Last updated: March 29, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© hkhtt hj/Shutterstock.com

They can find their way back to their nests from up to 1300 miles away.


Pigeon Scientific Classification


Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Pigeon Conservation Status

Pigeon Facts

Grain, seeds, berries, fruits, and occasionally insects, snails, earthworms.
Fun Fact
They can find their way back to their nests from up to 1300 miles away.
Estimated Population Size
400 million worldwide
Biggest Threat
Inference from humans either in the form of pest control or urbanization
Most Distinctive Feature
White rump and metallic purple/ green iridescence on males
Other Name(s)
common pigeon, rock dove
19.7-26.4 inches
Incubation Period
14-19 days
Often found in towns and cities, as well as farmlands, fields, and rocky cliffs
Common Name
Pigeon, dove
Number Of Species
All continents except Antarctica
Nesting Location
Buildings or rocky cliffs
Age of Molting
12-19 days

Pigeon Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Grey
  • White
Skin Type
Top Speed
95 mph
6 years
9.3-13.4 oz
25-35 centimeters
11.8-14.2 inches

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Pigeons are very widely distributed, with over 300 species worldwide.

Pigeons are part of the family Columbidae and scientifically they are even the same as doves, although doves normally refer to smaller species of pigeon in layman’s terms.

5 Amazing Pigeon Facts!

  • Some colorful species of these birds are bred in captivity, many with a wide variety of plumage.
  • In scientific nomenclature, “pigeon” and “dove” are interchangeable. Some species, such as rock pigeons, are also known as rock doves.
  • These birds get their names from the Latin word for “peeping chick,” pipio.
  • If displaced, these birds can fly up to 1300 miles to return home.
  • Pigeons are considered one of the world’s smartest animals! In addition, they have unique “infrasounds” adaptations that make them an animal with the best hearing in the world.

You can read more incredible facts about pigeons.

Where To Find Pigeons

Pigeons are birds that are found everywhere, save for Antarctic ice and the Sahara Desert. They inhabit a wide variety of biomes, including grasslands, forests, and cities. The most widely distributed species is the rock dove, otherwise known as the common pigeon. This species is feral in cities around the world.

Scientific Name

The family Columbidae comes from the Old Irish word for dove, which is Columb. St. Columba of Iona, or the “dove of the church,” may be the influence for the name of this family.

Evolution And Origin

Although the earliest known pigeon, known as Gerandia calcaria, came from the Miocene era, about 23 million years ago, and was found in what is now France, it is believed that the little pigeon is actually a descendant of the fierce velociraptor. During the Jurassic period, there were some instances where both the velociraptor and the tyrannosaurus rex began to evolve into birds. Over the course of millions of years, this eventually gave way to a multitude of new species, one of which was the rock pigeon, or rock dove, which is the oldest common ancestor of the pigeon.

Types Of

There are over 300 species of pigeons found throughout the world. Belonging to the genus Columba, they are in the same family as the dove. The pigeon was even a relative of the flightless Dodo bird. Here are just a few of the many species of pigeons:

  • Egyptian Swift Pigeon
  • Oriental Roller
  • Ice Pigeon
  • Brunner Pouter
  • Carneau


Red Eyed Pigeon walks on a rock to go and eat

©Alta Oosthuizen/Shutterstock.com

Depending on the species, pigeons are birds that come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. They can be as small as 6 inches to over 2 feet long. The crowned pigeon is the largest of the species and is about the size of a turkey.

The pigeon’s flight muscles make them a bulky bird, and they have a small beak with two fleshy ceres near the face. They have a ring of skin around their eyes. They have short beaks, short legs, and tiny heads on long necks. They come in an incredible variety of colors and patterns.

Many of these birds have crests and iridescence on their bodies, and some domestic varieties, such as the white ice pigeon, have feathers on their feet. Many colorful forms of domestic species are descended from the humble gray rock pigeon.

Pigeon Vs Dove

Scientifically speaking, pigeons and doves are interchangeable. Linguistically, smaller members of the Columbidae family tend to be known as doves, while larger members are called pigeons. However, this is not a hard rule and there are exceptions, as well as birds that are called both of these terms. For example, the species Columba livia is known as both the rock dove, the rock, and the common pigeon.


Depending on the species, these birds can either live solitarily or form large social groups. Most species roost at night. They spend most of their day preening and sunning themselves. They also bathe in water or dust.

These birds have been used extensively in history as navigators, as they have an excellent sense of place and can travel very easily.

During the breeding season, most species become territorial and defend their nests.


What Do Pigeons Eat image
Pigeons eat insects, worms, seeds, and grains.

These birds eat berries, nuts, seeds, and fruits. They may also consume insects and other invertebrates. In populated areas, feral birds will scavenge for food scraps.

Young birds consume a product called “pigeon milk,” which is produced by their parents. This is regurgitated food that comes out in a liquid form.

They are one of the very few bird species with the ability to suck water through their beaks. For a complete list of foods pigeons eat, check out our “What Do Pigeons Eat?” page.

Predators And Threats

Snakes and birds of prey are these birds’ most abundant predators. Because they are an easy target, they have developed methods, such as flocking in large groups and having a short nesting cycle, to avoid being preyed upon.

Reproduction, Babies, And Lifespan

These birds are monogamous. Males perform elaborate displays in order to attract the attention of females. The birds build flimsy nests at the top of trees or along rocky cliffs. Both parents care for the eggs and baby pigeons.

Females may lay up to 5 nests during the breeding season. Most nests consist of 2 eggs, though may have either 1 or 3 depending on the abundance of available food. Because they are fed nutritious pigeon milk, they grow rapidly. Some species are fed this until they leave the nest, while others will switch to solid foods.


As a family, these birds are extremely abundant. There are over 400 million birds worldwide.

However, some species are endangered, critically endangered, or even extinct. According to the IUCN Red List 2012, 30% of species are threatened or near-threatened. The best way to preserve endangered species is to protect their habitats from habitat destruction.

However, due to the introduction by humans, some species have drastically expanded their population sizes.

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About the Author

Melissa Bauernfeind was born in NYC and got her degree in Journalism from Boston University. She lived in San Diego for 10 years and is now back in NYC. She loves adventure and traveling the world with her husband but always misses her favorite little man, "P", half Chihuahua/half Jack Russell, all trouble. She got dive-certified so she could dive with the Great White Sharks someday and is hoping to swim with the Orcas as well.

Pigeon FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does pigeon migrate?

Pigeons do not migrate. However, if they are displaced from their homes, they can fly up to 1300 miles to return.

How many eggs does a pigeon lay?

Pigeons will lay one to three eggs per clutch. Typically, the female pigeon will lay two eggs. More eggs can be laid before the first clutch leaves the nest.

How fast does a pigeon fly?

Pigeons can fly up to 93 mph. This speed, paired with their ability to recall their previous locations, made them the perfect candidate to carry messages for humans for many years.

What is a pigeon’s wingspan?

A pigeon’s wingspan averages around 19.7-26.4 inches, though this can vary depending on the breed of pigeon.

When do pigeons leave the nest?

Pigeons generally leave the nest in 25-32 days after hatching. In the winter, young pigeons will take longer to leave the nest, generally closer to 45 days.

What do you feed a baby pigeon?

Baby pigeons are fed what’s known as ‘pigeon milk’. Pigeon milk is a liquid-like substance that consists of regurgitated food from the male or female parent.

Are pigeons really dirty?

Pigeons are actually very clean birds. There has been little evidence found that supports the belief that pigeons are significant transmitters of diseases.

Is it dangerous to touch a pigeon?

Pigeons themselves are not dangerous to touch, though they are a wild animal, so it is not recommended. However, their poop can transmit certain diseases when touched, so while pigeons aren’t dangerous, their poop certainly should not be touched.

Are pigeons good to eat?

This depends on the type of pigeon. There are some types of pigeons, such as squab, that are very tasty when prepared properly. These pigeons are bred specifically for their meat and are more common in French, Chinese, and Moroccan cuisine.

Do pigeons love humans?

Pet pigeons have great affection for their owners. They bond easily with the humans that care for them and can be very loyal companions. Some species, like the ice pigeon and the American show racer, are considered domestic breeds.

What is the estimated population size of Pigeons?

There are 400 million Pigeons worldwide.

What are some distinguishing features of the Pigeon?

The Pigeon has a white rump, and males have a metallic purple/ green iridescence.

What is another name for the Pigeon?

The Pigeon is also called the common pigeon or the rock dove.

What is an interesting fact about the Pigeon?

Pigeons can find their way back to their nests from up to 1,300 miles away.

What are the differences between a pigeon and a mourning dove?

The differences between a pigeon and a mourning dove lie in their size, speed, appearance, predators, and diet.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.


  1. Wikipedia / Accessed January 28, 2021
  2. Britannica / Accessed January 28, 2021
  3. Mentalfloss / Accessed January 28, 2021
  4. Pet Assure / Accessed January 28, 2021
  5. Popular Science / Accessed January 28, 2021
  6. One Kind Planet / Accessed January 28, 2021
  7. All About Birds / Accessed January 28, 2021
  8. Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association / Accessed January 28, 2021
  9. VCA Hospitals / Accessed January 28, 2021
  10. Pigeonpedia / Accessed January 28, 2021
  11. National Geographic / Accessed January 28, 2021
  12. Ovo Control / Accessed January 28, 2021
  13. Evolutionary History of the Pigeon / Accessed March 29, 2023

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