This dove has many common names: pigeon, rock dove, rock pigeon, racing pigeon, homing pigeon, domestic pigeon, among others, but rock pigeons are actually doves. (Commonly, the word "pigeon" is used with the larger doves while the term "dove" is usually reserved for the smaller and more delicate birds of this group. Scientifically, however, the word "pigeon" has little significance.)
Rock pigeons originated in the Old World north of the equator, but were brought to North America in 1606 and are now widely spread across the continent.
This familiar bird inhabits our cities, where they can sometimes become pests by leaving droppings in city parks and downtown streets. Still, they are handsome birds and have long had a relationship with humans who have used them for food (squab), to carry messages (carrier pigeons), and for recreation (homing pigeons and the breeding of fancy pigeons).
Rock pigeons are common in both urban areas and farmlands of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. In downtown areas, rock pigeons nest on tall buildings and are the preferred prey of the speedy peregrine falcons.
Watch for the male's mating flight in which he claps his wings together and then slowly glides with wings held in a deep "V" shape. Also watch for "bowing" displays in which the male fluffs up breast and neck feathers while bowing and circling in front of a female.
Rock pigeons use landmarks (tall buildings), sun position, Earth's magnetic field, and possibly odors, low-frequency sounds, and polarized light to navigate home, even when they are released in unfamiliar areas.
The iridescence on the male's neck is due to the physical structure of the feathers and how they reflect light rather than pigmentation.
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
Key ID Features: Color varies widely due to breeding by humans, but most are colored like the bird in the photo above. Both sexes similar.
Present in Park: Year-round.
Habitat: Rock pigeons are closely associated with humans, so look for them around farm buildings and in cities, even in the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Nests are loosely constructed affairs in farm buildings or on ledges of downtown buildings.
Did You Know?
At Lake Onalaska, near LaCrosse WI, the Mississippi River is about 4 miles wide. The combination of water held behind Lock and Dam #7 and water held by damming the Black River form this broad reach of the Mississippi River.