Pigeons and doves constitute the bird family Columbidae.
Pigeons and doves are stout-bodied birds with short necks, and short slender bills (and in some species, these bills feature fleshy ceres). They primarily feed on seeds, fruits, and plants. In general, the terms “dove” and “pigeon” are used somewhat interchangeably. Pigeon is a French word that derives from the Latin pipio, for a “peeping” chick, while dove is a Germanic word that refers to the bird’s diving flight.
In ornithological practice, “dove” tends to be used for smaller species and “pigeon” for larger ones, but this is in no way consistently applied, and historically, the common names for these birds involve a great deal of variation between the terms. The species most commonly referred to as “pigeon” is the rock dove, one subspecies of which, the domestic pigeon, is common in many cities as the feral pigeon. Pigeons and doves are likely the most common birds in the world.
Doves and pigeons build relatively flimsy nests – often using sticks and other debris – which may be placed in trees, on ledges, or on the ground, depending on species. They lay one or two eggs at a time, and both parents care for the young, which leave the nest after seven to 28 days. Unlike most birds, both sexes of doves and pigeons produce “crop milk” to feed to their young, secreted by a sloughing of fluid-filled cells from the lining of the crop. Young doves and pigeons are called “squabs”.
Pigeons and doves are stocky birds that range from 15 to 75 cm long and weigh from 30 to over 2000 g. The smaller species within Columbidae are often called doves and the larger species pigeons, but these names do not necessarily reflect true differences and are often used interchangeably.
Columbids have small heads and short beaks and legs. Their flight muscles may make up to 44 percent of the bird’s body weight and allow them to have excellent flying capabilities and maneuverability. Wing-shape is often a good indicator of the species’ migratory behavior. They have soft skin at the base of their bills and a ring of bare skin around their eyes that can be red, blue, yellow or white. Columbids have a bilobed crop that produces “crop-milk” (or “pigeon milk”) that they feed their young.
Columbids can be divided in to seed-eating and fruit-eating species. Many of the seed-eating columbids are buff, grey and brown colors while the fruit-eaters are often more brightly colored. Typical pigeons (subfamily Columbinae) are usually grey, brown and/or pink. Fruit-eating pigeons (subfamily Treroninae) are more colorful with oranges and greens.
Crowned pigeons (subfamily Gourinae) are grey with pink or chestnut underparts and a white wing patch. Tooth-billed pigeons (subfamily Didunculinae) are chestnut colored on the back and wings and dark green elsewhere. Many doves and pigeons have ornamentation, such as crests and colorful eye rings, and iridescent feathers on the neck, breast, back, wings and face. They range from sexually monomorphic to sexually dimorphic, and molt annually after breeding.
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