Pigeons and doves
Pigeons and doves make up the Columbidae family, a group of stout-bodied birds with short necks and small, slim bills.
Pigeons and doves can be found in almost every country around the world but only five species call Scotland their home. You might even be lucky enough to see a turtle dove passing through Scotland as they migrate to warmer climates.
We tend to distinguish pigeons and doves by their size, but in many languages, the same word is used to describe both because they are so similar. In fact, what we call a feral pigeon is actually descended from wild rock doves which were domesticated then escaped to breed with other wild pigeons. This had led to a huge variety of colours and patterns in feral pigeons’ plumage.
Where do pigeons and doves live?
Pigeons and doves can live just about anywhere. You’ll see them in your garden, in towns and cities, on farmland, in woods and forests and near the coast.
Worldwide, there are 344 species of pigeons and doves so you’ll probably even see them when you’re on your holidays!
What do pigeons and doves eat?
Pigeons and doves aren’t particularly fussy eaters, feeding on seeds, grains, crops, insects and worms.
When are pigeon and dove chicks born?
Peak breeding season is between March and July but feral pigeons/rock doves can breed all year round. Females lay one to three eggs which hatch after about 18 days.
After around 30 days in the nest, baby pigeons, known as squabs, learn to fly and leave the nest shortly afterwards.
When do pigeons and doves migrate?
It’s thought that many of the pigeons and doves residing in Scotland do not actually migrate. However, wood pigeons are strongly migratory and spend the colder months in continental Europe.
In winter, Scandinavian pigeons and doves are also likely to pass through Scotland on their way to warmer countries like Spain and France. You may even be able to spot a turtle dove passing through.
I’ve seen a pigeon with a ring around their leg – what does that mean?
Usually pigeons or doves who have been ‘ringed’ are domesticated fancy pigeons or racing pigeons.
Pigeons have an excellent homing ability meaning they can retrace the route they have flown to make their way back to their coop. However, the ring provides details of the owner should something happen to the bird.
A ring on a wild pigeon would suggest that they are being tracked as part of a research programme.
Click here for more information.
Will a pigeon attack me?
Pigeons will generally stay out of your way. However, like all animals, they can be protective over their young.
Wood pigeons, in particular, can get very stressed if they feel threatened. Make sure you give them plenty of space.
Common problems for pigeons and doves
Sick or injured pigeons
If you come across a pigeon that has been injured or looks sick, please place a box over them and call our helpline on 03000 999 999.
Signs to look for include:
• Obvious injuries.
• An adult pigeon that is unable to fly.
• Being caught and injured by another animal.
• Seeming lethargic or not moving.
• Tangled in litter.
• Twitching or head-shaking.
• Falling over, trembling or convulsing.
• Walking around in circles.
• Holding their head at an abnormal angle.
• A young pigeon (squab) out of the nest.
Puffed up pigeons
If you come across a pigeon or dove with a ‘puffed up’ appearance, they almost certainly need our help. Place a box over them and call our helpline on 03000 999 999. It may look like they are just trying to keep warm but this usually indicates that they are very ill.
Missing legs or feet
Missing limbs could be the result of a natural deformity, an attack, an accident or a historic injury. This can make birds more vulnerable to predators and affect their chances of survival in the wild.
However, birds missing toes or a foot are often still capable of flying and fending for themselves, so it is not always possible to catch them. If the bird is an adult and otherwise looks healthy, they should be left alone.
Trichomonosis, commonly called canker, is a parasite affecting the back of the throat and the gullet.
Affected birds may develop symptoms such as lethargy, fluffed-up plumage, difficulty in swallowing or laboured breathing. Canker is highly contagious and is often fatal.
Feral pigeons are descended from domestic pigeons who ‘escaped’ and were able to adapt to life in the wild. In urban areas where the pigeon population has increased, they are sometimes considered a nuisance or pest species.