Rock Dove (Pigeons)

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Rock dove

Rock doves are also called rock pigeon or common pigeon. They are generally referred to as “pigeons”. The wild rock doves are whitish-grey with two black bars on each wing.

There are a few physical differences between males and females. The rock doves are usually monogamous with a pair of offsprings for each brood.

Both the male and female parents show parental care for their young. The species are numbered in their millions within an estimated range of 17 to 28 million wild birds in Europe alone. Across the world, they number up to roughly 120 million.

Rock doves’ closest relatives in the genus Columba are the hill pigeon, and other species of rock pigeons include the snow, speckled, and white-collared pigeons. Rock dove was the center of Charles Darwins’ discovery of evolution.

It featured in four of his works from 1859 to 1872. Darwin propounded that despite the broad range of differences in morphology, several hundreds of domestic pigeons’ breeds could all be traced back to the wild rock dove.

Rock doves have been domesticated for several thousand years. Over time, this has given rise to the domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica). They probably have been domesticated as far back as 5,000 years ago.

Multiple breeds of fancy pigeons of all sizes, colors, and types have been reared.

Table of Contents

Scientific classification

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderColumbiformes
FamilyColumbidae
GenusColumba
Scientific nameColumba livia

Description

Adult rock doves have a body length ranging between 29 to 37 cm with a wingspan length within the range of 62 to 72 cm.

The wild or feral rock dove weighs between 238–380 grams though overfed domestic and semi-domesticated individuals can exceed the usual weights.

Its head and neck are dark bluish-grey, the chest could be shiny yellowish and greenish, the neck and wing feathers are adorned with a reddish-purple iridescence. It has an iris that could be orange, golden or red with a paper inner ring.

The bare skin surrounding the eye is bluish-grey, while the bill is greyish-black with a noticeable cream cere. The bird’s feet are also purplish-red.

The wing chord is typically around 22.3 cm in length, the tail between 9.5 and 11 cm, the bill measures up to 1.8 cm, and the tarsus falls within a range of 2.6 to 3.5 cm.

Adult female rock dove is nearly identical in physical appearance to the male, but her neck’s iridescence is lesser in intensity. It is also more confined to the back and sides while it is often less conspicuous on the breast area.

The pale lower area of the back is its primary distinctive feature. Another prime feature is the pair of black bars on its pale grey wings. Its tail has a black band at the end, and the external web of the tail feathers are lined with white.

Habitat and distribution

The rock dove has limited natural residency range in the western and southern parts of Europe, North Africa, and extending into South Asia.

The rock doves (including ferals) has a vast range, with an approximated worldwide extent of occurrence of 10,000,000 km2. It has a massive global population which includes an estimated 17 to 28 million individuals in Europe.

Fossil evidence points origin of the rock dove towards to southern Asia. Skeletal remains unearthed in Israel also confirm its habitation there for at least 300,000 years.

Rock doves usually inhabit rock formations, making settlements in crevices or nests. They nest as a group, mostly forming vast colonies made up of several hundreds of individuals.

They also inhabit and nest on statues, walls and ledges of buildings. They could cause damages to these structures through their faeces. Starving birds excrete urates, which contains a high amount of uric acid.

Over time, this can corrode stonework or metal. On the other hand, a well-fed bird often excretes solid faeces, containing very low amounts of uric acid.

Diet

Rock doves are omnivores, but they have a preference for plant matter which include fruits and grains. Due to their love for grains, they are regarded as granivores.

They feed on the ground, either individually or communally. They eat seeds that they can easily swallow down their gullet.

They also consume miniature invertebrates such as worms or larvae of insects as a protein supplement. In cities, they tend to feed as scavengers from human refuse.

Most rock doves take little sips and position their heads backwards when drinking. These birds can dip their bills into the water and drink continuously, without having to tilt their heads back.

Habits or behaviour

The white underside of the bird’s wing becomes obvious during flight. It is considered a strong flier, and it often glides while positioning its wings in a V-like shape.

The dove makes a cooing sound and is very vigilant birds due to predatory birds’ potential presence.

When disturbed, a pigeon within a flock will fly off, clapping its wings noisily to warn others to take off as well.

The noise from the take-off amplifies the speed at which the bird beats its wings. The more the noise, the bigger the threat perceived to the other birds in the flock.

Rock doves mostly use powder down feathers to preen, which gives them a tender and silky feel to their plumage. They either have no gland for preening or at times, possess very basic preen glands.

So they don’t use oil for preening. Instead, powder down feathers is dispersed across the body. They have a likelihood to disintegrate, and the resultant powder, which is similar to talcum powder aids in maintaining the plumage.

Reproduction

Rock Dove

The rock dove can mate during the year, but their peak times are during spring and summer. Sites for nesting are along with the faces of coastal cliffs and the human-made cliff faces derived from apartment buildings with ledges or accessible roof spaces

Their nest is made using sticks and straws, laid on a ledge and mostly located on the window ledges of apartment buildings. The female usually lays two white eggs, and both parents usually take turns to incubate them for a period between 17 – 19 days.

Their offsprings are called squabs, and they are nursed and fed through regurgitation on crop or pigeon milk. The pigeon milk is manufactured in the crops of both parents.

This isn’t peculiar to just the rock dove, as it is common to all species of doves and pigeons. The fledging period usually lasts for about 30 days.

Conservation status

Though the rock doves are considered game birds and are usually hunted quite a lot, they still possess huge numbers. Their conservation status is classified as “Least Concern”.

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