The rock dove, also known as common pigeon, is a bird with which we have a rather controversial relationship. It often populates city squares and is rather despised because it’s considered a carrier of diseases such as salmonella. In truth, it’s not the rock dove itself that is dangerous but rather its feces, which have various contaminants. While rock dove are not always well-liked and cause some concern, from other points of view, however, these birds are highly appreciated, especially because of their tasty flesh and their superior intelligence.
Everything you need to know about the rock dove:
The rock dove is a bird belonging to the Columbidae family and widespread all over the world. The wild species is the one we are used to seeing in city squares and descends from the domestic one, to which the Carrier Pigeons, Ornamental Pigeons and those raised for culinary preparations belong. Unfortunately for the Pigeon, its meat is very popular and today several farmed specimens end up on dinner tables around the world. However, there are no huge differences between these species, and also in terms of appearance we can say that they are practically the same.
Not everyone knows that the rock dove has a tiny brain, but its neuronal network is so dense that these specimens are truly incredible. Rock doves can look stupid when you look at them, but it’s the exact opposite: several studies have shown that these birds are gifted with truly amazing abilities – although at first glance it might not seem like it. It has been demonstrated by recent studies how much these birds have a neurone rich brain. Rock doves have a number of neurones per cubic millimetre that is 6 times higher than the one of humans, which means that their synaptic network is extraordinary and are able to recognise and memorise shapes.
- Scientific name: Columba livia.
- Weight: 238 – 380 g.
- Wingspan: 62 – 72 cm.
- Age: Up to 5 years in the wild. Up to 15 years in captivity.
- Diet: They feed mainly on plant substances collected directly on the ground or by resting on trees or shrubs, these includes seeds, fruits and sometimes even small invertebrates. In the cities they feed also on garbage and bread crumbs.
- Habitat: They are social birds and sometimes live in very large groups. The real wild rock dove frequents rocky sea coasts and surrounding environments as well rocky areas of the interior and agricultural areas. In the cities, high rises take the place of the natural cliffs.
- Threats: Persecution by human and predators.
The rock dove is a medium-small bird: its length is around 30 cm and its wingspan is about 62-72 cm. It’s easily recognized because the rear plumage, under the wings, is white while the wings are grey, with two rather evident black lines. Head and neck are grey tending to blue, often showing the characteristic emerald reflections. The rock dove is certainly not a particularly beautiful bird and perhaps it’s also for this reason that it is often mistreated and removed from people. However, what it lacks in beauty it compensates with its intelligence and on this it has nothing to envy to any other bird!
Sedentary and widespread in all continents – the nominal subspecies is present from Europe to Western Russia, from Iraq to the Canary Islands – the wild rock dove has a very wide range. The wild populations nest mainly in coastal and inland areas that are not very accessible, where caves and ravines are found; those that have become wilder frequent urban centers, farmhouses and isolated buildings.
Rock doves are omnivorous, with a preference for plant matter such as seeds, fruits, buds and grains. However the domestic rock dove descendants that we see in our cities every day, became accustomed to feed on food leftovers, garbage and the bread that people – wrongly – throw at them.
During the mating season, the male and the female perform a precise “ritual”, taking each other by the beak and bending the neck over and over again. The female then lays 2 white eggs for each brood, in a year 5 broods or even more can take place. Both parents provide to the incubation for about 2 weeks. The chicks will be fed by the couple for the first 5 days of life with food regurgitated by the parents and, for the following days, the feeding will consist of a mix of this substance, wheat seeds, corn, etc. Within a month of hatching, the chicks leave the nest and are able to fly independently.
Currently classified as safe in the European Union, the wild rock dove has a favorable conservation status also at a continental level. Overall, there is a moderate increase in the breeding population in the territories of European Community in the period 1970-1990, and an unknown trend in the subsequent period 1990-2000. The real trend of wild populations is difficult to identify due to the uncertainty generated by the “domesticated” populations of rock doves, counted in the above estimates.
For the future, it’s necessary to define with greater precision the localization and extent of wild populations and to analyze their ecology, reproductive biology and interactions with wild domestic individuals. From the latter point of view, it is necessary to favor conditions of isolation of the wild populations that still exist. Other measures useful to the species consist in limiting anthropogenic disturbance at the reproductive sites of the main wild populations and in keeping the consistency of populations of less than 500 pairs under close monitoring, avoiding disturbance and possible environmental alterations at the reproductive sites.
Federico Fiorillo is an Italian nature guide and content writer based in the magnificent Val de Bagnes, Switzerland. He’s an avid hiker and snowboarder and he travels to the great wilderness areas of the world to see the wildlife and birds he’s passionate about.
In 2008 and 2011 he joined two Brazilian wildlife field trips in Bahia and decided that observing birds in their habitat was going to be one of his driving passions. He completed a birdwatching course with EBN Italia in 2013, and then in 2014 and 2015 he travelled to South East Asia, Australia and the United States where he joined a photographic workshop at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.
From 2016 to 2018 he lives in New Zealand, where he collaborates in environmental projects at the Otorohanga Kiwi House, which since 1971 protects kiwi and other New Zealand native birds, among the projects he worked hands on the most rewarding was the one aiming to release Brown Kiwis into the wild.
In 2017, he completes a backcountry survival course obtaining the skillsets needed to thrive in-stead of just survive in the face of adversity in the wilderness. In 2017 he also joins a NZ Bird Photography Tour in Ulva Island and at the Royal Albatross Center of the Otago Peninsula, home to the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony.
After his travels across the South Pacific, following his experiences in 2018 he moves in the Swiss Alps where he’s now a nature guide leading tours in the alpine region between Switzerland, Italy and France. Leading nature walks and overnight hiking trips, teaching tourists and locals the secrets of the plants and animals living in this alpine region.
Inspired by an alternative lifestyle he believes in the importance of being in connection with the natural environment and feels the responsibility of interpreting the natural wealth of a site, educating and informing other of the different aspects of that particular area.