The urban skyline is a familiar habitat for a bird that has successfully managed to adapt to an environment dominated by concrete and steel. This avian survivor, known as the Rock Dove or the Common Pigeon (Columba livia), is an integral part of cityscapes around the globe. Its history of domestication dates back centuries, and today, it is perhaps one of the most recognized bird species in the world. However, beneath this commonality lies a bird with a remarkable ability to thrive in diverse environments, possessing a biology that warrants appreciation and understanding.
|Rock Dove, Rock Pigeon, Common Pigeon
|Wild type: Pale grey with two black bars on each wing. Feral: Varied colour and pattern
|29 to 37 cm
|Type of bird
|Urban, semi-open environments
|Found in India in states
|All states; predominantly urban areas
|Varied: cliffs, rock ledges, human structures
Features of the Bird
The adult Rock Dove measures between 29 to 37 cm in length, making it a medium-sized bird species. These dimensions, coupled with a robust body and strong wings, endow the bird with a noticeable presence in its environment. However, the size of a Rock Dove can slightly vary depending on its diet and habitat, with overfed domestic and semi-domestic individuals potentially exceeding normal weights.
While it’s common to discuss the height of birds in the context of their standing stature, it is not applicable for Rock Doves as they are often seen perching or in flight. However, their vertical flight height can be significant. These birds are adept flyers, often seen soaring around buildings and over cityscapes.
Rock Doves are impressively fast and agile in the air, traits inherited from their wild ancestors who needed speed for predator evasion. While the exact speed can vary, pigeons have been observed to fly at speeds of up to 80-90 km/h in a straight flight. Additionally, their wings, sturdy and broad, are adapted for sustained, powerful flight.
The Rock Dove has several other distinguishing features. Its head, neck, and chest are dark bluish-grey with a glossy iridescence of yellowish, greenish, and reddish-purple hues. The eyes are orange, red, or golden encased within a bluish-grey eye ring. The beak is grey-black with a conspicuous off-white cere, and the feet are purplish-red. Furthermore, the bird’s two black bars on its pale grey wings are distinctive.
Habitat and Food of the Bird
- Natural Habitat: The wild ancestors of Rock Doves were cliff dwellers, nesting in crevices on the face of steep rock formations. Even today, feral pigeons prefer nesting on high ledges and balconies on buildings, replicating their original habitat.
- Urbanized Habitat: Today, Rock Doves are synonymous with urban landscapes. They can be seen nesting on buildings, bridges, and other man-made structures, taking advantage of the high vantage points and the safety offered from ground-based predator
- Food Source: The diet of Rock Doves is versatile, consisting of seeds, grains, berries, and, in urban settings, human food scraps. They are predominantly granivorous but can switch to an opportunistic diet when necessary.
- Water Source: Rock Doves, like all birds, need water for drinking and bathing. In cities, they utilize puddles, fountains, and other water features.
- Global Distribution: From their original range in Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, Rock Doves have become a global species thanks to human activity. They are now found on every continent except Antarctica.
Nesting and Nurturing
Rock Doves are monogamous birds, typically raising two chicks or ‘squabs’ per brood.It is the responsibility of both parents to incubate the eggs and provide food for their offspring. Nesting sites are usually high ledges, mimicking the rocky cliffs used by their wild ancestors. Nests are constructed using twigs, leaves, and sometimes even debris from human habitation.
The squabs are fed “crop milk,” a nutrient-rich substance produced in the crops of both parents. The squabs’ rapid growth is testimony to the high nutritional value of this food. Within a month, the squabs are ready to leave the nest, although parental care continues for a little while after fledging.
Despite their apparent ubiquity, Rock Doves face several threats. In cities, they are exposed to a variety of anthropogenic dangers including collisions with vehicles and buildings, poisoning, and electrocution. Additionally, they are often considered pests due to their droppings, leading to measures to deter or remove them from urban environments. Diseases are another major concern, as the Rock Dove can host a variety of parasites and zoonotic diseases.
IUCN Status and Conservation
The Rock Dove is classified as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List. This is because of their vast range and substantial global population, which is estimated to be up to 120 million individuals worldwide. However, the wild type Rock Dove populations are reportedly decreasing, mostly replaced by the more adaptable feral pigeons. Nevertheless, conservation of the species does not represent an urgent concern at present, thanks to its successful integration into human-influenced environments. This successful cohabitation with humans is a testament to the adaptability and resilience of the Rock Dove.
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