Did you know that there are over 300 species of pigeons? Or that they can live up to 15 years old? Pigeons are interesting creatures, and in this blog post, we’re going to explore some fun facts about them. So whether you’re a kid who’s curious about these birds, or an adult who just wants to learn more, keep reading!
1. Pigeon domestication started around 10,000 years ago!
When you hear the word pigeon, you’re probably thinking of dull-feathered, head-bobbing miscreants that often dirty your driveway. However, that’s a misjudged image of these birds.
Pigeons are resourceful birds and have helped humans in more ways than one. Our ancestors knew this fact long ago, as research shows pigeons were domesticated by the Neolithic men about 10,000 years ago!
2. Pigeons and doves are the same birds!
As you already know, pigeons and doves belong to the same family, along with 300 other species, 13 of which are now extinct. However, you might not know that pigeons and doves are descendants of the same bird, the wild Rock Dove. Therefore, pigeons and doves are the same birds.
In fact, pigeons and doves were collectively referred to as doves in the English language. However, in French, they were called pigeons.
Somewhere along the way, the words got mixed, as they often do. Today, the beautiful, light-colored birds are called doves, and the somewhat feral, unaesthetic-looking birds are called pigeons.
However, the important thing to know is that there’s no scientific difference between the two birds. The few physical differences in plumage, size and habits among pigeons and doves are a result of varied habitats and evolution.
Pigeons are quite similar to humans in many ways. Like humans, pigeons are highly sociable creatures and are rarely seen alone. In fact, one of the reasons why people in cities resent pigeons is their tendency to gather a flock wherever they go.
Pigeons are also monogamous, meaning they mate with one partner for their lives. The male and the female pigeons are great parents, as they raise their offspring together and with equal effort.
4. The Victoria Crowned Pigeons are the largest pigeon species in the world!
Pigeons are small, but their largest species is still big enough to be medium-sized birds.
The Victoria Crowned Pigeons are the largest pigeon species in the world, with a length of about 29 inches. In contrast to them, the pigeons you probably come across daily (the Common Pigeons) are only 12 inches long!
The Crowned Pigeons are called so because they have beautiful, blue-colored lace-like crests. Another interesting fact about them is that they don’t have gallbladders!
5. Pigeons can produce milk despite being birds!
You must’ve heard that milk production is an all-exclusive mammalian trait. However, there are always exceptions, right?
Pigeons are known to produce a special, nutrition-rich substance in their crops (a muscular bag right under their esophagus) to feed their newborns. And what’s even more surprising is that male and female pigeons can both produce crop milk!
Besides pigeons, the male Emperor Penguins and Flamingos are the only birds that can produce crop milk.
6. Baby pigeons stay strictly indoors until they grow into juveniles!
If you’re even slightly interested in bird-watching, you must know how special it is to see a fledgling out and about. However, the same isn’t true with pigeon fledglings, as they don’t leave their nests at all until they’re about two months old!
This gives them an advantage over the young ones of other bird species as they go out into the world as fully mature juveniles. In contrast, some birds leave their nests in as little as ten days!
Anyhow, the two months old pigeons you see look very similar to the adults at that point. One way to tell juvenile and mature pigeons apart is by their red eye-rings, which can only be seen in mature pigeons.
7. Pigeons can be found almost everywhere in the world
Can you think of anywhere you’ve been where you couldn’t spot one pigeon? We don’t think so.
This is because pigeons are found in almost all urban areas in the world! These adaptable birds can live everywhere except the Artic and Antarctic regions.
The current estimated population of pigeons is about 400 million birds, and the number is going up fast along with rapid urbanization. Out of those 400 million birds, New York City alone is home to about 1 million pigeons!
8. Pigeons can hear storms and volcanoes from a distance
Prey birds like pigeons don’t stand a chance against larger birds of prey like eagles or hawks, at least not with their physical strength. But when it comes to natural disasters, they aren’t that defenseless.
Pigeons have infrasonic hearing, meaning they can detect extremely low-frequency sounds that most birds cannot. This enables them to hear storms and volcanoes from a distance.
9. Passenger Pigeons, that were once most commonly found, are now extinct
Passenger Pigeons were used to transport military and personal messages over quite long distances. Their homing ability would put humans – who need GPS to travel around their own town – to shame today.
Sadly, Passenger Pigeons have been extinct for more than a hundred years. The last known Passenger Pigeon, Martha, died at Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.
There was a time when we had enough Passenger Pigeons that we even felt slightly intimidated by their numbers. However, hunting and constant habitat destruction wiped out every last bird of this species. Even towards the end, no serious efforts were made to conserve the leftover Passenger Pigeons.
10. Pigeons have served us as long-distance messengers for years
Besides being used in wars as messengers, homing pigeons have also been used widely for personal uses due to their remarkable homing abilities.
To train a homing pigeon, people used to carry them in cages to a destination, and a small message was then tied to them. Once released, the pigeon would always find their way back home.
The Romans started using homing pigeons to convey messages around 2000 years ago; there have been claims that Julius Caesar used pigeons during his conquest of Gaul.
We’ve already discussed how pigeons used to fly long distances to deliver our messages. But how exactly are they able to display such skill in navigation?
Two factors help pigeons find their way home from unexpectedly distant places. Firstly, they can remember landmarks along known routes, even if they’ve only been there once.
Secondly, they possess magnetoreception, which helps them navigate their way using the planet’s magnetic field. Isn’t that amazing?
12. Pigeons are really smart
When you hear the phrase intelligent birds, you might think of parrots, eagles, owls, or hawks. But did you ever think that pigeons might be on this list as well?
Pigeons are one of the few creatures who can pass the mirror test, meaning that they can recognize themselves individually in a mirror. They can also learn and memorize the English alphabet.
Last but not least, they can differentiate between photographs and even tell apart different people in a single photograph!
13. Pigeons can even detect cancer!
How amazing would it be if your pet could tell whether or not you have cancer early on? Because it looks like pigeons might be the ones for the job.
A 2015 study conducted on sixteen pigeons by the University of Iowa shows that with a little training, Rock Doves (Columba livia) can accurately detect breast cancer in mammograms.
With about fifteen days of training, the birds’ accuracy level increased from 50% to 85%! When the sixteen birds were made to review a set of images together, their combined accuracy was 99%, which is the accuracy you can also expect from doctors and pathologists.
14. Pigeon meat is used in the French dish, Salmis
If you think French cuisine is exquisite now, wait until you read about the special dish, we have in store for you. How would you like to have a Salmis De Pigeons, Monsieur?
Yes, you read that correctly. The French have a special pigeon-based dish cooked with bacon and mushrooms and roasted with brandy. However, don’t be too surprised by it; pigeon meat is also consumed in many other countries.
15. Pigeons are carriers of various diseases
The only complaint you’ll ever have from a flock of pigeons is their droppings, which dry up quickly and make quite the mess.
However, besides dirtying the surroundings, pigeon poop is also a known carrier of diseases. Some diseases pigeon poop generally carries include E.coli, Salmonellosis, Histoplasmosis, and St. Louis Encephalitis.
You see, the said droppings can dry up quickly, turning into a powder. The powder blows away with the wind, and there’s a good chance that the powder is accidentally inhaled by someone, leading to the contraction of diseases.
If you see pigeon droppings in your neighborhood, it’s best to get them cleaned immediately.
16. Pigeon droppings were highly valuable in the 16th-18th century!
If there’s one genuine reason to dislike pigeons, it’s their droppings. Once you see a lone pigeon flying in your neighborhood, be warned that the rest of its friends will soon bring the droppings party to you.
But did you know that between the 16th to 18th centuries, the droppings of these birds were extremely expensive? So much so that there were armed guards outside dovecotes to prevent people from stealing any of them.
Wondering why? Well, there were no chemical pesticides back then, which meant crops going bad was one of the bigger problems for farmers. Pigeon poop, also called pigeon guano, worked as the best pesticide for them.
17. Some pigeons have been war veterans!
Pigeons have always played an important role in wars. Seeing their strong navigation skills and flying altitude, they were trained to be war messengers.
Trust us when we say that their job wasn’t an easy one. During the war, everyone knew that pigeons carried important military information, so the soldiers on the other side tried to kill or intercept every pigeon they spotted.
One pigeon named Cher Ami lost its foot and one eye but still got the message through! That message helped save a big group of surrounded American infantrymen.
18. Pigeons also make reliable lifeguards!
Did you know that besides long-distance message transportation and cancer detection, pigeons can also be trained to save people in the sea, that too with a high success rate?
Project Sea Hunt aimed to train pigeons to identify yellow or red life jackets floating in the water. Not only were these pigeons more reliable than the other lifesaving methods, but they were also much quicker.
One of the reasons behind this is the pigeons’ ability to see the color ultraviolet on the color spectrum, which isn’t visible to humans.
19. Pigeons were used on Wall Street!
In the 1800s, Wall Street wasn’t all laptop screens and phone calls. However, the Rothschilds, one of the famous families in the financial business back then, devised a method almost as efficient as the one we have today.
They trained their own flock of homing pigeons and set us an entire pigeon network to transport financial information back and forth from Europe.
It turned out to be one of the most efficient systems for long-distance communication back then and helped the Rothschilds in making a fortune.
20. Pigeons are important in Islamic culture
Pigeons and rock doves are a significant part of Islamic culture. Islamic scriptures said that these birds saved Muhammad and his followers from being captured by the Quraish tribe as they went to Mecca.
These birds had laid their eggs at the entrance of the cave in which Muhammad was hiding. When the search party came looking for them, one of them stated that the eggs were right where a man might step to enter the cave. He also added that no one could possibly be there.
If you’ve been to Mecca or seen pictures of the place, you’ll see thousands of pigeons co-existing with humans. The people feed them and pet them to earn their favor.
21. June 13th is celebrated as National Pigeon Day
If you’re a pigeon enthusiast or are interested in them after reading this article, then we’ve got a treat for you!
National Pigeon Day is celebrated on 13th June every year to commemorate the sacrifice of Cher Ami, the brave military-trained homing pigeon we talked about earlier.
On this day, all you need to do is close your eyes and send a silent prayer to Cher Ami and the many brave pigeons who sacrificed their lives in the war. You can also interact with other pigeon enthusiasts on online forums and social media groups.
In the end
To sum everything up, there’s no denying that pigeons are one of the most interesting birds around, with many facts and features that differentiate them from all the other birds. Pigeons have been making our lives a little easier for thousands of years. It might not seem like it, but they have played a major role in civilization as we know it today.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this list of facts about pigeons and that it will inspire further curiosity in the fine and fascinating world of these birds. We had a great time compiling this article. If you liked it and found it useful, please remember to share it with your friends and family. They’ll thank you for it.