People tend either to really like or dislike pigeons. They are often describes as “rats with feathers” by people who dislike them. Birdwatchers call them Rock Doves or Rock Pigeons, but they are the same Columba livia.
In cities, they are primarily feral birds, meaning they are descended from domestic birds that escaped. Pigeons have been domesticated for more than 5,000 years. They traditionally nest in dovecotes, a structure that allows pigeon guano to be easily collectable and the fat squabs (baby pigeons) to be grabbed for eating. Guano added to soil greatly increases fertility.
Pigeons are still specially bred. Some are specially bred for fancy feathers and colors. Others are carefully bred and trained for racing, the famous homing pigeons.
Pigeons are native to Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. In their natural state, the birds nested on cliffs and overhangs, which offered protection from predators. They prosper in cities because buildings offer many of the same kinds of nesting sites that cliffs did, overhangs and ledges.
The birds are hardy, and can survive in cities that have cold winters. They can eat many kinds of food, and they are quick to spot new sources of food. They share public spaces with people, and remember which people regularly toss them food. Like most people, pigeons are monogamous and both parents care for their young. They apparently were introduced into what is now the United States in the 1600s.
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