Rock Pigeon Columba livia


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The summary below is an overview from The Birds of North America Online.

BNA Account Authors: Johnston, Richard F.

[Editor's Note: This account was originally published as Rock Dove in 1992. All references to that now obsolete name will be changed to Rock Pigeon once the account is revised.]

The Rock Dove was introduced to North America in the early 17th-century by colonists who brought domestic pigeons to Atlantic coast settlements (Schorger 1952). The species is now feral and lives broadly on the continent. Wild Rock Doves, native to Europe, North Africa, and western, southwestern, west-central, and southern Asia, gave rise to domestics as a result of artificial selection by humans (Darwin 1868). Domestics readily go feral, and have done so widely throughout the world (Long 1981).

Domestic and feral pigeons are among the most intensively studied of all birds. Knowledge of avian flight mechanics, thermoregulation, water metabolism, endocrinology (prolactin was discovered through work with pigeons [Riddle et al. 1932]), sensory perception, orientation and navigation, learning (the original subjects in Skinner boxes), genetics of color, pattern, behavior and other characteristics, and Darwinian evolutionary biology, has depended heavily on research using domestic and feral Rock Doves. The total scientific literature referring to these birds is enormous, and can only be sketched here. Recent reviews include those of Abs (1983a: physiology and behavior), Baldaccini (1986: homing pigeons), Cramp (1985: wild C. livia), Goodwin (1983a: general biology of the family), Haag (1991: behavior), Hollander (1983: pigeon genetics), Granda and Maxwell (1979: neural basis of behavior), Levi (1965: domestic breeds; 1974: general biology), Murton and Westwood (1977: reproduction), and Berthold (1991: navigation). Darwin (1859, 1868: evolutionary theory) should be noted irrespective of date.

Body size and plumage color of Rock Doves vary appreciably, usually clinally, in wild populations; plumage variation is nearly limitless in polymorphic domestic and feral birds. Geographic size and color variation is recognized in Eurasia and Africa by use of several subspecies (Cramp 1985), but such variation in feral populations has not been partitioned subspecifically. Biology of ferals has been largely ignored in North American ornithology, so some of the basic information on life history comes from studies of European ferals, confined ferals, and domestics of several varieties.

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© Paul Marvin

  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Rock Pigeon (Columba livia), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: