Posted by: DarkEyedJunc0 | June 27, 2011

In Defense of Pigeons

My dad grew up post-depression in the lower east side of Manhattan. At this time, racing pigeons and maintaining a coop was all the rage. Pigeon “fanciers,” as they are called, raised pigeons and raced against other clubs, often times for big payouts to the winner.

When I was a child, he would frequently recount the ups and downs of the sport – winning a big race, breeding the birds, capturing a rival’s bird, or the heartbreak of discovering a Rat has feasted in the coop overnight. I remember he would sit by the window of our fourth-floor apartment in Brooklyn for an hour at a time, and watch the local pigeon fanciers “exercise” their birds, waving flags in the air to train birds to stay the course. The simple act of him calling me to the window to watch something exciting like a raptor chase or even just the beauty of their synchronized flight “planted the seed” for what would one day sprout into my love for birds and birding.

© Zac Peterson, NY, New York City, February 2007 (click here to read Cornell Labs' article)

Since I often find myself in a position of having to defend these amazing creatures, today, on the 16th anniversary of Dad’s passing, I decided to share these interesting facts about Columba livia, a.k.a. Rock Dove or Rock Pigeon in his honor:

  1. The word “pigeon” is derived from the latin word “pipio” which means “young bird.”
  2. The Old French word, “pijon” became “pigeon” and is the common name for the Rock Dove.
  3. British and American Ornithologists officially re-named the “Rock Dove” to “Rock Pigeon” in 2004.
  4. The first images of pigeons were found in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and date back to 3000 BC.
  5. The Sumerians are credited with breeding white Doves with wild Pigeons, and hence the vast array of color variation.
  6. Man has “kept” pigeons in almost every part of the world for over 10,000 years.
  7. In the U.S., there are three breeding groups of pigeons-  Sport, “Fancy” and utility.
  8. Pigeon poo (for use as manure) was such a highly valued commodity in Europe during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries that guards were stationed outside pigeon houses.
  9. In 16th century England, Pigeon poo was used as a source of saltpetre which is an essential ingredient in gunpowder.
  10. The pigeon is only one of six animals that can recognize their image in a mirror, and is the only non-mammal with this ability.
  11. Pigeons have been used as communication messengers since 5th Century BC by the Syrians and Persians.
  12. The pigeon was used during WWI and WWII as a way to carry messages across enemy lines.
  13. During the Roman Empire, the pigeon was used to share sporting event results, such as the Olympic game results. This is the reason a White Dove is released during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic games.
  14. News agency, Reuters started its European business with 45 trained homing pigeons in 1850. Birds would carry news and stock prices from Germany to Belgium. It would take the birds two hours to travel 76 miles. This rate was four hours faster than the railway system.
  15. In some Sikh cultures, it is believed that if you do not feed wild pigeons, you will go hungry in your next life.
  16. Some Indian cultures believe that when you die, you are reincarnated as a bird (mostly pigeons,) therefore, feeding pigeons is a way to honor your ancestors.
  17. Christian cultures use the dove or pigeon as a symbol of peace or the Holy Spirit.
  18. The last Passenger Pigeon was killed in 1914. The species was eradicated due to over-hunting.
  19. At one time, there were 3-5 billion Passenger Pigeons in North America
  20. Pigeons bob their heads because it gives them “depth of perception” since they have “side mounted eyes.” Accordingly, they need to keep their heads still to see, so when they walk, they keep their head “behind” and jerk their head with the next step.
  21. Feral pigeons mate for life and breed up to 8 times a year.
  22. There are two eggs in a clutch, and it takes 18 or 19 days for eggs to hatch. Both parents incubate eggs.
  23. Baby pigeons are called “squabs” – they typically double their birth weight in one day.
  24. It takes 4 days for a squab to open its eyes.
  25. It takes a squab 2 months to fledge.
  26. Queen Elizabeth of England has pigeon keeper who maintain lofts at her estate in Norfolk.
  27. Mike Tyson is a pigeon racer.
  28. Successful racing pigeons can be released 400-600 miles from home and still return in one day.
  29. One racing pigeon recently sold for $132,517. It had beaten 21,000 other pigeons in one long distance race.
  30. Finally, how can you not love pigeons after taking a trip down memory lane with this clip:

In celebration of the memory of my dad, the man who taught me to appreciate all things avian. 🙂



  1. thanks lisa, what a lovely tribute to your dad

  2. Thank you DL. It was a fun piece to write. 🙂

  3. Wonderful–and very interesting facts…p.s. That Bert sure knows how to dance…

  4. I love it! 🙂

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