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rock dove

Columba livia

What do they look like?

Rock doves typically have a dark bluish-gray head, neck, and chest with glossy yellowish, greenish, and reddish-purple iridesence along their neck and wing feathers. Females tend to show less iridesence than the males and males tend to be slightly larger than females. The bill is dark grayish-pink. Two dark bands across the wings are seen in most pigeons, and one bluish-gray band across the tail. Feral rock doves are highly variable in color and pattern, though, ranging from white to black and mottled pattern to uniform patterns. Adult rock doves have reddish-orange eyes, juveniles less than 6-8 months old have medium brown or greyish eyes.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • male more colorful
  • Average mass
    350.0 g
    12.33 oz
  • Average mass
    358.7 g
    12.64 oz
  • Average length
    32.0 cm
    12.60 in

Where do they live?

Wild rock doves are native to Europe, North Africa, and southwestern Asia. Rock doves are found worldwide, including throughout all of North America. It should be noted that occurrence within this range is not evenly distributed (see habitat).

What kind of habitat do they need?

Wild rock doves nest in crevices along rocky seaside cliffs, close to agriculture or open shrub vegetation. Feral pigeons live in old farm buildings in rural areas. In cities, the skyscrapers and other buildings tend to take the place of their natural cliff surroundings. They need high, inaccessible places like cliffs or tall buildings for their nests to protect their young from predators. Rock doves are not aggressive birds and cannot generally drive away predators from their nests.

Rock doves can survive in exposed areas quite well and seem to do well with extremes of heat and cold. They will huddle in groups during cold weather to stay warmer or seek refuge in covered or sheltered areas.

How do they reproduce?

Male and female rock doves mate for life.

Rock doves breed throughout the warm season. They lay usually two eggs in a rough nest made of sticks and debris. The eggs are incubated for 16 to 19 days and the young are fully fledged (have their feathers) and learning to fly by 30 to 37 days after hatching.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Rock doves can breed every few months.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs throughout the warm part of the year.
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    19.0 days
  • Average time to hatching
    18 days
  • Range time to independence
    30 to 37 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    140 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    140 days

Both males and females incubate the eggs, often females incubate during the day and males at night. Eggs hatch approximately 19 days after being laid. Males and females produce a substance from their crop called 'pigeon milk' or 'crop milk' which they feed to their hatchlings during the first week of life. After the first week the young are fed regurgitated seeds and other foods along with the pigeon milk.

How long do they live?

Rock doves can live up to 15 years in the wild, though many probably live for less than that.

How do they behave?

Rock doves generally walk or run while bobbing their heads forward and backward. They fly with a steady and direct path. Rock doves are most often seen during daylight, seeking cover at night and during the heat of the day, according to the climate. They flock while roosting, sunning, and feeding, and form loose colonies for nesting. In the nesting territory, both sexes are aggresive, pecking intruders on the head. Pigeons are excellent fliers, they can fly as fast as 40-50 miles per hour and can fly as far as 600 miles in a day. Despite this, they usually stay close to their home territory.

How do they communicate with each other?

Rock doves makes lots of soft coo-ing noises while in flocks, perhaps as a way of staying in contact with other pigeons. Males make a 'coo roo-c'too oo' sound to attract mates and defend their nesting territory. When startled they make an alarm call that sounds like 'oorhh!' Nestlings make sounds by snapping their bills and hissing. Pigeons have excellent vision, they can see in color and can also see ultraviolet light (humans can't). They are sometimes used in human search and rescue missions because of their excellent vision. Rock doves also have the ability to detect the earth's magnetic fields. This, along with their ability to tell direction by the sun's movements, allows them to find their homes. People have used this ability, homing pigeons were once very important ways for people to send messages and news to places far away.

What do they eat?

Rock doves feed in the early morning and in the mid-afternoon on the open ground. They eat mainly seeds. Studies of pigeons in a semi-rural part of Kansas found that their diet includes the following: 92% corn, 3.2% oats, 3.7% cherry, along with small amounts of knotweed, elm, poison ivy, and barley. In cities, rock doves are often fed popcorn, cake, peanuts, bread, and currants, though they will eat almost anything that they can find. Rock doves, and all other members of their family, the Columbidae, suck water through their beaks like straws. This is unusual among birds that mostly have to take a sip of water and lift their beak to the sky to allow the water to fall into their throat. Female rock doves need to eat a diet somewhat higher in protein and calcium in order to have the nutritional resources to lay eggs.

  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Rock doves form large groups, called flocks. By associating with other rock doves they decrease their likelihood of being taken by a predator, there are many more eyes watching for predatory animals and each individual rock dove is less likely to be targeted.

Do they cause problems?

Rock doves can be crop pests and spread diseases, such as histoplasmosis, in their droppings.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

Rock doves are eaten as a game bird by humans and used for laboratory research. They have also been very important in research on bird navigation and behavior. Rock doves have been used as carrier pigeons for hundreds of years and have been very important historically.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • pet trade
  • food
  • research and education

Are they endangered?

Since rock doves are often fed by well-meaning city dwellers, and because they are so good at living in and near humans, their numbers are high.

Some more information...

Rock doves have been domesticated for a long time and are bred in a wide-range of forms and colors, these are called fancy pigeons.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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. "Columba livia" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 26, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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