discover the wood pigeon, a familiar and widespread bird in our natural surroundings. learn about its characteristic features and behavior.

The Wood Pigeon: A Common and Recognizable Bird in Our Environment

GardenBy Jun 16, 2024

The Wood Pigeon: A Common and Recognizable Bird in Our Environment

The wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) is one of the most common birds found in our cities, often seen alongside the more familiar feral pigeon. It is the largest species of pigeon in Europe and is also known as the “ring dove” or “rock dove.” This article will provide an overview of this bird’s characteristics, habitats, and behaviors.

Characteristics of the Wood Pigeon

The wood pigeon is a large bird, measuring approximately 45 cm in length with a wingspan of 75 to 80 cm. It weighs between 450 g and 530 g. Its plumage is predominantly gray-blue on the back and head, with a pinkish hue on the chest. The lower parts of its body have a lighter gray color, often mixed with mauve or purplish undertones on the chest.

The wood pigeon is easily recognizable by its elongated silhouette and the white patch on each side of its neck. It also has a prominent white line that cuts across its wings and tail, especially noticeable when in flight. The feathers of the wood pigeon are smooth and silky.

The bird has a pale yellow eye encircled by gray, and its beak combines yellow, white, and pink colors. Its legs are pink. While male and female wood pigeons look similar, the male can be distinguished by the larger white spots on its neck and the more pronounced color of its chest.

Juvenile wood pigeons have a duller plumage than adults, with a combination of gray and brown on the back and wings. Their beaks are gray, and their legs have a rosier tint. Juveniles do not have the characteristic white patch on their necks.

The Wood Pigeon’s Distinctive Call

The wood pigeon is known for its distinctive cooing call, mainly uttered by the male. This territorial call is used to communicate its presence to other pigeons. It can be heard throughout the year, particularly at dawn during the spring season. The call is low-pitched and sonorous, often described as a raucous “kouh kouhkouh.”

A Gregarious Species

Aside from the breeding season, during which they become territorial, wood pigeons are typically gregarious birds that congregate in family groups. They gather together to feed and roost in trees, making them vulnerable to hunters who target them when they are clustered in numbers.

While some wood pigeons are sedentary or exhibit little migratory behavior, populations from Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe migrate to avoid harsh winter conditions. Therefore, during October, one can observe flocks of wood pigeons flying to Western Europe and the Mediterranean region as a temporary refuge from the cold. Ornithologists eagerly await their arrival in the Pyrenees, while hunters in Southwest France prepare for hunting season, as wood pigeons are considered a prized game bird.

Interestingly, wood pigeons have become accustomed to human presence over time, especially in urban areas where they coexist with feral pigeons. However, this proximity to humans also makes them easier targets for hunters lying in wait.

Habitats and Diet of the Wood Pigeon

The wood pigeon occupies a relatively extensive range, from the Atlantic coast to the Ural Mountains. It can be found as far north as Scandinavia and Western Siberia, and as far south as the Maghreb and Turkey.

Wood pigeons are adaptable in terms of habitat, inhabiting both rural and urban environments. While they are prevalent across Europe, their behavior may vary depending on their habitat. In rural areas, wood pigeons are generally more wary, likely due to the risk of being hunted. In contrast, urban wood pigeons are more comfortable with human presence and can often be seen in gardens, parks, and streets.

For breeding purposes, wood pigeons prefer arborous environments, but they are not particularly choosy. They can build their nests in dense forests or even in sparsely wooded urban gardens. A few tall trees are sufficient for them to feel safe and secure, especially for nighttime roosting.

Wood pigeons feed on the ground, preferring open and clear spaces. Their diet consists primarily of seeds, grasses, buds, and young shoots. During the summer, they also consume fruits, while in autumn, they favor beech mast and oak acorns. Additionally, wood pigeons are frequent visitors to birch catkins and ivy berries. Occasionally, they may consume worms, larvae, or small mollusks.

Reproduction and Conservation

During the breeding season, male wood pigeons engage in elaborate aerial displays, accompanied by distinctive vocalizations, to attract females. Males soar high into the sky, clapping their wings, before closing them and diving downwards for a short distance. These displays are an integral part of the courtship ritual.

Wood pigeons build their nests in trees or large shrubs, creating a flat and wide structure with interlacing twigs and grass. Nests are often found in ivy climbing up tree trunks or in denser tree canopies. Increasingly, wood pigeons have also been observed nesting on human structures, such as balcony planters or window ledges. Occasionally, they may even nest on the ground within dense vegetation.

The nest, measuring approximately 18 to 25 cm in diameter, is relatively simple but robust, often reused in subsequent breeding seasons. The female lays two white eggs in April or May, which she incubates with the assistance of her partner for an average of 16 to 17 days. The parents continue to feed and care for the chicks even after they have left the nest, providing regurgitated seeds known as “pigeon milk.” The young wood pigeons remain close to their parents for some time before becoming fully independent.

Wood pigeons are not considered a threatened species overall, but their populations have been declining due to intensive hunting. While wood pigeons may occasionally cause minor damage to crops, their overall impact is minimal. Providing a dedicated feeding station with appropriate seeds can help protect young seedlings from their grazing while allowing us to enjoy their gentle cooing.

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I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.