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Pigeons have been around for a long time – long before humans. They originated several million years ago in Asia. Pigeons range throughout all of the United States and most of Canada and are found in almost all metropolitan areas. Pigeons have long been kept and raised in captivity. The common pigeon was imported by early settlers as food animals and to serve as carriers of messages. They were originally called “rock doves” and are closely related to doves.

Pigeons are gregarious and tend to be found in small flocks of around twenty to thirty birds. Seeds and grains make up the bulk of their diet but they are willing to sample just about anything.

A pigeon nest is usually constructed with small twigs and located on covered building ledges that resemble cliffs a Rock Dove’s natural habitat. The male brings the nesting material to his mate one piece at a time and she builds the nest usually well-hidden and hard to find.

Pigeons reproduce throughout the year even during winter and can raise four or five broods annually. The female usually lays two white eggs. Both parents take turns keeping the eggs warm. Males usually stay on the nest during the day; females at night. Incubation takes about 16 to 19 days and the young are fed crop milk for about the first two weeks. (Crop milk is a specially produced secretion that both parents produce from the lining of the crop a sac-like food storage chamber that projects outward from the bottom of the esophagus). Eventually seeds replace the crop milk.

There are as many as 28 pigeon color types. Pigeons have colorful iridescent neck feathers which are called a “hackle.” Adult males and females look alike but a male’s hackle is more iridescent than a female’s. Pigeons that are all white are usually albinos. These white “doves” are frequently released during ceremonies to symbolize love and peace.

Pigeons have many types of feathers some of which are accompanied by one or two filoplume feathers that look like hairs. These filoplumes may have sensory functions such as detecting touch and pressure changes.

Adults have orange or reddish orange eyes. Juveniles that are less than six to eight months old have medium brown or grayish brown eyes. Pigeon eyesight is excellent. Like humans pigeons can see color but they also can see ultraviolet light – part of the light spectrum that humans can’t see. Pigeons are sometimes used in human search-and-rescue missions because of their exceptional vision.

Pigeons can hear sounds at much lower frequencies than humans can such as wind blowing across buildings and mountains distant thunderstorms and even far-away volcanoes. Sensitive hearing may explain why pigeons sometimes fly away for no apparent reason.

Pigeons have a unique drinking behavior. Most birds take a sip of water and throw back their heads to let the water trickle down their throats. But pigeons suck up water using their beaks like straws.

Pigeons can fly up to 40 or 50 miles per hour and may fly as far as 600 miles a day. They seem to be able to detect the Earth’s magnetic fields. This magnetic sensitivity along with the ability to tell direction by sun seems to help pigeons find their way home.

Although pigeons are considered by many to be dirty and disease-ridden there is little evidence linking pigeons directly to infections in humans.