There were once dozens of species of pigeon in North America, but now there are only a handful remaining. Most pigeons are found in woodland and around farmland, however, they are also commonly spotted in parks and in gardens with bird feeders or platforms. Some of us have attempted to feed pigeons bread in large metropolitan cities and make them eat from the palm of our hand. Nevertheless, bread is not what pigeons would eat in the wild.
So, what do they eat? And do species from different continents have different diets? Let’s find out.
Did You Know?
Pigeons are the oldest domesticated bird, having been reared over 5000 years ago in Ancient Egypt.
North American Species
The rock dove, or rock pigeon, is the most common species in North America, but it is not a native. This species was introduced from France, arriving at Port Royal, Nova Scotia in 1606. A second introduction occurred in 1621 in Virginia and a final introduction was made to Massachusetts in 1642.
This species now occupies approximately 75% of the continent and can be found in busy towns and cities, parks, farmland, woodland and coastal areas.
Rock doves live up to 5 years in the wild and as long as 15 years in captivity. They have a wingspan of 28 inches and an adult weight of 9 ounces. From bill to tail, rock pigeons grow up to 13 inches.
Most have a grey body, with a green-blue or purple collar and white markings on the face, back, wings and tail. Other colours are common such as white or brown with no markings, white with black, grey or brown speckles and brown with white speckles.
The band-tailed pigeon is the second most common species in North America, however, their distribution is much smaller than that of the rock pigeon. They live year-round in Mexico and up the west coast, including California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
During the summer months when the birds are nesting, people can also see them in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. A smaller population is also found on Vancouver Island, on the south coast of British Colombia.
This species has much less colour variation than others in North America. They have a black-tipped orange beak, a long neck, long tapered wings and scaly orange legs and feet.
Most band-tailed pigeons have pale grey bodies, but a small number can be seen with darker colouration. They are the largest of the four species, with a weight of 13 ounces and growing up to 15 inches in length.
Other Pigeon Species of North America
Red-billed pigeons have an even smaller range, found only in southern Texas and across Mexico. Despite their name, their beaks are not red. Individuals have either a creamy yellow or grey beak. They have a red-brown face, neck and chest, with grey wings and tail. They are the same size as band-tailed pigeons, but they are not as heavy, weighing no more than 11 ounces.
The white-crowned pigeon is the smallest of the four North American species, weighing up to 10 ounces and growing no larger than 13.5 inches from beak to tail. This species also has the smallest range, found only in southern Florida and southern Mexico.
As the name suggests, this species has a crown of white feathers on the top of the head, which usually extends down to eye level. The body is dark grey or brown, appearing black at sunrise or sunset. The beak is pinkish-red with a white tip and the legs and feet are pink or red-brown.
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Between 1980 and 2016 there were approximately 170 species of European pigeon classified as ‘common’. Throughout Europe and most of Asia, the rock pigeon, wood pigeon and stock dove are the most common. While they are classified as separate species, these three share many similarities such as the shape of the head, body colouration and size.
Turtle doves, like those from the Christmas carol, are also common, with populations inhabiting much of Europe and Asia. They are more distinct than the most common pigeon species.
The spotted turtle dove has a creamy brown body, with a patch of dark spots either side of the neck. The wings are speckled brown with black spots and thin stripes, which fades down into the tail. Oriental turtle doves have a similar appearance, however, the neck patches are stripped grey and black rather than spots seen on spotted turtle doves. The markings on the wings of oriental doves are banded.
The most distinct Eurasian species is the laughing turtle dove. They have an appearance that would not be out of place in a fantasy film. The head and chest are covered in pastel pink feathers, graduating to vibrant pink or orange around the neck. Then come contrasting vibrant blue feathers across the back, the edges of the wings and the base of the tail. The tail tip fades to a muted pink or orange.
Some species live year-round across Eurasia, while others migrate to Africa during the winter and return to European and Asian countries in the spring.
What do Pigeons Eat? – Wild Diet
Wild species have a similar diet, with variations found according to their habitat and climate. All pigeons eat seeds, grain and berries, which is why they are so common around farmland. The seeds, berries and fruits differ across Eurasia as farming habits and native flora change to suit the environment.
Asian species are commonly found in rice paddies and warmer European farmland growing berries and vegetables such as peas.
In the UK and Ireland, pigeons are common around wheat fields, especially during planting and harvest seasons.
A lesser-known fact about pigeons is that they also like to eat small insects, worms and snails. As most species have adapted to urban areas, they will also scavenge of human food.
If you wish to attract pigeons to your garden, the best option is a feeding platform. While juvenile pigeons or smaller species might be able to feed from a hanging feeder, most species are too heavy.
A feeding platform allows them to land safely and feed in a more natural position.
Commercial pigeon feeder is easily accessible from any pet or bird store. They usually contain a large quantity of sunflower and safflower seeds, as these are part of a pigeon’s wild diet. Grains such as oats, millet, wheat and corn are also good option to include for pigeons to eat.
Any natural fruit or vegetable is suitable to offer. You should cut them into small pieces to make foraging easier. Peas are a particular favourite, as is spinach and raspberries. Avocado should not be fed to pigeons as it can cause toxic poisoning.
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