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  • Sara Umbrell

Animal of the Week: The Rock Pigeon

By Sara Umbrell, Layout Director

Say hello to this week’s animal, the rock pigeon! A lot of you have probably seen these guys before, as they are what we know as the pigeons that inhabit cities across the United States. We may know them as just pigeons, but they are, in fact, formally known as rock pigeons, or Columbia livia.

This bird actually is native to North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. They were brought over to the U.S in the 1600s, and now they not only live, but thrive, in cities. In the wild, their diet would consist of almost primarily seeds. But in the cities, they’ll eat anything that humans discard, ranging from rice to doughnuts. This consumption of human food scraps is part of the reason this species is so successful, as they can spend less time searching for food and more time breeding.

Rock pigeons, along with other pigeons, are actually closely related to doves. They are in the same family having similar thick, round bodies and short necks. But pigeons are generally larger in size and stubbier than doves are. Rock pigeons often mate for life, each egg clutch containing only one or two eggs. This may not seem like a lot, but pigeons don’t have a specific breeding season and may have up to five different broods a year. The male courtship ritual consists of the male strutting and bowing to the female, sometimes regurgitating food as a gift offering. If the female accepts him, he brings sticks and twigs to make a nest for the egg(s), and the two take turns incubating it.

The conservation status of the rock pigeon seems like they would be of the least concern given how widespread they are. But, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, their populations have actually declined by about 46% between 1996 and 2015. A big reason for this is the return of birds of prey species – including hawks and falcons – back into urban spaces. Another reason is that many cities discourage pigeons, and the MBTA (Massachusetts transportation system) has actually placed spikes on the rafters to prevent them from nesting. Hopefully these guys are able to keep being resilient, and more people start to see them as a friendly bird rather than a pest!

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