a high wind-sheltered and overhung ledge, which is large enough, is almost sure to be a communal roost. On the other hand pairs and individuals that have discovered a good roosting site where there is only room for one or two, often use it throughout the year.Much time is spent idling, preening or sun-bathing in company, especially in the early morning on sunny but cold days. The sites chosen for this are, if available, wind-sheltered edges which catch the morning sun and are backed by a wall or cliff-face which forms a ‘sun-trap’.
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Associations

Predation

Rock doves form large groups, called flocks. By associating with other rock doves they decrease their likelihood of being taken by a predator, there are many more eyes watching for predatory animals and each individual rock dove is less likely to be targeted.

Known Predators:

  • Falconidae
  • Falco peregrinus
  • Falco sparverius
  • other Falconidae 
  • Accipitridae
  • Felis silvestris
  • humans
  • Didelphis virginiana
  • Procyon lotor
  • Bubo virginianus
  • Aquila chrysaetos

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In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / dung associate
Cryptococcus yeast anamorph of Filobasidiella neoformans inhabits dung of Columba livia

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Predation

Some common predators of feral pigeons in the North America are opossums (Didelphis virginiana), raccoons (Procyon lotor), great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), and eastern screech-owls (Otus asio). Other predators include the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), American kestrels (Falco sparverius), and peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus).

Known Predators:

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General Ecology

Distribution ecology

Distribution and habitat
Feral pigeons are cosmopolitan and they own there presence mainly to introduction by man. They are found in the tropics and north of the Arctic Circle as well as in temperate regions.In some areas inhabits caves and cliffs and feeds in open country like the wild rock pigeon. Also breeds and roosts in old buildings, barns, on ledges under bridges and similar places in open agricultural country. Most abundant, however, in towns, especially in the central areas of large cities. Here the sites chosen for roosting and nesting are the nearest edificarian equivalents to the caves, holes and sheltered cliff edges used by wild Rock pigeons.

Nesting
As rock pigeon it prefers sheltered ledges or holes to nest, but the ledges and holes are more often in or on buildings than cliffs.In Europe may nest at all time of the year if food is available. Most pairs, however, stops breeding with the onset of the main stage of the moult in late August or September. Some start breeding again as soon as the moult is finished in October or November. Others do not lay again until late winter or early spring.A clutch contains two white eggs. Incubation period is 17 days. The youngsters fledge in about 4 weeks and will be fed for one or two more weeks by the male mainly.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Rock doves makes lots of soft coo-ing noises while in flocks, perhaps as a way of staying in contact with other pigeons. Males make a 'coo roo-c'too oo' sound to attract mates and defend their nesting territory. When startled they make an alarm call that sounds like 'oorhh!' Nestlings make sounds by snapping their bills and hissing. Pigeons have excellent vision, they can see in color and can also see ultraviolet light (humans can't). They are sometimes used in human search and rescue missions because of their excellent vision. Rock doves also have the ability to detect the earth's magnetic fields. This, along with their ability to tell direction by the sun's movements, allows them to find their homes. People have used this ability, homing pigeons were once very important ways for people to send messages and news to places far away.

Communication Channels: acoustic

Perception Channels: magnetic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Rock doves can live up to 15 years in the wild, though many probably live for less than that.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
15 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
35.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
6.0 years.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
35.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
6.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 35 years (captivity) Observations: One captive specimen reportedly lived to the age of 35 (http://www.demogr.mpg.de/longevityrecords).
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Reproduction

Male and female rock doves mate for life.

Mating System: monogamous

Rock doves breed throughout the warm season. They lay usually two eggs in a rough nest made of sticks and debris. The eggs are incubated for 16 to 19 days and the young are fully fledged (have their feathers) and learning to fly by 30 to 37 days after hatching.

Breeding interval: Rock doves can breed every few months.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs throughout the warm part of the year.

Average eggs per season: 2.0.

Average time to hatching: 19.0 days.

Range time to independence: 30 to 37 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.

Key Reproductive Features: year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization (Internal )

Average time to hatching: 18 days.

Average eggs per season: 2.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
140 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
140 days.

Both males and females incubate the eggs, often females incubate during the day and males at night. Eggs hatch approximately 19 days after being laid. Males and females produce a substance from their crop called 'pigeon milk' or 'crop milk' which they feed to their hatchlings during the first week of life. After the first week the young are fed regurgitated seeds and other foods along with the pigeon milk.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

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Pairs may be formed at any point during the year. These pairs are formed for life. Each bird works cooperatively on most aspects of reproduction and young-rearing. The male builds the nest, and the eggs are laid shortly after the nest is finished. Both males and females incubate the eggs. Eggs hatch approximately 19 days after being laid.

Average time to hatching: 19 days.

Average time to hatching: 18 days.

Average eggs per season: 2.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
140 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
140 days.

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Clutch size usually 2. Incubation 17-19 days, by both sexes. Young tended by both parents, first fly at about 5 weeks. Up to several broods per year. See Johnston and Johnson (1990).

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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Keratin produces iridescence: rock pigeon
 

Feather barbules of the rock pigeon produce iridescence by light interference in the keratin layer.

   
  "We found that both green and purple barbules are composed of an outer keratin cortex layer surrounding a medullary layer. The thickness of the keratin cortex layer shows a distinct difference between green and purple barbules. Green barbules vary colors from green to purple with the observing angle changed from normal to oblique, while purple barbules from purple to green in an opposite way. Both the experimental and theoretical results suggest that structural colors in green and purple neck feathers should originate from the interference in the top keratin cortex layer, while the structure beyond acts as a poor mirror." (Yin et al. 2006:1)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Yin H; Shi L; Sha J; Li Y; Qin Y; Dong B; Meyer S; Liu X; Zhao L. 2006. Iridescence in the neck feathers of domestic pigeons. Physical Review E. 74(5): 1-6.
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Functional adaptation

Navigating without landmarks: rock pigeon
 

Homing pigeons navigate without the Sun or other landmarks as guides because they use magnetosensitivity to detect their location.

     
  "The most magnetosensitive creatures may be birds -- and none more so than homing pigeons. Even if deprived of familiar landmarks and sunlight, so that they cannot use the Sun to help them find their way, the pigeons can still return -- if their magnetic sense is not tampered withAs yet, no avian magnetoreceptor has been conclusively identified. However, a small but mysterious black-colored structure containing magnetite and nerve fibers is located between the brain's dura mater (outer membrane) and the skull of pigeons and various migratory passerines. Magnetite packets are also found in the necks of these birds." (Shuker 2001:45-46)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
  • Wiltschko, W; Freire, R; Munro, U; Ritz, T; Rogers, L; Thalau, P; Wiltschko, R. 2007. The magnetic compass of domestic chickens, Gallus gallus. Journal of Experimental Biology. 210: 2300-2310.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Columba livia

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 22
Specimens with Barcodes: 39
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Barcode data: Columba livia

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 14 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

AATCGATGATTATTCTCTACTAACCACAAAGACATCGGCACCCTATACCTAATCTTCGGCGCATGGGCCGGCATAGTTGGCACCGCACTT---AGCCTCCTCATCCGAGCAGAACTGGGACAACCCGGTACCCTCCTAGGAGAT---GACCAGATCTATAATGTAATCGTCACAGCTCATGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTTATAGTTATACCAATCATAATTGGGGGCTTTGGAAACTGATTAGTTCCCCTCATA---ATTGGTGCCCCCGACATAGCATTCCCCCGGATGAACAACATAAGCTTCTGGCTCCTACCCCCATCCTTCCTTCTACTTCTAGCCTCCTCCACAGTCGAAGCTGGTGCAGGAACAGGATGAACCGTCTACCCTCCCCTAGCTGGCAACCTAGCTCACGCCGGAGCCTCTGTAGACCTT---GCCATCTTCTCCCTTCACCTTGCTGGTATCTCCTCTATTCTAGGGGCCATCAACTTCATCACAACTGCCATTAACATAAAACCCCCAGCCCTCTCACAATACCAAACCCCACTATTCGTCTGATCAGTCCTCATCACTGCCGTCCTCCTTTTACTATCCCTCCCAGTACTTGCCGCC---GGCATCACAATACTGCTCACAGACCGAAACCTAAACACTACCTTCTTTGATCCTGCTGGTGGAGGGGACCCAGTACTATACCAACATCTCTTCTGATTCTTTGGTCATCCTGAAGTCTATATCCTAATTTTACCAGGATTCGGGATTATCTCCCACGTAGTGGCCTACTACGCAGGTAAAAAA---GAACCCTTCGGCTACATAGGCATAGTATGAGCCATGCTATCTATTGGCTTCCTAGGCTTTATCGTTTGAGCTCACCATATATTTACAGTAGGCATGGACGTAGACACCCGAGCATACTTCACATCAGCCACTATAATCATTGCCATCCCAACGGGCATTAAAGTCTTCAGCTGACTA---GCCACTCTCCATGGCG
-- end --

Download FASTA File
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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Since rock doves are often fed by well-meaning city dwellers, and because they are so good at living in and near humans, their numbers are high.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

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Since pigeons are often fed by well-meaning city dwellers, their numbers are high. Wild rock doves also have no special status.

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Status in Egypt

Resident breeder.

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Population

Population
The global population is estimated to number c.260,000,000 individuals (Rich et al. 2004), while the population in China has been estimated at < c.100 breeding pairs (possibly introduced) (Brazil 2009).

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Rock doves can be crop pests and spread diseases, such as histoplasmosis, in their droppings.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Rock doves are eaten as a game bird by humans and used for laboratory research. They have also been very important in research on bird navigation and behavior. Rock doves have been used as carrier pigeons for hundreds of years and have been very important historically.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; research and education

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

A large number of pigeons living in a small area can be a nuisance to farmers. Some diseases (e.g., histoplasmosis) may be spread in pigeon droppings.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Eaten by humans and used for laboratory research.

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Economic Uses

Comments: Has been used to monitor air pollution (Tansey and Roth 1970).

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Wikipedia

Feral Pigeon

Feral pigeons (Columba livia), also called city doves, city pigeons, or street pigeons, are derived from domestic pigeons that have returned to the wild.[1] The domestic pigeon was originally bred from the wild Rock Dove, which naturally inhabits sea-cliffs and mountains.[2] Rock (i.e., 'wild'), domestic, and feral pigeons are all the same species and will readily interbreed. Feral pigeons find the ledges of buildings to be a substitute for sea cliffs, have become adapted to urban life, and are abundant in towns and cities throughout much of the world.[3]

Breeding[edit]

Courtship[edit]

Courting pigeons in Kolkata

As with domesticated populations, feral pigeons mate for life. Their courtship rituals can be observed in urban parks at any time of the year. The male on the ground or rooftops puffs up the feathers on the neck to appear larger and thereby impress or attract attention. He approaches the hen at a rapid walking pace while emitting repetitive quiet notes, often bowing and turning as he comes closer.

At first the female invariably walks or flies a short distance away and the male follows her until she stops. At this point he will continue the bowing motion and very often make full- or half-pirouettes in front of the female. The male will then proceed to feed the female by regurgitating food, as they do when feeding the young.

The male then mounts the female, rearing backwards to be able to join their cloacas. The mating is very brief with the male flapping his wings to maintain balance on top of the female.

Nesting[edit]

Nests are rudimentary, similar to other ground or cliff nesting birds such as turkey, quail, and ducks. Abandoned buildings are favorite nesting areas. Mass nesting is common as pigeons are a community flocking bird; often dozens of birds will share a building. Loose tiles and broken windows provide access, and pigeons are adept at spotting new access points, for example following property damage caused by strong winds.

Nests and droppings tend to stay clustered and remain dry when out of the weather. Pigeons are particularly fond of roof spaces. These often contain water tanks. Any water tank or cistern on a roof must therefore be secured and sealed off to keep the pigeons out of them. The popularity of a nesting area does not seem to be affected by the pigeons' population density.

Pigeon squab in nest

On undamaged property, the gutters, window air conditioners and empty air conditioner containers, chimney pots and external ledges are used as nesting sites. Many building owners try to limit roosting by using bird control spikes and netting to cover ledges and potential nesting places on buildings. This has little effect on the size of the pigeon population, but it can reduce the accumulation of droppings on and around a particular building location.

In the UK, only the larger and more wary Common Wood Pigeon, which often shares the same territory and food supply, will build nests in trees, usually close to roads.

Cooing[edit]

In Wendell Levi's The Pigeon, he describes the crowing/cooing of pigeons as mostly being associated with strutting and fighting in male birds.[2] Hens will also coo, but this is noticeably less guttural than the cooing of the cock. Cooing is also more frequent between couples during mating and nesting.

Both parents participate in the incubation of the eggs.

Food[edit]

Perched in Central Park

Pigeons breed when the food supply is abundant enough to support embryonic egg development, which in cities can be any time of the year. Laying of eggs can take place up to six times per year.

Pigeons mate for life, and are often found in pairs during the breeding season, but usually the pigeons are gregarious preferring to exist in flocks of from 50 to 500 birds (dependent on the food supply).[4]

Video showing a pigeon eating seeds

Feral pigeons can be seen eating grass seeds and berries in parks and gardens in the spring, but there are plentiful sources throughout the year from scavenging (e.g., remnants left inside of dropped fast-food cartons) and they will also take insects and spiders. Additional food is also usually available from the disposing of stale bread in parks by restaurants and supermarkets and from tourists buying and distributing birdseed, etc. Pigeons tend to congregate in large, often thick flocks when feeding on discarded food, and have been observed flying skillfully around trees, buildings, telephone poles and cables, and even through moving traffic just to reach a food source.

Cities famous for pigeons[edit]

London's Trafalgar Square

Many city squares are famous for their large pigeon populations, for example, the Piazza San Marco in Venice, and Trafalgar Square in London. For many years, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square were considered a tourist attraction, with street vendors selling packets of seeds for visitors to feed the pigeons. The feeding of the Trafalgar Square pigeons was controversially banned[5] in 2003 by London mayor Ken Livingstone. However, activist groups such as Save the Trafalgar Square Pigeons flouted the ban, feeding the pigeons from an area south of Nelson's Column in which the ban does not apply. The organisation has since come to an agreement to feed the pigeons only once a day, at 7:30 a.m.[6]

Killing or injuring pigeons[edit]

Under UK jurisdiction, anyone who injures or kills a pigeon will be dealt with according to the Wildlife Act and Countryside 1981 to injure, kill, or destroy nest.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the maximum penalty that can be imposed for an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act—in respect of a single bird, nest, or egg—is a fine of up to £5000, and/or six months' imprisonment.

Population control[edit]

Many places where pigeons could land are covered with spikes

Feral pigeons often only have small populations within cities. For example, the breeding population of feral pigeons in Sheffield, England, has been estimated at only 12,130 individuals.[7] Despite this, feral pigeons usually reach their highest densities in the central portions of cities, so they are frequently encountered by people, which leads to conflict.

Large pigeon trap/coop/loft at Batman Park, Melbourne. Designed specifically to encourage nesting and allow removal of fertilised eggs to prevent population growth, it is a landmark in its own right.
One of the difficulties of controlling pigeon populations is the common practice of feeding them, as here in New York

Feral pigeons are often considered a pest or even vermin, owing to concerns that they spread disease[8] and are much maligned in the media for transmitting bird flu, but it has been shown pigeons do not carry the deadly H5N1 strain. It is rare that a pigeon will transmit a disease to humans due to their immune system. Three studies have been done since the late 1990s by the US Agriculture Department's Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Georgia, according to the center's director, David Swayne. The lab has been working on bird flu since the 1970s.

In one experiment, researchers squirted into pigeons' mouths liquid drops that contained the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus from a Hong Kong sample. The birds got 100 to 1,000 times the concentration that wild birds would encounter in nature. "We couldn't infect the pigeons," Swayne said. "So that's good news."[9][10]

The bacteria Chlamydophila psittaci is endemic among pigeons[citation needed] and causes Psittacosis in humans. It is transmitted both from handling pigeons but mostly from their droppings. Psittacosis is a serious disease but rarely fatal (less than 1%). Pigeons are also important vectors for different species of the bacteria Salmonella[citation needed] which causes diseases as Salmonellosis and Paratyphoid fever.

There is ample reason for the concerns of pigeons damaging property, due to their size and proximity to people and their dwellings. Pigeons often cause significant pollution with their droppings, though there is little evidence of them driving out other bird species. Pigeons are labeled an invasive species in North America by the USDA.[11]

Long-term reduction of feral pigeon populations can be achieved by restricting food supply, which in turn involves legislation and litter (garbage) control. Some cities have deliberately established favorable nesting places for pigeons—nesting places that can easily be reached by city workers who regularly remove eggs, thereby limiting their reproductive success.[12] In addition, pigeon populations may be reduced by bird control systems that successfully reduce nesting sites.

Peregrine Falcons and other urban predators[edit]

Peregrine Falcons, which are also originally cliff dwellers, have also adapted to the skyscrapers of large cities and often feeding exclusively on Rock Pigeons.[13] Some cities actively encourage this through falcon breeding programs. Projects include Unibase Falcon Project and the Victorian Peregrine Project.

Larger birds of prey occasionally take advantage of this population as well. In New York City, the abundance of pigeons (and other small animals) has created such a conducive environment for predators that the Red-Tailed Hawk has begun to return in very small numbers, the most famous of which is Pale Male.

In Wrexham, Wales, a pair of peregrine falcons has nested since 2002,[14] first on top of St Giles Church and for the last four years on top of Wrexham police station next to the swimming baths.[15]

Poison[edit]

Due to their non-selective nature, most avian poisons have been banned. In the United States market only 4-aminopyridine (Avitrol) and DRC-1339 remained registered by EPA. DRC-1339 is limited to USDA use only while 4-AP is a restricted use pesticide, for use only by licensed applicators.

The use of poisons has been proven to be fairly ineffective, however, as pigeons can breed very quickly—up to six times a year—and their numbers are determined by how much food is available; that is, they breed more often when more food is provided to them.

When pigeons are poisoned, surviving birds do not leave the area. On the contrary, they are left with more food per bird than before. This attracts pigeons from outside areas as well as encouraging more breeding, and populations are re-established quickly.[16] An additional problem with poisoning is that it also kills pigeon predators. Due to this, in cities with Peregrine Falcon programs it is typically illegal to poison pigeons.[13]

Reducing food supply[edit]

A more effective tactic to reduce the number of feral pigeons is deprivation.[17] Cities around the world have discovered that not feeding their local birds results in a steady population decrease in only a few years. Pigeons, however, will still pick at garbage bags containing discarded food or at leftovers carelessly dropped on the ground. Feeding of pigeons is banned in parts of Venice, Italy.[18]

Avian contraceptives[edit]

In 1998, in response to conservation groups and the public interest, the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC), a USDA/APHIS laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, started work on nicarbazin, a promising compound for avian contraception. Originally developed for use in resident Canada geese, nicarbazin was introduced for use as a contraceptive for feral pigeons in 2007.

The active ingredient, nicarbazin, interferes with the viability of eggs by binding the ZP-3 sperm receptor site in the egg.[19] This unique contraceptive action is non-hormonal and fully reversible.[20]

Registered by the EPA as a pesticide (EPA Reg. No. 80224-1), "OvoControl P", brand of nicarbazin, is increasingly used in urban areas and industrial sites to control pigeon populations. Declared safe and humane, the new technology is environmentally benign[21] and does not represent a secondary toxicity hazard to raptors or scavengers.[22]

Avian contraception has the support of a range of animal welfare groups including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Dummy egg nesting[edit]

Dummy egg nesting programs have been tested in some cities with mixed results. Nest or coop structures are erected and the eggs are removed and replaced with dummy eggs. The real eggs are then destroyed. Such structures are being used in New York City[citation needed] and also the Melbourne city centre by the Melbourne City Council at Batman Park[23][23][24] The loft used in Melbourne is on stilts, with a cage door allowing access from beneath for accessing structure at night when the pigeons are asleep.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Science & Nature: Animals: Feral Pigeon" (Web article). BBC.CO.UK. Retrieved 2008-01-05. 
  2. ^ a b Levi, Wendell (1977). The Pigeon. Sumter, S.C.: Levi Publishing Co, Inc. ISBN 0-85390-013-2. 
  3. ^ "WHY STUDY PIGEONS? To understand why there are so many colors of feral pigeons." (Web Article). Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  4. ^ Gibbs, David; Eustace Barnes, John Cox. Pigeons and Doves: A Guide to the Pigeons and Doves of the World. United Kingdom: Pica Press. p. 624. ISBN 1-873403-60-7. 
  5. ^ "Feeding Trafalgar's pigeons illegal". BBC News. 2003-11-17. 
  6. ^ "Save the Trafalgar Square Pigeons - Background". Savethepigeons.org. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  7. ^ Fuller RA, Tratalos J, Gaston KJ (2009). "How many birds are there in a city of half a million people?". Diversity and Distributions 15 (2): 328–337. doi:10.1111/j.1472-4642.2008.00537.x. 
  8. ^ "Facts about pigeon-related diseases" (Web article). The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  9. ^ Turner, Brad. "Avian flu virus H5N1 and pigeons: the facts." (Web article). Purebred Pigeon Magazine. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  10. ^ Panigrahy B, Senne DA, Pedersen JC, Shafer AL, Pearson JE (1996). "Susceptibility of pigeons to avian influenza". Avian Dis. (American Association of Avian Pathologists, Inc.) 40 (3): 600–4. doi:10.2307/1592270. JSTOR 1592270. PMID 8883790. 
  11. ^ Paulik, Laurie. "Pigeons" (Web article). AgNIC Wildlife Damage Management. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  12. ^ Blechman, Andrew (2007). Pigeons-The fascinating saga of the world's most revered and reviled bird.. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. ISBN 978-0-7022-3641-9. 
  13. ^ a b Kleinman, Rachel (2007-10-19). "Fastest bird on earth enjoys family time high above city street". The Age (Melbourne). 
  14. ^ "Eyes in the sky". BBC News. 2010-06-16. 
  15. ^ Nick - Web Team (2009-06-24). "Natural selection on the roof of Wrexham police station". North East Wales Weblog:. BBC. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  16. ^ [Andrew] Check |authorlink= value (help) (2007). Pigeons-The fascinating saga of the world's most revered and reviled bird.. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. ISBN 978-0-7022-3641-9. 
  17. ^ Feral Pigeons in Bexley[dead link]
  18. ^ The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia
  19. ^ Reinoso, V., A. MacDonald and G.F. Barbato. Nicarbazin reduces egg production and fertility in White Pekin Ducks. Accepted for publication in Poultry Science.
  20. ^ Avery, M., K. Keacher, and E. Tillman. Nicarbazin bait reduces reproduction by pigeons (Columba livia). 2008. Wildlife Research 35(1) 80-85
  21. ^ EPA Fact Sheet: Nicarbazin http://wayback.archive.org/web/20120625211506/http://www.epa.gov/opprd001/factsheets/nicarbazin.pdf
  22. ^ http://wayback.archive.org/web/20100525063920/http://ovocontrol.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Secondary-Toxicity-of-Nicarbazin-in-Birds.pdf
  23. ^ a b "'Rats with wings': a history of the urban pigeon - Rear Vision - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Abc.net.au. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  24. ^ http://wayback.archive.org/web/20090318005446/http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/opm/bc/CTEE/meetings/CSCaCD_51_20040907.pdf

Books[edit]

  • Levi, Wendell (1977). The Pigeon. Sumter, S.C.: Levi Publishing Co, Inc. ISBN 0-85390-013-2. 
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Rock Dove

The Rock Dove[3] (Columba livia) or Rock Pigeon is a member of the bird family Columbidae (doves and pigeons).[4] In common usage, this bird is often simply referred to as the "pigeon".

The species includes the domestic pigeon (including the fancy pigeon), and escaped domestic pigeons have given rise to feral populations around the world.[5]

Wild Rock Doves are pale grey with two black bars on each wing, although domestic and feral pigeons are very variable in colour and pattern. There are few visible differences between males and females.[6] The species is generally monogamous, with two squeakers (young) per brood. Both parents care for the young for a time.[7]

Habitats include various open and semi-open environments. Cliffs and rock ledges are used for roosting and breeding in the wild. Originally found wild in Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, feral pigeons have become established in cities around the world. The species is abundant, with an estimated population of 17 to 28 million feral and wild birds in Europe.[1]

Taxonomy and naming[edit]

The Rock Dove was first described by Gmelin in 1789.[8] The genus name Columba is the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek κόλυμβος (kolumbos), "a diver", from κολυμβάω (kolumbao), "dive, plunge headlong, swim".[9] Aristophanes (Birds, 304) and others use the word κολυμβίς (kolumbis), "diver", for the name of the bird, because of its swimming motion in the air. The specific epithet is derived from the Latin livor, "bluish".[10] Its closest relative in the Columba genus is the Hill Pigeon, followed by the other rock pigeons: the Snow, Speckled and White-collared Pigeons.[4]

The species is also known as the Rock Pigeon or Blue Rock Dove, the former being the official name from 2004 to 2011, at which point the IOC changed their official listing to its original British name of Rock Dove.[3][11] In common usage, this bird is still often simply referred to as the "pigeon". Baby pigeons are called squabs.[7]

Subspecies[edit]

There are 12 subspecies recognised by Gibbs (2000); some of these may be derived from feral stock.[4]

  • C. l. livia, the nominate subspecies, occurs in western and southern Europe, northern Africa, and Asia to western Kazakhstan, the northern Caucasus, Georgia, Cyprus, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.
  • C. l. atlantis (Bannerman, 1931) of Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde, is a very variable population with chequered upperparts obscuring the black wingbars, and is almost certainly derived from feral pigeons.
  • C. l. canariensis (Bannerman, 1914) of the Canary Islands, is smaller and averages darker than the nominate subspecies.
  • C. l. gymnocyclus (Gray, 1856) from Senegal and Guinea to Ghana, Benin and Nigeria is smaller and very much darker than nominate C. l. livia. It is almost blackish on the head, rump and underparts with a white back and the iridescence of the nape extending onto the head.
  • C. l. targia (Geyr von Schweppenburg, 1916) breeds in the mountains of the Sahara east to Sudan. It is slightly smaller than the nominate form, with similar plumage, but the back is concolorous with the mantle instead of white.
  • C. l. dakhlae (Richard Meinertzhagen, 1928) is confined to the two oases in central Egypt. It is smaller and much paler than the nominate subspecies.
  • C. l. schimperi (Bonaparte, 1854) is found in the Nile Delta south to northern Sudan. It closely resembles C. l. targia, but has a distinctly paler mantle.
  • C. l. palaestinae (Zedlitz, 1912) occurs from Syria to Sinai and Arabia. It is slightly larger than C. l. schimperi and has darker plumage.
  • C. l. gaddi (Zarodney & Looudoni, 1906), breeds from Azerbaijan and Iran east to Uzbekistan is larger and paler than C. l. palaestinae with which it intergrades in the west. It also intergrades with the next subspecies to the east.
  • C. l. neglecta (Hume, 1873), is found in the mountains of eastern Central Asia. It is similar to the nominate subspecies in size, but is darker with a stronger and more extensive iridescent sheen on the neck. It intergrades with the next race in the south.
  • C. l. intermedia (Strickland, 1844) occurs in Sri Lanka and in India south of the Himalayan range of C. l. neglecta. It is similar to that subspecies, but darker with a less contrasting back.
  • C. l. nigricans (Buturlin, 1908) in Mongolia and north China is variable and probably derived from feral stock.

Description[edit]

A distinctive operculum is located on top of the beak

The adult of the nominate subspecies of the Rock Dove is 29 to 37 cm (11 to 15 in) long with a 62 to 72 cm (24 to 28 in) wingspan.[12] Weight for wild or feral Rock Doves ranges from 238–380 g (8.4–13.4 oz), though overfed domestic and semi-domestic individuals can exceed normal weights.[4][6] It has a dark bluish-gray head, neck, and chest with glossy yellowish, greenish, and reddish-purple iridescence along its neck and wing feathers. The iris is orange, red or golden with a paler inner ring, and the bare skin round the eye is bluish-grey. The bill is grey-black with a conspicuous off-white cere, and the feet are purplish-red. Among standard measurements, the wing chord is typically around 22.3 cm (8.8 in), the tail is 9.5 to 11 cm (3.7 to 4.3 in), the bill is around 1.8 cm (0.71 in) and the tarsus is 2.6 to 3.5 cm (1.0 to 1.4 in).[4]

The adult female is almost identical to the male, but the iridescence on the neck is less intense and more restricted to the rear and sides, while that on the breast is often very obscure.[4]

The white lower back of the pure Rock Dove is its best identification character; the two black bars on its pale grey wings are also distinctive. The tail has a black band on the end and the outer web of the tail feathers are 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.[11]

Young birds show little lustre and are duller. Eye colour of the pigeon is generally orange 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.[7]

In flight
Group of doves

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 often not plentiful enough as to be a viewed as pest.[13]

Pigeons feed on the ground in flocks or individually. They roost together in buildings or on walls or statues. When drinking, most birds take small sips and tilt their heads backwards to swallow the water. Pigeons are able to dip their bills into the water and drink continuously without having to tilt their heads back. When disturbed, a pigeon in a group will take off with a noisy clapping sound.[14]

Pigeons, especially homing or carrier breeds, are well known for their ability to find their way home from long distances. Despite these demonstrated abilities, wild Rock Doves are sedentary and rarely leave their local areas.[6]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

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

The Rock Dove has a restricted natural resident range in western and southern Europe, North Africa, and into South Asia. The Rock Dove is often found in pairs in the breeding season but is usually gregarious.[4] The species (including ferals) has a large range, with an estimated global extent of occurrence of 10,000,000 km2 (3,900,000 sq mi). It has a large global population, including an estimated 17–28 million individuals in Europe.[1] Fossil evidence suggests the Rock Dove originated in southern Asia and skeletal remains unearthed in Israel confirm their existence there for at least three hundred thousand years.[5] However, this species has such a long history with humans that it is impossible to tell exactly where the species' original range was.[6] 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. A Rock Pigeon's lifespan is anywhere from 3–5 years in the wild to 15 years in captivity, though longer-lived specimens have been reported.[14] The main causes of mortality in the wild are predators and persecution by humans.[citation needed] The species was first introduced to North America in 1606 at Port Royal, Nova Scotia.[11]

Reproduction[edit]

Courtship display

The Rock Dove breeds at any time of the year, but peak times are spring and summer. Nesting sites are along coastal cliff faces, as well as the artificial cliff faces created by apartment buildings with accessible ledges or roof spaces.[15]

The nest is a flimsy platform of straw and sticks, laid on a ledge, under cover, often on the window ledges of buildings.[6] Two white eggs are laid; incubation is shared by both parents lasting from seventeen to nineteen days.[7] The newly hatched squab (nestling) has pale yellow down and a flesh-coloured bill with a dark band. For the first few days, the baby squab is tended and fed (through regurgitation) exclusively on "crop milk" (also called "pigeon milk" or "pigeon's milk"). The pigeon milk is produced in the crops of both parents in all species of pigeons and doves. The fledging period is about 30 days.[12]

Predators[edit]

With only its flying abilities protecting it from predation, rock pigeons are a favorite almost around the world for a wide range of raptorial birds. In fact, with feral pigeons existing in most every city in the world, they may form the majority of prey for several raptor species who live in urban areas. Peregrine Falcons and Eurasian Sparrowhawks are natural predators of pigeons that are quite adept at catching and feeding upon this species. Up to 80% of the diet of Peregrine Falcons in several cities that have breeding falcons is composed of feral pigeons.[16] Some common predators of feral pigeons in the North America are Opossums, Raccoons, Red-tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Eastern Screech Owls and Accipiters. The birds that predate pigeons in North America can range in size from American Kestrels to Golden Eagles and can even include gulls, crows, and ravens.[17] On the ground the adults, their young and their eggs are at risk from feral and domestic cats.[7] Doves and pigeons are considered to be game birds as many species have been hunted and used for food in many of the countries in which they are native.[18]

Parasites[edit]

Tinaminyssus melloi female.jpgFly June 2008-2.jpg
Tinaminyssus melloi, a nasal mite.Pigeon louse fly (P. canariensis), a blood-sucking ectoparasite.

Pigeons may harbour a diverse parasite fauna.[19] They often host the intestinal helminths Capillaria columbae and Ascaridia columbae. Their ectoparasites include the Ischnoceran lice Columbicola columbae, Campanulotes bidentatus compar, the Amblyceran lice Bonomiella columbae, Hohorstiella lata, Colpocephalum turbinatum, the mites Tinaminyssus melloi, Dermanyssus gallinae, Dermoglyphus columbae, Falculifer rostratus, and Diplaegidia columbae. The hippoboscid fly Pseudolynchia canariensis is a typical blood-sucking ectoparasite of pigeons, found only in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Human health[edit]

Pigeons have been falsely associated with the spread of human diseases.[20][verification needed] Contact with pigeon droppings poses a minor risk of contracting histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, and psittacosis,[21] and exposure to both droppings and feathers can produce bird fancier's lung. Pigeons are not a major concern in the spread of West Nile virus; though they can contract it, they do not appear to be able to transmit it.[22] Pigeons are, however, at potential risk for carrying and spreading avian influenza. Although one study has shown that adult pigeons are not clinically susceptible to the most dangerous strain of avian influenza, the H5N1,[23] other studies have presented definitive evidence of clinical signs and neurological lesions resulting from infection.[24][25] Furthermore, it has been shown that pigeons are susceptible to other strains of avian influenza, such as the H7N7,[26] from which at least one human fatality has been recorded.

Domestication[edit]

Domestic pigeons

Rock Doves have been domesticated for several thousand years, giving rise to the domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica).[7] As well as food and pets, domesticated pigeons are used as homing pigeons. They were in the past also used as carrier pigeons, and so-called war pigeons have played significant roles during wartime, with many pigeons having received bravery awards and medals for their services in saving hundreds of human lives: including, notably, the British pigeon Cher Ami who received the Croix de Guerre for her heroic actions during World War I, and the Irish Paddy and the American G.I. Joe, who both received the Dickin Medal, amongst 32 pigeons to receive this medallion, for their gallant and brave actions during World War II.[7] There are numerous breeds of fancy pigeons of all sizes, colours and types.[27]

Feral pigeon[edit]

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 have the blue barred pattern as does the pure Rock Dove. Feral pigeons are found in large numbers in cities and towns all over the world.[28] The scarcity of the pure wild species is partly due to interbreeding with feral birds.[13]

Stages of life cycle[edit]

Osmoregulation[edit]

Challenges[edit]

Water is taken in by the Columba livia directly by drinking water or indirectly from the food they ingest. They drink water through a process called double-suction mechanism.[29] The daily diet of the Pigeon places many physiologically challenges it must over come through osmoregulation. Protein intake for example causes an excess toxins of amine groups when it is broken down for energy.[29] To regulate this excess and secrete these unwanted toxins the Columba livia must remove the amine groups as uric acid. Nitrogen excretion through uric acid can be considered an advantage because it doesn't require a lot of water and isn't very soluble, but producing it takes more energy because of its complex molecular composition.[29]

The danger of desiccation is a major threat to animals living on land. Water is lost in urine and feces, but evaporation is the principal route of water loss. Water lost must be replaced by drinking and water in food. Dehydration or salt-loading decreases the filtration rate primarily by the shut down of the nephrons, which is controlled by an antidiuretic hormone, arginine vasotocin.[30] Pigeons adjust their drinking rates and food intake in parallel and when adequate water is unavailable for excretion, food intake is limited to maintain water balance. As Columbia livia inhabit arid environments, research attributes this to their strong flying capabilities to reach the available water sources, not because of exceptional potential for water conservation. Columba livia kidneys, like mammalian kidneys, are capable of producing urine hyperosmotic to the plasma utilizing the processes of filtration, reabsorption and secretion, which will be discussed later and explained through the Starling-Landis Hypothesis.[30] The medullary cones function as countercurrent units that achieve the production of hyperosmotic urine. Hyperosmotic urine can be understood in light of the law of diffusion and osmolarity.[31]

Organ of osmoregulation[edit]

Unlike a number other bird species which have the salt gland as the primary osmoregulatory organ, Columba livia does not use their salt gland even though it exists.[32] Columba livia uses the function of their kidneys to maintain homeostatic balance of ions such as sodium and potassium while preserving water quantity in the body.[33] Filtration of the blood, reabsorption of ions and water, and secretion of uric acid are all components of the kidney's process. The kidneys of Columba livia are located in its pelvic region. Columba livia has two kidneys that are coupled, each having three partially separate lobes; the posterior lobe is the largest in size. Like mammalian kidneys, the avian kidney contains a medullary region and a cortical region. Peripherally located around the cortical region, the collecting ducts gather into cone-like ducts, medullary cones, which converge into the ureters. There are two types of nephrons in the kidney; nephrons that are located in the cortex and do not contain the loop of Henle are called loopless nephrons, the other type are called looped or mammalian nephrons. Looped nephrons contain the loop of Henle that continue down into the medulla then enter the distal tubule drain towards the ureter.[34] Mammals generally have a more vascularized glomeruli than the nephrons in birds. The nephrons of avian species can not produce urine that is hyperosmotic to the blood, but, the loop of Henle utilizes countercurrent multiplication which allows it to become hyperosmotic in the collecting duct. This alternation of permeability between different sections of the ascending and descending loop allows for the elevation of the urine osmotic pressure 2.5 times above the blood osmotic pressure.

Specialize cell types involved in osmoregulation[edit]

The integumentary system functions in osmoregulation by acting as a barrier between the extracellular compartment and the environment to regulate water gain and loss, as well as solute flux. The permeability of the integument to water and solutes varies from animal to animal.The excretory system is responsible for regulating water and solute levels in the body fluids. Pigeons can produce hyperosmotic urine but their renal system is different from other animals. They do not produce concentrated urine to reduce water loss but produce a whitish part called urate. It is considered as uric acid solid crystals and it is less toxic than urea.[35] The wastes move from the blood of the peritubular capillaries passes through the tubule cells and into the collecting ducts and transported as urate (uric acid). Urate is then transported to the cloaca and from there to the large intestine where uric acid particle and water and solutes in the urine can be reabsorbed and balanced. Thus this allows them to save their body water instead of excreting large volume of dilute urea. Cells of the proximal tubule have numerous microvilli and mitochondria which provide surface area and energy to the proximal tubule cells.[36]

The blood pH is regulated by the A and B types of cells located in distal tubule and collecting duct. The A type cells are acid secreting cells that have a proton ATPase in the apical membrane and a Cl-/ HCO3- exchange system in the basolateral membrane whereas, the B type cells are base secreting cells, which secrete bicarbonate into the lumen of the tubule in exchange for chloride ions. The regulation of pH in blood determines whether bicarbonate is reabsorbed or secreted.[35]

Transport mechanisms of osmoregulation[edit]

The filtrate contains lots of important substances. In the proximal tubules of the Columbia livia kidney, substances that are needed, such as vitamins and glucose are reabsorbed into the blood.[30] Their kidney has a variety of ion channels involved in salt and water transport. Water is reabsorbed through aquaporins which are present in the lumen of proximal tubule, basolateral membrane, and blood vessel near proximal tubule. Water flows from the epithelial cells into the blood via osmosis. Since osmosis occurs, the osmolarity of the filtrate remains isotonic. Sodium/Potassium/ATPase transporter is located in the basolateral membrane of the epithelial cell, which is opposite of the lumen of proximal tubule, and actively pumps sodium out of the cell into the blood.

Special adaptations[edit]

Eggshell's gas exchange and water loss[edit]

Gas exchange across eggshells results in water loss from the egg. However, the egg must retain enough water to hydrate the embryo. This results in the knowledge that changing temperatures and humidity can affect the eggshell's architecture.[37] Behavioral adaptations in Columba livia and other birds, such as the incubation of their eggs, can help with the effects of these changing environments.[37] It was found that eggshell architecture undergoes selection decoupled from behavioral effects, and that humidity may be a driving selective pressure. Low humidity requires enough water to keep the embryo from desiccation, and high humidity needs enough water loss to facilitate the initiation of pulmonary respiration.[37] The water loss from the eggshell is directly linked to the growth rate of the species. The ability of the embryo to tolerate extreme water loss is due to the parental behavior in species colonizing in different environments. Studies have been done showing that wild habitats of Columba livia and other birds have a higher rate tolerance of various humidity levels, but Columba livia do prefer areas where the humidity closely matched their native breeding conditions.[37] The pore areas of the shells allow water to diffuse in and out of the shell, preventing the possible harming of the embryo due to the high rates of water retention. If an eggshell is thinner, it can cause a decrease in pore length, and an increase in conductance and pore area. A thinner eggshell can also cause a decrease in mechanical restriction of the embryo.[37]

Thermoregulation[edit]

Temperature changes[edit]

The Columbia Livia is habituated within many vast environments with varying degrees of temperatures. Like all vertebrates, Columbia Livia perspires heat through evaporation of water when temperatures are high in the environment.[38] It’s preferred niche temperature ranges between +39 - +42 degrees Celsius.[39]

Peripheral thermoreceptors of the Columbia Liva regulate its body’s response to the cold. During low temperatures, which put the Columbia Liva’s body under stress it accommodates extreme temperatures by increasing its internal temperatures within the core and spinal cord. Along with this increase, there is also a decrease in temperature within the legs, neck and back skin.[40]

Physiological challenges placed on organism[edit]

Columba Livia stabilize their internal body temperature independent of alteration in ambient temperature.[30] They are also able to withstand extreme climate conditions, such as ambient temperature range of +42 to -40°C. The temperature regulation of Columba Livia is generally based on the principle of endotherms. Being endothermic they use metabolic heat to raise body temperature. Columba Livia are also homeotherms, meaning that they are thermoregulators and maintain a relatively constant body temperature. The heat exchange between animals and their surroundings occurs due to conduction, convection, radiation and evaporation. Fourier's Law of Heat Conduction describes the loss of heat experienced by animals through conduction. At low ambient temperatures the endothermic animals are able to reduce their heat loss by lowering the skin temperature and by increasing their peripheral insulation, which is discussed later.

Behavioral adaptations[edit]

Columba Livia does a few things to regulate its body temperature. Normally it will drink water after they have eaten, but when stressed by heat they can drink whenever needed to lower its body temperature.[41] Another way it can regulate its heat is through Ptilomotor responses. Ptilomotor responses allow for better insulation of the body, because smooth muscle contractions make the feathers stand up straighter, which traps more air next to the skin. Columba Livia exhibits Ta (ambient temperature) selecting behavior. It will seek out its desired thermal neutral zone temperatures, in order to expend less energy heating and cooling its body.[42]

Physiological changes to blood flow[edit]

Areas poorly or not insulated by feathers such as the beak, head, and feet have vasomotor responses. To reduce heat loss while in cold atmospheric temperatures, endothermic animals will lower the skin temperature by restricting the amount of blood that reaches it, called vasoconstriction.[43] The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the constriction of the vascular beds at low temperatures.[44] Vasodialation does the opposite; to increase the heat lost by convection after high muscular activity or from heat stress, Columba Livia increases its blood flow to the surface of its body. Cutaneous tissue of the beak, feet, and bends in the wings are dilated. To regulate brain temperature it uses the vascular vessels(plexus) in the eyes, in combination with vasomotion. Evaporation is usually controlled by sweat glands, however, birds use their breathing pattern to control heat dissipation. The frequency in breathing depends on body temperature, Tb; to increase respiratory evaporation the bird's breathing rate would increase. The most important thermoregulatory mechanism is called shivering thermogenesis. The skeletal muscles are used to generate heat through contractions when the surrounding air, Ta, is below its thermal neutral zone. As the temperature drops, the shivering increases to generate more heat. Non-shivering thermogenesis is used by Columba Livia, when exposed to cold to generate heat; an increase in Na+/K+-ATPase activity drives this mechanism in the liver.[45]

Special adaptations[edit]

A study was done by Michael E. Rashotte, et al. (1998) comparing the vigilance states and body temperature is different within in fed and fasted pigeons (Columba Livia).[46] Fasting induces nocturnal hypothermia in pigeons. There are different sleep patterns associated with heat production in pigeons, slow wave sleep (SWS) and paradoxical sleep (PS). An increase of SWS and PS was compared to the fasting-induced nocturnal hypothermia by comparing body temperature (Tb) and vigilance states when pigeons were fed and fasted.[47] It was found that the Tb was decreasing near the beginning of the dark phase and that the time spent in SWS and PS was elevated in the fasting pigeons due to the increase of frequency and duration.[48] When body temperature was low in the middle of the dark phase, it showed that SWS was elevated but it did not affect the PS stage. When the body temperature was high during the last hours of dark, SWS remained elevated in fasting-induced and that PS was relatively high. Rashotte, et al. (1998) suggests that more evidence is needed to confirm these results but he suggests that pigeons may be best viewed as an animal that has a shallow hypometabolic state that fall within (or very close to) their euthermic range. It is also seen that a pigeon’s vigilance stage can be compared similarly to mammals in hibernation.[48]

Specialize organs or anatomy involved in thermoregulation[edit]

The purpose of thermoregulation is to maintain body temperature by producing heat through physiological and metabolic reactions. Heat gain should equal to rates of heat loss. If the body temperature is unbalanced, the animal becomes either warmer or colder. Heat production in birds is associated to shivering. The large flight muscles- pectoralis as well as the leg muscles generate heat by shivering.[49]

Columba Livia have strong wings with flexible feathers which provide enough insulation to keep their body warm and dry. The fat layers and feathers reduce the flow of heat between an animal and its environment and lower the energy cost of keeping warm. In some birds the heat loss from the legs and feet is limited in cold weather because of a countercurrent mechanism that saves heat and in hot weather it can serve as heat radiators which increase blood flow.[49]

Thermoregulation in birds requires cooling as well as warming. At low temperature birds can tuck head and neck under their wings to reduce heat loss. The heat is lost by the pigeons as an insensible heat by evaporation of water from the respiratory system and skin when temperature gradient is less and relative humidity is low. At the relatively high temperature birds increase their respiration rate to increase their cooling by evaporation. The panting is important in birds which involves gular flutter. The pouch richly supplied with blood vessels in the floor of the mouth; the rapid movement of the upper throat tissues - fluttering the pouch increases evaporation. Pigeons can use evaporative cooling to keep body temperature close to 40°C in air temperatures as high as 60°C, as long as they have sufficient water.[50]

Also from previous studies experiment shows that a bird is capable of evaporating enough water from the cloaca for thermoregulation and results suggests that some birds’ cloacal evaporation can be controlled and could serve as an important maneuver for thermoregulation at high ambient temperatures.[49]

Regulation of metabolism[edit]

Columba Livia as homeothermic animals, are able to regulate heat production and external heat loss in autonomic ways, by a feedback control system.[30] Negative feedback is the most important principle for regulation; a decrease of ambient temperature evoked by cold activates some thermoregulatory effector mechanisms, which reduce the heat loss and increase the internal heat production. The metabolic rate of resting Columba Livia at neutral ambient temperature, is reduced by a level of 5-10% during drowsiness, sleep and darkness. An increase follows every kind of muscle activity, such as flying, which increases metabolic rate by 10-12 times. Heat production throughout the day contributes to a high level of body temperature.

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  50. ^ respiratory system and thermoregulation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.poultryhub.org/physiology/body-systems/respiratory-system-thermoregulation/
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Comments: See Banks and Browning (1995) for justification of the use of the specific name livia over domestica. See Johnston (1992) for information on the genealogical relationships of wild rock doves, domestic pigeons, and feral pigeons.

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