I’ve been spending more time around downtown Rochester this year and have become more aware of the presence of pigeons, particularly on and around many of the Mayo buildings. What strikes me as interesting is that there is no outcry about these birds like there is for crows.

Analyzing the habits of the two unrelated birds, I sense the pigeons may just be smart enough to stay under our radar most of the time. On the other hand, it seems like crows almost take the opposite approach and try to see how much they can aggravate us.

Pigeons are members of the family Columbidae, which also includes doves, with both names often used interchangeably around the world. Currently, the pigeons humans encounter most of the time are descendants of pigeons domesticated centuries ago, and they may go by the name rock dove or rock pigeon, depending on which way the wind is blowing the scientific birding communities.

Before they were domesticated, native populations of rock doves/pigeons roosted and nested on cliffs in Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. With tall buildings providing similar ledges and habitat, their move to the cities was a natural one, similar to American swifts switching from hollowed trees to chimneys, and thus being renamed chimney swifts.

Probably the most famous pigeon family members are a couple that are no longer around. Passenger pigeons, named for their migratory behavior, once numbered in the billions across North America. That was, until humans, especially Americans, proved we could quickly exterminate such a prolific species in the name of sport and food gathering.

A second, the dodo bird, was also exterminated by humans in short order when Dutch sailors landed on the Island of Mauritius around 1600. In less than a century, a bird that had evolved over millions of years to be huge and flightless became extinct.

The most famous pigeons still around are probably the homing pigeons, often called carrier or messenger pigeons. The homing pigeon is a variety of domestic pigeon selectively bred for its ability to find its way home over extremely long distances. Their interesting story is one which will unfold in a future Nature Nut column, possibly next week.

I keep wondering what urban pigeons feed on, and can only assume they find garbage, as well as seeds and other plant materials. They also will eat insects and earthworms. Besides cities, farmyards are another human area pigeons are found in large numbers, probably due to many grains and other seeds readily available.

Pigeons have been eaten, and still are, by many cultures, including Americans. Young pigeons, called squab, are considered a healthy delicacy to many, and in demand throughout the U.S. and worldwide.

Pigeons are eaten by many predators that visit our cities, including hawks, owls and falcons, as well as cats and dogs. I even saw a video of a turtle taking a pigeon on a pond edge.

Feral pigeons, I suspect in part because of their domestication by humans, are now found in cities throughout world. Some gather in famous squares, like that my wife and once visited in Venice, or places like the centuries-old Boston Common Park and Public Gardens, where we observed them earlier this summer.

In many places where they are accepted and even fed by locals and tourists, there are others who would prefer they were gone. Interestingly, in Rochester, where we have a pretty good population of pigeons, feeding them does not seem to have caught on, at least not anywhere that I have observed.

According to City Attorney Terry Adkins, there is no ordinance against feeding pigeons in public parks. So, perhaps the day will come when a pigeon feeding area at Central Park, Discovery Square, or elsewhere becomes a part of DMC planning, as everything else has.


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