Driving down city road, you see some “wild birds” nesting on top of a skyscraper. Oddly enough, this is a totally normal sight because these birds happen to be pigeons. Pigeons represent the fact that we aren’t the only creatures living on this planet. Just like us, pigeons like to enjoy their lives the best they can. They like to coo unabated, swoop above you in hundreds and peck at the ground, heedless of any moving feet. Not to mention their ever so dreaded droppings that fall at the most unfortunate places. They have become such a common part of our lives that a street without pigeons can seem strangely empty.
Today, more than 400 million pigeons are found throughout the world. You might have found yourself wondering that how is it possible that a single type of wild bird happens to be spread out in urban areas as distant as Washington, Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, and England? By “wild birds,” we mean that, unlike dogs or fish, pigeons are not generally kept as pets, and their wild habitat happens to be the same as our civilized habitat. Also, why is it that we see pigeons roaming around the city, yet we don’t get to see any other sorts of birds, like hummingbirds, eagles, vultures, or turkeys?
The first thing you need to know about pigeons is that they are descended from a species of wild birds called rock dove (Columba livia). They were mostly of a similar appearance to the modern-day pigeons, having different shades such as blue, pale gray, or the unusual coloring of cinnamon-brown or brick-red. These species of birds used to live on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa. These shores were filled with rocky ledges and high cliffs. To fit into their homeland, they had to evolve to live on hard and smooth surfaces.
At least 5 000 years ago, the birds were forced to make their first encounters with large human populations. It happened in the ancient region of Mesopotamia (modern-day equivalent: Iraq) and Ancient Egypt. This earlier species of pigeons was not as tame and friendly as most modern-day pigeons are. However, unlike many other birds, they weren’t dangerous or harmful either. This made them the perfect candidate for food. Especially because it is believed that, around that time, the population of other wild animals had started to decrease.
What happened was that people started to lure the birds towards the cities by arranging settlements for them near the urban areas. They did this, mainly by throwing out food and water and making sure the birds got a place to spend the night within the cities. As more and more rock doves started to visit the cities, they tended to breed and roost more often. This led to an even greater increase in the population of the birds. Initially, the primary use people found for these birds was fulfilling their meat requirements. The birds had adapted to their new environment such that they became non-hostile and used to human contact. The young ones – called squabs – were especially plump and quickly became famous as a good source of meat and protein.
As time passed, the practice of domesticating the rock doves and breeding them intensively also became popular. This resulted in creating several subspecies of the birds – which is why we see a great variety in the urban pigeons of modern-day. Soon, the birds gained demand in places like the Middle East, Western Europe, and North Africa.
It was then discovered that, besides being a meaty food source, the birds could serve other purposes as well. The rock doves had unique navigation skills in the bird kingdom due to which they were vastly helpful for sending and receiving messages. This also made sure their status as food products decreased significantly and it became common knowledge that pigeons are the sort of things that you don’t eat.
It was because of these convenient factors that as time passed, pigeons got tamer and spread throughout the world looking for any human residence they could find. In fact, pigeons are widespread for the same reason seagulls are common in the UK; they can get an ample amount of food without putting in too much effort and they are safe from their naturalpredators like eagles and falcons. This makes the urban areas a perfect natural habitat for pigeons.