We have a long, common history with pigeons: they served as carrier pigeons for more than 2000 years.
What do pigeons look like?
Pigeons look very different depending on the breed: they can be all white or brown, but they can also be patterned. Some are really colorful or even have curly decorative feathers. Most domestic pigeons are grey. The wings and tail are black and the feathers on the neck shimmer greenish to violet.
Like their wild ancestors, the rock pigeons, the domestic pigeons are about 33 centimeters long and weigh about 300 grams. The wingspan is 63 centimeters. The tail measures about eleven centimeters.
Where do pigeons live?
Wild rock pigeons live in central and southern Europe, in Asia Minor across Arabia to India, and in North and West Africa. Domestic pigeons have spread all over the world together with humans and today they live in almost all major cities in Europe, America, and Asia.
Rock pigeons live mainly on rocks on sea coasts and on islands. But they are also found in rocky regions inland and in deserts. The pigeons use niches and projections on our houses as a substitute for natural rocks. That is why they find so many suitable habitats in the cities. They rarely settle on trees.
What types of pigeons are there?
There are about 14 subspecies of the rock pigeon, as well as around 140 breeds of domestic pigeon that have been bred by pigeon fanciers. Some of these breeds are very valuable. Pigeon breeding began as early as the fourth millennium BC in Egypt.
How old do pigeons get?
Domestic pigeons can be about 15 to a maximum of 20 years old. Like carrier pigeons, they can do their “service” for around ten years.
How do pigeons live?
Pigeons are very skilled fliers. They fly at speeds of over 185 km/h. A carrier pigeon can travel 800 to 1000 kilometers a day. Pigeons can fly long distances without flapping their wings because they can glide in the air. But they can also move quickly on the ground.
Like rock pigeons, domestic pigeons are diurnal animals. They spend the night in caves and crevices. Pigeons are considered very curious birds and are said to be just as intelligent as ravens. They examine all unfamiliar objects with their beaks. Domestic pigeons do not only play a special role for us humans because they are considered a symbol of peace but because they serve as carrier pigeons to transmit news and messages. Pigeons are sent to different places by their owners. From there they can then return home.
If necessary, a small scroll with a message is attached to her leg. To this day, it is not entirely clear how pigeons can find their way back to their homeland hundreds or thousands of kilometers away. It is known, however, that they orientate themselves less by the position of the sun and more by the earth’s magnetic field with the help of special organs. Because this magnetic field is slightly different in every part of the world and changes with the geographic direction, the pigeons can use it to orient themselves.
Proper carrier pigeons are literally trained by their breeders to find their way back home. Even as young animals at the age of three to four months, they are taken by car to an unknown place and, after a break, have to fly back home from there.
In this way, the pigeons gradually learn to find their way back to their hometown over ever-greater distances. Pigeons are colony breeders by nature. This is also the reason why they try to find their way back to their usual nesting place and their partner.
Friends and foes of the pigeons
Pigeons’ natural enemies are birds of prey. But because pigeons flee through very clever flight maneuvers, they can sometimes escape their pursuers. However, our domestic pigeons only have a few enemies in the cities, such as hawks, sparrowhawks, or falcons. For this reason – and because they are fed by humans – they can reproduce very profusely.
How do pigeons reproduce?
Like their wild ancestors, the rock pigeons, domestic pigeons like to build their nests in caves and crevices. In cities, they therefore usually breed on ledges and in window niches, in towers, ruins, and in-wall holes.
Since pigeons are very sensitive to moisture and drafts, they usually build their nests on the east and south sides of a building, protected from wind and weather. However, their nests are not particularly artistic: the pigeons simply throw a few branches and twigs together in a disorderly manner and lay their eggs in a hollow in the middle.
The mating ritual of domestic pigeons is typical. They seem to be hastily cleaning their backs and wings with their beaks and scratching each other’s heads and necks. Finally, the female sticks her beak in the male’s, as if to feed him like a young pigeon. Then the mating takes place.
The female pigeon usually lays two eggs, each weighing 17 grams. Incubated together. The male incubates from morning to afternoon, the female from the afternoon and throughout the night.