Dissection of a Pigeon: Phylum Chordata (Class Aves), 2017


     The domestic pigeon (Columba livia) (also called the rock dove or city pigeon) was originally found in Europe, Northern Africa, and India. Early settlers introduced it into the eastern United States as a domestic bird in the 1600s. Since then, it has expanded throughout the United States to Alaska, across southern Canada, and south into South America. Pigeons originally lived in high places—cliffs, ledges, and caves near the sea—that provided them with safety. Over time they have adapted to roosting and nesting on windowsills, roofs, eaves, steeples, and other man-made structures. Pigeons typically have a gray body with iridescent feathers around their neck, a broad black band on their tail, and salmon-colored feet. Breeders have created color variations, so the body color may also be white, tan, black, or a combination of several colors. Pigeons have a strutting walk and their call is a long, drawn-out coo that can be heard quite easily. When they take off, their wing-tips touch, making a characteristic clicking sound. Domestic pigeons mainly eat seeds and grains. Pigeons also eat insects, fruit, and vegetation, and scavenge food people provide for them—intentionally or unintentionally. While young birds of other species are fed a high-protein diet of insects, young pigeons are fed “pigeon milk”—a milky-white fatty substance regurgitated from both parents’ crops. Unlike most birds that must tip their heads back to swallow water, pigeons can drink by sucking water directly from a puddle or other water source. Domestic pigeons mate for life unless separated by death or accident. Females usually lay two cream-colored eggs in a nest loosely constructed from twigs, feathers, and debris. Both male and female incubate the eggs, which hatch after 18 days. The young are independent at four to five weeks of age. Pigeons can raise four to five broods annually. Under optimal conditions, new eggs are laid even before the previous clutch has left the nest.