Already a subscriber? Sign in Don't have a subscription? Subscribe Now
Rock Pigeon
Columba livia
– Family
Authors: Johnston, Richard F.
Revisors: Lowther, Peter E.

Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

Welcome to BNA Online, the leading source of life history information for North American breeding birds. This free, courtesy preview is just the first of 14 articles that provide detailed life history information including Distribution, Migration, Habitat, Food Habits, Sounds, Behavior and Breeding. Written by acknowledged experts on each species, there is also a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining articles for this and any other species. Subscription rates start as low as $5 USD for 30 days of complete access to the resource. To subscribe, please visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.

If you are already a current subscriber, you will need to sign in with your login information to access BNA normally.

Subscriptions are available for as little as $5 for 30 days of full access! If you would like to subscribe to BNA Online, just visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.


Adult Rock Pigeon, San Juan, PR, 2 April.
Figure 1. Distribution of Columba livia in North America.

Introduced to North America in the early 17th-century by colonists who brought domestic pigeons to Atlantic coast settlements (Schorger 1952), the Rock Pigeon (formerly the Rock Dove) is now feral and lives broadly on the continent. Wild Rock Pigeons, native to Europe, North Africa, and western, southwestern, west-central, and southern Asia, gave rise to domestics as a result of artificial selection by humans (Darwin 1868). Domestics readily go feral, and have done so widely throughout the world (Long 1981).

Domestic and feral pigeons are among the most intensively studied of all birds. Knowledge of avian flight mechanics, thermoregulation, water metabolism, endocrinology (prolactin was discovered through work with pigeons [Riddle et al. 1932]), sensory perception, orientation and navigation, learning (the original subjects in Skinner boxes), genetics of color, pattern, behavior and other characteristics, and Darwinian evolutionary biology have depended heavily on research using domestic and feral Rock Pigeons. The total scientific literature referring to these birds is enormous, and can only be sketched here. Recent reviews include those of Abs (1983a: physiology and behavior), Baldaccini (1986: homing pigeons), Cramp (1985: wild C. livia), Goodwin (1983a: general biology of the family), Haag (1991: behavior), Hollander (1983: pigeon genetics), Granda and Maxwell (1979: neural basis of behavior), Levi (1965: domestic breeds; 1974: general biology), Murton and Westwood (1977: reproduction), and Berthold (1991: navigation). Darwin (1859, 1868: evolutionary theory) should be noted irrespective of date. In addition, the monographic treatment of feral pigeons by Johnston and Janiga (1995) provides another comprehensive review of Rock Pigeon biology with an extensive bibliography.

Despite all this work, the breeding biology and population ecology of this species remain poorly known and little studied, especially in the wild.

Body size and plumage color of Rock Pigeons vary appreciably, usually clinally, in wild populations; plumage variation is nearly limitless in polymorphic domestic and feral birds. Geographic size and color variation is recognized in Eurasia and Africa by use of several subspecies (Cramp 1985), but such variation in feral populations has not been partitioned subspecifically. This species' presence in North America dates from 1606 (at least) with feral individuals existing soon afterwards (Johnston and Janiga 1996). Biology of ferals has been largely ignored in North American ornithology, so some of the basic information on life history comes from studies of European ferals, confined ferals, and domestics of several varieties.