If you've been to any city in the world, chances are you've seen a pigeon. Maybe you saw one walking on the sidewalk, or a group of them gathering at a park, or maybe a pair roosting at your window.
Rock Pigeons (Columbia livia), also known as Rock Doves, originally lived on the sides of cliffs in Europe. Over the past 10,000 years, they have learned to live in cities, and can be found living on every continent except for Antarctica. They can nest in the nooks and crannies of tall buildings, similar to how they nest in the wild on cliffs.
Pigeons are amazing animals. They are some of the cleanest birds and strongest fliers. Pigeons are among the most intelligent animals. They have been taught to deliver messages, play ping pong, and because of their incredible eyesight, they have been used by the Coast Guard to spot lost people at sea.
Let's get to know pigeons a little better. Here’s an activity you can do at home with children ages 3 through 13, adapted from Audubon New York's For the Birds! Environmental Education Program. Kids observe pigeons (from a city window, park, or using online videos) and learn about their behaviors and color morphs. Use a checklist like a scavenger hunt to spot the different varieties!
First, read through the information below to learn about pigeon color morphs and courting behaviors.
Then, if you can, go on a Pigeon Watch. Look out your window or sit on a park bench and see if you can spot any pigeons. If you don't live in a city, look up some videos of pigeons online, and talk about times you have seen city pigeons before (if you have). Observe individual birds—talk about what they look like and what they're doing, and how they're interacting with each other. Use the Pigeon Watch Checklist to check off color morphs and courting behaviors you see. Click here to download the checklist.
Pigeons mate for life. Once they pick a partner to raise their chicks with, they stay together year after year. They are very protective of their mates, and will court them all year long. Even though they look the same, we can tell the difference between male and female pigeons by how they act. There are six courting behaviors you can observe.
- Cooing: Males make a soft cooing sound to attract mates. (Click to listen to audio.)
- Bowing and Turning: When a male is first looking for a mate, he’ll show off by puffing up his neck feathers, bowing down in front of her, and turning around. (Watch video here.)
- Tail Dragging: Males puff up their neck feathers and drag their tail feathers on the ground, trying to impress nearby females. (Watch video here.)
- Driving: A male sometimes follows behind a female. (Watch video here.)
- Billing: Pigeon pairs will often put their beak inside of their mate’s beak to reinforce their pair bond. (Watch video here.)
- Mating and Clapping: Males will clap their wings together.
Pigeon Color Morphs
What color is a cardinal? How about a crow? What about a Blue Jay?
Now, what color is a pigeon? Pigeons come in all different colors that we call color morphs. There are seven color morphs. Download this worksheet to learn them, and quiz yourself!
- Blue-bar: These are the most common, with blue bars on their wings.
- Red-bar: These pigeons have red bars on their wings.
- Red: These birds are a rusty red color all over.
- Spread: Pigeons that are black all over.
- White: These pigeons are plain white, with no other color.
- Checkered: These birds have a checkerboard pattern on their wings.
- Pied: These pigeons have variable coloring, with a splash of color somewhere on their body.
Audubon New York’s For the Birds! is a place-based environmental education program that promotes awareness and appreciation of nature through the study of birds. For the Birds! started in New York City in 1997 and provides not only knowledge of local species and habitats, but also encourages a sense of pride in one’s own community and empowers students to take an active interest in protecting their local environment.