The pigeons and doves occur throughout the world, with the exception of extremely hot and cold areas. The term “pigeon” and “dove” are sometimes interchangeable. Pigeon generally refers to the larger species, and dove the smaller ones.
The family can be divided into five groups:
- Columbinae (Typical grain-eating pigeons: 87 species)
- Otidiphabinae (Pheasant Pigeon)
- Ptilinopus (Fruit doves: 124 species)
- Gourinae (Crowned pigeons: 3 species)
- Didunculinae (Tooth-billed Pigeon)
A special feature of the pigeons is the ability to suck up water when drinking, rather than having to tilt their heads back, and to feed the chicks with their own “crop milk.” Pigeons often mate for life, although in the wild, a pigeon lives only three to four years. In captivity, it can live up to twenty years.
Pigeons are athletes of the highest caliber. While racehorses receive all the glory, with their 35 mph sprints around a one-mile racetrack, homing pigeons (a mere pound of flash and feathers) routinely fly over 500 miles in a single day at speeds exceeding 60 mph, finding their way home from a place they’ve never been before, and without stopping for food or water. A racer is making roughly 900,000 wing beats while maintaining 600 heartbeats per minute. It is truly a feathered rocket!
Common Pigeon Groups
Whether you call them pigeons or doves, they are a fascinating part of human history because they have been raised in captivity by people for hundreds of years. More than 200 breeds exist; pigeons are rivaled only by dogs and maybe goldfish in the dazzling number of forms a single species can assume.
There are literally hundreds of breeds of pigeon. It’s the same with dogs. Every breed is a member of the same species. Some of these have curly feathers on the neck, feathered legs, white feathers, or the ability to fly in a sort of “tumble.”
Rollers are small and trim. They will perform various maneuvres (roll or spin) in the air.
Homers possess a great sense of direction. Also called racing pigeons, they are kept in flocks in small houses called dovecotes or pigeon lofts. They can be released far from their homes and will return directly back to their own dovecotes.
Fantails are small size with many tail feathers which are carried like a fan. Heads are carried over the back and may pulsate.
Pouters (croppers) come in many sizes and shapes; some have feathered legs and feet. All have the ability to inflate their crops with air.
Frills are medium-sized with short beaks. They have a bib, ruffle or curled feathers on their breasts and short feathers on their shanks.
Jacobins are long and slender. They have rosettes of feathers on either side of the neck which almost always hides the head.
Owls are small and compact and have short beaks. They all have a reversed feather structure (‘jabot’) on the chest (Oriental frill, Valencian frill, Italian owl)
Modenas are of medium size and square build; many color varieties exist.
Color Pigeons (Nuremberg lark, Thuringian wing pigeon, Thuringian spot, Franconian Velvet shield, Thuringian goldbeetle)
Swiss Pigeons are active flyers and need access to good flights. The oldest breeds in this group go back 500 years (Luzerne copper color).
Tumblers (Budapests, West of England, Mookee, Siebenburger Double Crested Tumbler, Felegyhazer, Kiebitz)
Form Pigeons (German Beauty Homer, Coburg Lark, Lahore, Damascene, Cauchois)
Trumpeters are very tame (German Double Crested, Bokhara).
Wattle Pigeons include Dragoons, Scandaroons and Carriers
(a) English Trumpeter; (b) Brunner Pouter; (c) Taganrog Tumbler; (d) Starling; (e) Chinese Owl; (f) Italian Owl
316 recognized species of wild pigeons and doves are divided in 40 groups
- David Gibbs – Pigeons And Doves: A Guide To The Pigeons And Doves Of The World
- Monica Russo, Kevin Byron – Birdology: 30 Activities And Observations For Exploring The World Of Birds
- Peter H. Barthel – New Holland Field Guide To The Birds Of Britain And Europe
- Simon Barnes – Birdwatching With Your Eyes Closed: An Introduction To Birdsong
- Andrew D. Blechman – Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga Of The World’s Most Revered And Reviled Bird
- University of Wisconsin – Pigeons
- Aviculture-Europe – Keeping Fancy Pigeons
- Gilbert et al. – Domestication of Pigeons