On one of my evening walks, I found this Rock Dove(Columba livia) foraging on the ground with a beautiful light on it. I was shooting with Canon EOS 5D Mark III fitted with Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM and Canon EF 1.4x III Extender. This common bird was oblivious of my presence and went on foraging for a quite long time. I was crouching on the ground to get as much eye level shot of the bird as possible. Rock dove is also known as Common Pigeon, Rock Pigeon. These species includes the domestic pigeon (including the fancy pigeon), and escaped domestic pigeons have given rise to feral pigeon populations around the world. Wild Rock Doves are pale grey with two black bars on each wing, although domestic and feral pigeons are very variable in color and pattern. There are few visible differences between males and females. The species is generally monogamous, with two squeakers (young) per brood. Both parents care for the young for a time.
Lot of controversy has arisen in naming this very common bird. In 1992 this bird was renamed as ‘Rock Dove‘ by the British Ornithologist’s Union. After a long tussle with the name American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) as published in their A.O.U. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th Edition (with 44th Supplement, 2003) officially changed from Rock Dove to Rock Pigeon. Then came International Ornithologists’ Union, which wanted to resolve all the conflict in naming and proposed ‘Common Pigeon‘ as the name when they published IOC World Bird Names (v1.0). In July 2011 IOC World Bird List Version 2.9 they renamed it back to Rock Dove due to widespread opposition to the name Common Pigeon. Rock pigeon name was also ruled out as to avoid conflict with Petrophassa “Rock Pigeons” of Australia. During all these periods scientific name,Columba livia has remained constant. Despite being Greek and Latin scientific names are the best way to communicate consistently without confusion.
If you are not confused already let me ask you a simple question – What is the difference between Dove and Pigeon? Here is the simple answer – A dove is a pigeon is a dove. 😉 In general the terms dove and pigeon are used somewhat interchangeably. In ornithological practice, there is a tendency for dove to be used for smaller species and pigeon for larger ones, but this is in no way consistently applied, and historically the common names for these birds involve a great deal of variation between the terms dove and pigeon. These two words in English with the same or near the same meaning, which is due to the fact that they stem from French and German. Dove comes from the German word Taube. Pigeon is borrowed french word pigeon. The same goes for mutton vs sheep; freedom vs liberty; cow vs. beef and so on.
In English, connotations of the word ‘dove‘ are usually positive and those of the word ‘pigeon‘ are usually negative. This is because the birds classified as doves rather than pigeons are usually prettier and have long been associated with love and peace. The birds classified as pigeons are nowadays generally considered to be a nuisance (except to people who like or actually keep them as pets!) and there are a few expressions including the word which also tend to have negative connotations, such as ‘pigeon-toed‘, ‘pigeon-chested‘, or even ‘pigeon-holed‘. Common, grey, city pigeons are known as rats with wings – and seen as great pests. The dove on the other hand, gets its good press from the story of Noah, where it is the bird returning with an olive branch that marks the beginning of a new covenant for mankind – later added to by the rainbow.
Along with the raven and the eagle, the rock dove is part of a great trinity of bird symbols for Western civilization. While the other two have represented death and power, the dove has come to represent peace and love, but in ancient Mesopotamia it represented something more basic: fertility. This may be because the birds show remarkable fecundity, breeding up to six times a year. Wild rock doves, still found in Britain on northern Scottish coasts, have gradually metamorphosed into our domestic pigeons; they are thought to have been kept as early as 4,500BC, making them a contender, with the red jungle fowl (later the chicken), for the world’s earliest domesticated bird.
Jesus‘ parents sacrificed doves on his behalf after his circumcision (Luke 2:24). Later the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism like a dove (Matthew 3:16), and subsequently the “peace dove” became a common Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit. Of course, Picasso also helped make it popular in the 20th Century, as did the UN’s adoption of one of Picasso’s painted doves as a symbol of world peace. In Islam, doves and the pigeon family in general are respected and favored because they are believed to have assisted the final prophet of Islam, Muhammad, in distracting his enemies outside the cave of Thaw’r in the great Hijra.
The pigeon has contributed to both World War I and II, notably by the Australian, French, German, American, and UK forces. 32 Pigeons have been decorated with the Dickin Medal for war contributions, including Commando, G.I. Joe, Paddy, and William of Orange. Cher Ami, a homing pigeon in World War I, was awarded the Croix de Guerre Medal with a palm Oak Leaf Cluster for his service in Verdun and for delivering the message that saved the Lost Battalion of the 77th Infantry Division in the Battle of the Argonne, October 1918. When Cher Ami died, he was mounted and is part of the permanent exhibit at the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution.
Popular belief is that Idea of Origin of Species by Charles Darwin originated by observing the finches of Galapagos Island, it was his passion in breeding fancy pigeons in his backyard which gave him the foundation to the whole idea. Right in the first chapter Darwin discusses contemporary opinions on the origins of different breeds under cultivation to argue that many have been produced from common ancestors by selective breeding. As an illustration of artificial selection, he describes fancy pigeon breeding, noting that “the diversity of the breeds is something astonishing”, yet all were descended from one species of rock pigeon. Darwin saw two distinct kinds of variation:
- rare abrupt changes he called “sports” or “monstrosities” (example: ancon sheep with short legs), and
- ubiquitous small differences (example: slightly shorter or longer bill of pigeons). Both types of hereditary changes can be used by breeders. However, for Darwin the small changes were most important in evolution.
If you like to know more about this check this great website about Darwin’s pigeons.
The two most famous species to have become extinct since 1600 (the conventional date for estimating modern extinctions), the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon belongs to family of pigeon’s Columbidae. Comparison of mitochondrial cytochrome b and 12S rRNA sequences isolated from a tarsal of a Dodo confirms their close relationship with the Nicobar Pigeon, (Caloenas nicobarica) as their closest living relative. The Passenger Pigeon was exceptional for a number of reasons, along with being the only pigeon species to have gone extinct in modern times that was not an island species. It was once the most numerous species of bird on Earth. Its former numbers are difficult to estimate but one ornithologist, Alexander Wilson, estimated that one flock he observed contained over two billion birds. The decline of the species was abrupt; in 1871 a breeding colony was estimated to contain over a hundred million birds, yet the last individual in the species was dead by 1914. Although habitat loss was a contributing factor, the species is thought to have been massively over-hunted, being used as food for slaves and, later, the poor in the United States throughout the 19th century.
Around 59 species of pigeon and dove are threatened with extinction today out of the 300 pigeon (almost 19%) species. Most of these are tropical and live on islands. All of the species threatened today are threatened by introduced predators, habitat loss and hunting, or a combination of these factors. In some cases they may be extinct in the wild, as is the Socorro Dove (Zenaida graysoni) of Socorro Island, Mexico, which was driven to the extinction by habitat loss and introduced feral cats. In some areas a lack of knowledge means that the true status of a species is unknown; the Negros Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus arcanus) has not been seen since 1953 and may or may not be extinct, and the Polynesian Ground Dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera) is classified as critically endangered as it is unknown whether it survives or not on remote islands in the far west of the Pacific Ocean.
Let me conclude this confusion of doves & pigeon’s from a great passage from short story Killing all the Pigeons in Peace Park by M.K. Hobson
“Subtle semantic difference, you may say. Perhaps a pigeon IS a member of the dove family, some distant and unwelcome relative generally shunned at family picnics.” Xavier digs into his pocket and slaps down a hundred-yen coin onto the metal drainboard. “But when people start confusing the two—innocently enough, but still, a confusion—the whole symbol becomes muddy. And when the symbols become muddy, can the idea behind the symbol … can the idea of peace itself remain unsullied? You’ve got people confusing pigeons with doves! Pigeons are the most unpeaceful creatures I’ve ever seen, and that’s my whole point! They’ve taken over Peace Park, and they’ve convinced everybody that they’re doves. The wolves are at the door, and they’re all in pigeons’ clothing.”