Who is plump with a small head and a thin straight bill with a gray back, two black wing bars and a blue-gray head? It is also stubby in appearance, has short legs and is just a touch smaller than an American crow. Can you guess?
It is the rock pigeon or rock dove or just plain pigeon! It is a common bird throughout North America and was a carrier of messages for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I and II. In so doing, rock pigeons carried vital strategic information and saved many lives. Rock pigeons always find their way home and according to scientists even if they are released blindfolded for a great distance away, they find home. It is thought that they navigate by smell, sound and by sensing the magnetic fields of the earth.
Even though most pigeons are the standard color mentioned above they also come in different color shades and patterns. One article I read recently about rock pigeons indicated that people have named the most common color morphs. Their appearance produced such names as blue-bar, red bar, checker, spread or pied. Blue-bars are bluish-gray with two black bands on the wing and a black tipped tail. The red bar is similar in appearance but is red instead of bluish-gray. The checker is said to have spots on its wings, spreads are all black or all gray and pied are pigeons of any color with white splotches. Sibley (2014) says, that the variable plumage has come about after “centuries of domestication.” Each of the main plumage variations have pink legs.
Rock pigeons are common and widespread everywhere. Sibley indicates that they were introduced from Europe and escaped from domestication to become one of the most familiar birds in North America. They are a bird of the city and farming country. They nest and roost on the ledges of buildings, cliffs and under railway or highway bridges. They also rest on power lines and the roofs of buildings during the daylight hours.
These birds will come to feeders. They are voracious eaters of seeds so will eat you out of house and home. They mainly forage for seeds on the ground so they are attracted to open areas where seeds are more likely.
The rock pigeon is a sleek and powerful flyer. They appear to be falcon like when in the air. They are sought after by falcons and other raptors for their lunch. Many rock pigeons hang out in small groups around our ports, which brings in the raptors. Harbors are a good place to look for pigeons and their predators!
If you hear a sharp slapping sound it may be a rock pigeon taking off from its perch as it beats its wings together on the upstroke. Soft throaty cooing that seems to go on forever may also tell you that a rock pigeon is nearby. Hopefully it also tells a potential mate which is what the cooing is designed to do.
If you haven’t really looked at this common bird, now may be the time. How many plumage variations can you see? Watch its behavior. Look for its falcon like flight. Maybe you will see a chase when one of its predators, such as the peregrine falcon, tries for a tasty snack.