Text that reads "Red-eyed cliff dwellers -now fly and perch in cities. Sharing food, in parks" overlaying a drawing of two pigeons with gray and white feathers on a sidewalk.

Everybody knows about their homing abilities, but these adaptable birds don’t get enough credit for their academic prowess. They have orthographic knowledge—the building blocks for reading—and they can do complex math. One bird found his way home by soaring more than 7,000 miles over unfamiliar territory. 

Back in the late 1800s, Darwin mentioned that the ancestor of our common pigeon is likely a rock or cliff-dwelling species, and rock doves of today are close cousins of the common pigeon. Some studies in the 1960s showed that compared to rock doves, pigeons eat a lot of domestic scraps—from rice and peas, to chocolate and cheese. And a recent study out of Italy showed that rock doves still tend to feed on non-human food, so the two species are still distinct. (It’s pretty neat that you can discuss the science of pigeons and learn from articles published in three different centuries!) 

About the Author

In addition to being an arachnologist and the associate provost of Teaching and Academic Programs at McGill University, Chris Buddle is an artist, writer, and lover of life. Each month, Chris shares an illustration and haiku of some of the natural wonders found in this beautiful world.

Check our facts! 

Baldaccini NE. 2020. The synanthropic status of wild rock doves (Columba livia) and their contribution to feral pigeon populations. Research in Ornithology 90(1): 51-56.

Darwin C. 1868. The variation of animals and plants under domestication. John Murray. London. 

Murton, RK & NJ Westwood. 1966. The foods of the Rock Dove and Fear Pigeon. Bird Study 13(2): 130-146.