Pigeon, an extensive family of rasorial birds, by some ornithologists raised into an order, characterized by a short, straight, compressed bill, with the apical half vaulted and strong, and the base comparatively weak and covered with a fleshy membrane in which the nostrils are placed; wings moderate; tarsi more or less long and robust, and the toes long, divided, and padded beneath. Most pigeons are perchers, and this family may be regarded as forming the connecting link between the gallinaceous and insessorial birds. Their geographical distribution is very extensive, species being found in every part of the world except in the frigid zones; but their favorite habitats are tropical southern Asia and the islands of the Indian archipelago. They generally nest on trees, laying two whitish eggs on which both parents sit in turn; the young are covered with a thin hairy-like down, and are fed in the nest till able to fly, at first by a milky half-digested substance disgorged by the old birds. The flight is generally rapid and powerful, and capable of being long sustained, as in the carrier pigeon; in the more rasorial types the wings are shorter and rounded, and the flight is abrupt, low, and of short continuance.
They are generally wild and timorous, and, with the exception of the common pigeon and turtle dove, have not been domesticated. The voice consists of a guttural cooing, at times plaintive and tender, at others harsh and unpleasant, and is mostly confined to the males in the breeding season; the colors are usually brilliant and beautifully diversified; their flesh is wholesome, nutritious, well flavored, juicy, and high-colored. The family includes the subfamilies columbince or pigeons proper, treronince or tree pigeons, gourince or ground pigeons, diduncu-linm or tooth-billed pigeons, and didince, of which the dodo is the only representative. (See Dodo.) - In the columbines the bill is moderate and slender, and acute at the tip; the nostrils a longitudinal slit; wings moderate and pointed; tail of various lengths, generally rounded; tarsi short, toes long, hind one about the length of the tarsus. In the typical genus columba (Linn.) the prevailing color is bluish gray, of different shades, with feathers of a peculiar form and metallic lustre upon the neck; their feet are formed for walking as well as perching, and they generally seek their food upon the ground; they eat principally grains, acorns, and other nuts, and some tender leaves and plants.
There are more than 30 species scattered over the globe; generally seen in pairs in summer, they collect in large flocks at the beginning of winter, sometimes migrating to milder climates; they are fond of rocky places, especially on the coasts of Great Britain, Africa, and Asia, where they build rude nests. The common pigeon or dove is derived from the wild rock pigeon or biset (C. livia, Linn.); in its wild state it lives in caverns and holes in the rocks of the coast, and never in the woods or upon trees; it swarms about the Orkney islands and the Hebrides and on the rocky islands of the Mediterranean. Man substitutes an artificial dove cot for the natural cavern, in which the pigeons rear their young for his benefit; the birds, however, generally depend for support on their own exertions, and enjoy so perfect a freedom of action that they can hardly be said to be domesticated. This species may be known from the wood and ring pigeons by the two broad and distinct black bars across the closed wings, the white of the lower part of the back, and the broad black bar at the end of the tail. Beyond doubt this is the species known to the ancients, which from time immemorial has been regarded with peculiar affection by mankind, as the emblem of gentleness and affection.
From the affectionate intercourse between the sexes, it was sacred to Venus, and was her constant attendant. The pigeon is interesting to the comparative physiologist from the fact that the parent birds nourish the young with the curd-like contents of the crop, secreted by special glands like the milk in mammalia, with this remarkable difference, that it is secreted by both sexes, and even most abundantly by the male. It was discovered by Hunter that the crop, thin and membranous in the ordinary condition, becomes thickened and enlarged in the breeding season, more vascular, with an irregular glandular appearance on the interior; the secretion of these glandulse soon coagulates into a granulated white curd, so that the old joke about " pigeon's milk " is not without foundation; a young pigeon, like a young mammal, will die if deprived of its parents in the first week of its life. Pigeons do not drink in the manner of ordinary birds, but by a long, continuous draught, without raising the head until the thirst is satisfied. There are numerous varieties or breeds highly prized by the pigeon fancier; they have all originated from a few accidental varieties of the common species, isolated and carefully bred by man, and not from hybrid crossings with other species either allied or remote.
As far as known, they are permanent when bred in and in, and, if permitted to breed indiscriminately with each other, produce a fertile offspring. Such varieties require the utmost care to keep them from degenerating, and have so far lost their natural instincts and desire for liberty that they have become nearly dependent on man for their support, having in great measure lost the faculty of providing for themselves. Mr. Darwin has drawn from them some of his strongest arguments in favor of the origin of species by natural selection. Among the numerous varieties of this species may be mentioned the fantail, Jacobine, pouter, tumbler, and carrier pigeon, the last of which has been described under its title. The fantails are so called from the great number of the tail feathers, their erectile power and singular trembling motion; they are small, awkward fliers, and very apt to be overset by the wind; when pure the color is generally white, sometimes with a black head and tail. The Jacobine pigeon has a ruff of raised feathers forming a kind of hood like that of a monk; it is small, but light and elegant, with white head, wings, and tail, and reddish brown hood, back, and breast; some highly prized specimens are pure white; it is very prolific, a poor flier on account of its hood, and generally keeps much at home.
The pouter or cropper is so called from its faculty of inflating the oesophagus to an extent sometimes equal to the size of the body; this inflation subjects the bird to many inconveniences, diseases, and fatal accidents, and hence, though of handsome plumage, it is not much esteemed by fanciers; it is also unproductive; the prevailing color is reddish brown. The tumbler is so called from its habit of rolling over and over in the air before alighting. The Turkish pigeon, of the same race as the carrier, is large, with a bill tuberculated at the base, and the eyes widely surrounded by naked red skin. The cushat or ring pigeon (C. palumbus, Linn.) is "widely distributed over Europe and northern Asia and Africa, even where the winters are severe; it is an arboreal species, perching, roosting, and nesting upon trees, keeping a vigilant watch in the daytime; the eggs are two, white, and hatched out in 17 or 20 days; two broods are raised in a year. It is a large species, measuring 16 or 17 in. in length; the sides of the neck are glossed with green, bounded by a patch of white which nearly meets behind, forming a half collar; the breast and abdomen purplish red, with the outer ridge of the wing and some of the greater coverts white.
The wood pigeon (C. aenas, Linn.) is smaller and of more limited distribution, found principally in well wooded districts, migrating to the south in winter; its habits resemble those of the ring pigeon; it is about 14 in. long, with an alar extent of 26 in.; the general color is bluish gray, with the sides of the neck golden green, the fore neck and breast pale vinous, and the outer web of the secondaries and some of their coverts with a spot of black, not forming bars as in the rock pigeon. Neither of the last two species has been domesticated, and neither will breed with the rock pigeon, nor with their own species in captivity. There are several wild species of columba in the United States, as the band-tailed pigeon (C. fasciata, Say), about 15 in. in length, found from the Rocky mountains to the Pacific, and as far south as Mexico; the red-billed pigeon (G. flavirostris, Wagl.), of the lower Rio Grande, 14 in. long and 22 in. in alar extent; and the white-headed pigeon (C. leucocephala, Linn.), a little smaller, inhabiting the Indian and other southern Florida keys and the West Indies. - The passenger pigeon (ectopistes migratoria, Swains.) has been described under that title.
In the genus carpophaga (Selby), embracing the fruit pigeons, the bill has a large and prominent soft basal portion, beneath which the nostrils are situated; the second, third, and fourth quills nearly equal and longest; tail lengthened and generally rounded; tarsi very short, and clothed with down below the knee. There are about 30 species, found in the forests of India, Australia, and the islands of the Indian and Pacific oceans; they live on the branches of the highest trees, feeding on fruits and berries; their colors are green, yellow, and purple, with bronzed and metallic reflections. One of the handsomest of this beautiful group is the nutmeg pigeon (C. cenea, Selby), about 18 in. long, inhabiting India and its archipelago; the general color is a fine pale bluish gray, with golden green back, wings, and tail, and deep chestnut under tail coverts. In this and the allied species the metallic lustre of the plumage changes with every motion, rivalling the hues of the humming birds. They feed on nutmegs, figs, and in Australia on the top leaves of the cabbage palm; the nutmegs are swallowed whole, the external envelope or the mace digested, and the hard nut voided not only uninjured but the better prepared for germination in the soil on which it is dropped; in this way the nutmeg has been extensively disseminated through the East Indian islands; on this food the flesh becomes very fat and highly flavored.
The genera turtur and oena of this subfamily will be noticed under Tur-tle Dove. - In the subfamily treronino3 or tree pigeons belong the genera ptilonopus (Swains.) and treron (Vieill.) or vinago (Cuv.); in these the bill is short, with the tips of both mandibles of nearly equal thickness, the tarsi very short and more or less feathered, and the toes divided at the base, with short and curved claws. In the genus ptilonopus or the turte-lines the bill is slender, the wings moderate, the third quill the longest and the first with the end suddenly narrowed for some distance, and the tail moderate and even. These showy birds are found in the tropical deep forests of India, Australia, and the Pacific islands; they are of solitary habits, feeding on fruits, especially that of the banian. In the genus treron the bill is stout, the second and third quills nearly equal and longest, with the third notched on the inner web near the middle; tail rounded, or lengthened and wedge-shaped; there are about 20 species, inhabiting India and its archipelago and Africa; they are arboreal, wild, living in flocks, and feed on fruits and berries; the flight is rapid and low.
These thick-billed pigeons vie with the parrots in the diversified colors of their plumage, the prevailing hues being green and yellow, with purplish and reddish patches; they luxuriate amid the foliage of the banian and other tropical trees; their colors are so nearly those of the leaves among which they dwell, that it is very difficult to detect them; their feet resemble those of a parrot, and they climb among the branches very much like this scansorial bird. - In the gourinm or ground pigeons the toes are usually long and strong, and adapted for progression on the ground; the wings are generally short and rounded, and sometimes concave as in the partridges, and the legs long; approaching the gallinaceous birds in these respects, they differ from them in having, like the other doves, very short cosca; they run with great rapidity, but the flight is low and labored; the colors are more uniform and less brilliant than in the preceding subfamilies, though some of the members are very handsome. The genus zenaida (Bonap.) has few species, and they are chiefly confined to the West India and Galapagos islands, whence they sometimes wander to the Florida keys; they seek their food on the ground, and when alarmed fly off with a whistling noise.
The zenaida dove (Z. amabi-lis, Bonap.) is about 11 in. long and 18 in. in alar extent; the prevailing color above is reddish olive tinged with gray, with a purplish hue on the head and under parts; inside of wings and sides blue; quills brown, secondaries tipped with white, and the tail with a subterminal black bar. The keys skirted with mangroves . used to be their favorite breeding places, hence ' called pigeon or dove keys; the nest is made on the ground, and more compact than is usual with pigeons; the flesh is excellent; the food consists of seeds, aromatic leaves, and berries, some of which are acrid and poisonous to man; the cooing is very soft and melancholy. In the genus calmias (Gray), the bill is strong and much curved at the tip, wings long and pointed, and tail moderate and even; tarsi very robust; base of upper mandible covered with a wattle, and feathers of the neck long. These birds inhabit the Indian archipelago, running on the ground with great quickness, and perching on the lower branches of trees.
The Mcobar pigeon (C. Nicobarica, Gray) is one of the most beautiful of the family in its colors, though its heavy body, pendent tail, and concave wings show its affinity with ra-sorial birds; it is about 15 in. long; the plumage is rich metallic green, changing with the light into golden, coppery, and purplish red; the tail is pure white, and the quills blackish blue with greenish reflections. In the genus ver-rulia (Flem.) belongs the carunculated pigeon of S. Africa ( V. carunculata, Flem.); the bill is slender, the wings long, and the tail short; there is a pendulous wattle under the throat, and a naked hanging band on the sides of the neck; it comes in these respects the nearest to the gallince, and also, like the preceding genus, lays six or eight eggs instead of the usual two of the pigeons, and the young immediately follow their parents, who keep them together by a peculiar cry; the food consists of grain, berries, and insects; the upper parts are gray, with a purple, tinge on the head and neck; the under parts white, and the tail reddish brown.
In the genus starncenas (Bonap.) belongs the blue-headed pigeon (S. cyanocephala, Bonap.) of the West Indies and the southern keys, about 10 3/4 in. long; it is retired and solitary, and lays several eggs in a nest on the ground; the young are said to follow the parents as soon as hatched. In the genus goura (Flem.) belong the large crowned pigeons of Papua and the Indian archipelago; the head is ornamented with a large compressed crest. The crowned pigeon (G. coronata, Steph.) is the largest of the family, being 27 or 28 in. long; the bill is 2 in. long and black; the crest is composed of long silky barbules plumed at the end, which, with the head, neck, and lower parts, are grayish blue; back with the feathers black at the base with tips of rich purplish brown; a central broad white bar across the closed wings. This bird seems to connect the pigeons with the curassows and guans; it nests in trees, and lays only two eggs; it is readily tamed, but, like the gaudy Nicobar pigeon, does not propagate in confinement, and can hardly bear the chilly temperature of northern climates; its flesh is excellent for food.
This species and the G. Victoria have hybridized at the London zoological gardens, and have produced a living young one, having sat upon a single egg for 28 days. - The subfamily didunculinai have the bill strong and nearly as long as the head, with the culmen depressed close to the forehead, and then suddenly rising and forming an arch to the acute and overhanging tip; the lower mandible is armed with three distinct angular teeth near the truncated tip; the wings moderate and concave, and the bend armed with a blunt tubercle; the tail short and rounded; tarsi moderate and strong; all the toes long, and with sharp curved claws; bare space around eyes and on each side of throat. The only genus is didunculus (Peale), and the only species D. strigirostris (Gould), found in the Samoan islands; it is about the size of a common pigeon, of a general blackish glossy green color, with chestnut back and tail, brownish quills, and orange bill. Its wings indicate a considerable power of flight, and it is said to pass most of its time on trees, feeding on berries and fruits; it also seems adapted for movement on the ground, and its bill is suited to digging up bulbous roots or stripping the husks from nuts.
They are generally seen in pairs or small flocks; the nest is made among rocks, and the young are born naked and helpless; the flesh is excellent; they are kept as pets by the natives. This is an interesting bird, as showing a living connection of the pigeons with the extinct dodo; many of its characters also bring it near gallinaceous birds, especially the curassows.
Ring Pigeon (Columba palumbus).
Nutmeg Pigeon (Carpophaga oenea).
Nicobar Pigeon (Calaenas Nicobarica).
Crowned Pigeon (Goura coronata).