What is a Pigeon?
Before we jump into pigeon facts, let us know what a pigeon is. Pigeon is a species of birds that is found everywhere. They are usually considered as an invasive species and a nuisance, because they can spread diseases and cause damage to property and crops.
Pigeon includes rock pigeons, domestic pigeons, and feral pigeons. Domestic pigeons descended from rock pigeons. The domestic pigeons that escaped were called feral pigeons. So, pigeon refers to all these three types of pigeon subspecies.
Get out of your house and walk out in the open and you will most probably find a pigeon or a flight of pigeons.
They are everywhere!
Though we see them everywhere, we don’t know much about them. So, let us learn some fantastic pigeon facts today.
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Columbiformes
- Family: Columbidae
- Genus: Columba
- Species: Columba livia
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1. An adult pigeon is around 29 to 37 centimeters or 11 to 15 inches long and has a wingspan of about 24 to 28 inches or 62 to 72 centimeters. The average weight of an adult pigeon is 238 to 380 grams or 8.4 to 13.4 oz.
2. The head and neck are dark bluish-grey in color. The feet are purplish red. The wing measurement, which is known as wing chord is around 8.8 inches or 22.3 centimeters. The tail is 3.7 to 4.3 inches or 9.5 to 11 centimeters.
3. Similar to other birds, the female is less beautiful and less colorful than the male pigeon. The eye color of most pigeons is orange, but some sport white-grey eyes.
4. Pigeons are present all over the world on all continents except Antarctica, Sahara Desert, and high Arctic. In Europe alone, the population of pigeons is estimated to be around 17 to 28 million individuals!
5. It is believed that pigeons originated in southern Asia. Recently skeletal remains of pigeons from Israel were unearthed that date back to 300,000 years ago.
6. Pigeons can breed any time of the year. Peak times are summer and spring. They make nests with straws and sticks, and the nests are usually on the windows ledges.
7. Usually, they lay two eggs at once. Incubation lasts for around 17 to 19 days and is shared by the parents. Pigeons mate for life.
8. The baby pigeon called squab or nestling has pale yellow down. For first few days, the squab feeds on pigeon’s milk or crop milk (regurgitated food). The pigeon milk is produced in both males and females. They wean off after four weeks. It takes 30 days for the squab to develop feathers that help in its flight.
9. Pigeons are omnivores, but they prefer eating plant material especially grains and fruits.
10. They don’t have a preen gland or even if they have, it is rudimentary. They make use of powder down feathers for preening.
11. Natural predators of pigeons are Eurasian sparrowhawks and Peregrine falcons. Some other predators are raccoons, cats, opossums, great horned owls, accipiters, red-tailed hawks, etc. Humans consider them as game birds.
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12. A pigeon has a lot of feathers and they are loosely attached to the body. When a predator attacks, it simply loses its tail or body feathers which distracts the predator giving a chance for the pigeon to escape. It is more or less like a lizard severing its tail when attacked.
13. They don’t really spread many diseases. Long exposure to feathers and droppings, however, can cause bird fancier’s lung, an allergy where lungs get inflamed.
14. They can fly at altitudes higher than 6000 feet. Average speed of flight is 77.6 miles per hour. The fastest speed recorded is 92.5 miles per hour
15. Pigeon droppings have become a nuisance now. However, some centuries ago, it was so valuable that guards were placed to protect dovecotes or pigeon houses.
16. They are very clean. They have amazing hearing abilities. They can hear low frequencies very well, and can easily hear distant volcanoes and storms.
17. They are highly social birds. They are usually seen in flocks. They also have terrific navigational skills. They use the Sun, earth’s magnetic compass, smell, and sound as a guide. They can reach their destination even when they are released from a different and far off location blindfolded.
18. According to Oxford study, they use few landmarks as signspots and can even travel along roads and motorways.
19. Did you know that pigeons are one of the few species that can pass a mirror test? Mirror test is a self recognition test. Not just that, they can differentiate photos, distinguish humans in a photo, and can recognize the alphabet!
20. Carrier pigeons delivered messages and mail 95% of the time in World War I and World War II.
21. They bob their heads to improve their vision. If the situations are right, a pigeon can mate eight times a year!
22. They are shown in Egyptian hieroglyphics and Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets.
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23. They have fantastic eyesight. They can see objects which are at a distance of 26 miles.
24. Pigeons can flap their wings 10 times every second, and maintain a heartbeat of 600 times a minute for a period of sixteen hours.
25. Pigeons usually have 10,000 feathers on their body.
26. There are several war heroes in the form of pigeons. Cher Ami saved many French soldiers and carried the message even after being shot in the chest and leg. Cher Ami was awarded Croix de Guerrre by France.
27. Similarly, G.I. Joe, a pigeon, saved thousands of British soldiers by carrying a critical message.
28. According to Scientific American, pigeons can trace cancer at an accuracy level of 85% individually, but the percentage rises to 99% when the pigeons are in flocks.
29. When the European nations started pouring in America, 25-40% of the bird population consisted of passenger pigeons. But due to habitat loss, overhunting, etc. they became extremely rare. The last known passenger pigeon died on 1 September 1914.
30. Did you know that pigeons are closely related to flightless dodos which are extinct now? There are races for pigeons in the world. A racing pigeon cost a whopping $132,517! If you win the race, you could become a millionaire.
31. They can also distinguish between arts of different people. Shigeru Watanabe, a Japanese psychologist won an Ig Nobel Prize in 1995 for training a few pigeons. They could even distinguish between watercolors and pastels. According to the findings of Shigeru, pigeons categorize objects on texture, color, and general appearance naturally.
32. Charles Darwin and Nikola Tesla were huge fans of pigeons. Nikola Tesla cared for injured pigeons. His favorite pigeon was a white female one. He devoted so much time to her that when she was sick nothing mattered to him and would nurse her back to health. His grief was inconsolable when she died.
33. The average lifespan of a pigeon is 2.4 years. The longest living pigeon was Levi, a retired US Army Signal Corps bird. It lived for 31 years.
That completes our list of pigeon facts. If you have something more to share, feel free to drop a comment or two.