Rock Dove (Columba livia)
Prepared by Paul Nicholson, September 2023
Having been introduced to North America by settlers from Europe in the 1600s, the Rock Pigeon is a non-native species. All photos by Paul Nicholson
The Rock Pigeon is one of the handful of Southwestern Ontario birds that even non-birders can identify with ease. We take this species for granted too often. We see lots of them because they are a synanthropic species, or birds that thrive in cities, farms, and other human-built environments. Although the species is considered a pest by some people, there is much to admire about these beautiful, intelligent birds.
The Rock Pigeon, also known as the Rock Dove or Common Pigeon, is a member of the Columbidae family of doves and pigeons. A subspecies of the Rock Pigeon, known as the Domestic Pigeon, is the world's oldest domesticated bird. Records suggest that Mesopotamians and Egyptians domesticated pigeons more than 5,000 years ago. Today there are around 1,000 breeds of Domestic Pigeon.
Rock Pigeons were historically valued by humans as a source of food, as pets, holy animals, and messengers. Pigeons are indeed skilled navigators. Even if released a great distance away, they are able to find their way home. Due to this ability, pigeons were used to deliver messages, including during the world wars.
Pigeons are approximately 33 cm in length and they have a plump profile. Plumage varies greatly among birds. Most of the birds that we see are primarily light grey with two broad, dark wingbars, and iridescence at the neck.
Building ledges, eaves, and abandoned buildings will all attract Pigeons. These are also favoured nest sites for the species. Males and females pigeons look similar. The species is generally monogamous and produces two squabs (young) per brood. Both parents provide care for the young until fledging.
Today, Pigeons living in cities are seen as pests, mainly because of their droppings and capacity to multiply quickly. Feral pigeons are considered invasive in many parts of the world, including North America, but their presence can also have a positive impact on native bird populations, serving as an important prey species for raptors. Feral Pigeons may become habituated to the presence of people and thus their co-occupancy of urban environments brings joy to many people who interact with them.
An urban pigeon’s diet consists mostly of discarded human food, seeds, and fruits. London's downtown pigeons seem especially fond of cracked corn.
Rock Pigeons are very social birds. You will often see them flying, foraging, and roosting together.
The usual call of the Rock Pigeon is a series of muffled coos.
Listen to the Rock Pigeon’s vocalization below:
The plumage of Rock Pigeons is highly variable. Some birds will be brown or white or light grey or charcoal grey. In any case, the plumage is beautiful.
Rock Pigeons are common in and around London. For example, it is almost impossible to be downtown and not see and hear these birds.
Threats to the Rock Pigeons of downtown London include Peregrine Falcons and other raptors that predate other birds. In the past, property managers have unfortunately applied harmful methods of pest control that resulted in Pigeons being indiscriminately poisoned, although this was followed up on by authorities. Being that Rock Pigeons evolved in warmer climates they are not physiologically well-adapted to harsh Canadian winters. It is not uncommon to spot Rock Pigeons that are missing toes lost to frostbite.
The Rock Pigeon is considered a non-native invasive avian species in North America with a low conservation concern. Although the population across North America appear to have declined somewhat over the past decades because of farming intensification, there remain robust populations in London and elsewhere in Canada and the U.S.
When considering the Rock Pigeon, we should take a lesson from the Passenger Pigeon, a bird that was plentiful but that was hunted into extinction last century. Even species that are abundant can be depleted if human uses of those animals are not careful.
Make London a friendlier city for pigeons:
Rock Pigeons are an introduced species that has been naturalized in London. It is important to treat even non-native bird species with compassion in our Bird Friendly City. Even though the Pigeon is a non-native invasive species, we should still limit harm to them by avoiding use of pesticides, reducing our ecological footprint as much as possible, and participating in citizen science initiatives such as recording bird sightings in eBird. However, residents should also be careful not to encourage large congregations of pigeons in areas where they can pose a nuisance, such as by creating a mess.
For Pigeon keepers and feeders, it is important to note that the City of London Animal Control By-law PH-3 has specific provisions that apply to Pigeons (particularly parts 7, 8 and 9). There are limitations on the maximum number of birds that can be kept in captivity, requirements for housing of birds, and limitations on allowing birds to fly at large. In general, the By-law is intended to prevent nuisance conflicts and to reduce the risk of health and safety concerns for humans as well as animals.
When returning to a parked vehicle downtown or in areas where pigeons are present, it is generally a good idea to check under and around your car before driving. If you wish to feed feral pigeons, please keep in mind that feeing bread is not recommended and can result in health and nuisance issues, and avoid feeding in environments that are unsafe. Learn more