Pigeon Facts: An Introduction and History

Pigeon Basics Show an Adaptable Bird That's Been Valuable Through the Ages

Pigeon Facts: An Introduction and History

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Pigeons are remarkable for so many reasons. A true cosmopolitan, long after humans have left this earth, only cockroaches, rats, and pigeons will remain. Humans and pigeons have been sharing living space as far back as 3000 BC, in Mesopotamia, modern Iraq.

Did you know that pigeons mate for life and both sexes care for the young? They have the ability to fly at altitudes up to 6,000 feet, and at speeds between 50 and 70 miles per hour. The fastest recorded speed is 92.5 miles per hour. These are just a few of many amazing pigeon facts!

Countless park goers across the world feed thousands of feral pigeons daily. Many members of different religions including Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs feed pigeons for spiritual reasons. Some older Sikhs will ritualistically feed pigeons to honor Guru Gobind Singh, a high priest who was renowned as a friend to pigeons. I know I couldn’t resist sitting down in the middle of Venice’s historic St. Mark’s Square to befriend a flock of pigeons. Covering myself with seed, I couldn’t stop smiling, as the pigeons transformed me into a human perch.

With so many types of pigeons to choose from, adding a flock to your backyard can add a fun source of entertainment, income, or food to any homestead.

In addition to a range of colors, pigeons have been bred for shows, racing and as a source of protein.

Pigeon Basics

How Long Do Pigeons Live?
Domestic pigeons can live between 10 and 15 years. Although pigeons can become sexually mature as early as five months, many breeders recommended waiting for the birds to reach one year of age.

What Do Pigeons Eat? 
If considering keeping pigeons you may be wondering, “What do pigeons eat?” Pigeons are granivores, eating seeds and cereals. Many pigeon feeds include cereals, corn, wheat, dried peas, barley, and rye. Depending on the actively level of your bird, different protein percentages are commercially available. Pigeons will also benefit from fresh greens, berries, fruit, and an occasional insect.

How Do Pigeons Mate?
The coupling ritual starts with the male characteristically cooing and puffing out his neck. The female will fly or walk short distances to entice the male to follow her. Once she is satisfied she will accept offerings of food and position herself to be mounted.

Eight to 12 days after mating and accepting food gifts from her mate, the hen will usually lay two white eggs. Pigeons will breed year-round and will lay more eggs before the first clutch has left the nest.

“Keeping the number of birds under control is key to health and quality and successful racing,” says Deone Roberts, Sport Development Manager of the American Racing Pigeon Union. “To have the desired results in racing, the flyer/breeder needs to set down his/her goals.”

Those goals will influence the type of stock selected and the kinds of pairings you will make. Controlling the times of mating is also important if you plan on racing or showing birds.


Managing pigeon breeding will allow your birds to be ready for a show.

Organizations such as the American Racing Pigeon Union are for people who love animals, fellowship, and friendly competition.

“We have a staffed national office to serve member needs such as leg bands and diplomas, race figuring software, educational materials, beginner mentor program, zoning assistance for ordinance changes, and promotion assistance,” says Roberts.

In addition to racing pigeons, Roberts says that there are hundreds of breeds of pigeons and it seems more are created through selection for specific traits. Most are for show. Some are for performance, such as the roller or tumbler breeds.

Budapest pigeon, with their comical eyes, were developed around 1907.

Growing up I had a small flock of rollers and tumblers. After a few years or raising them, and enjoying their aerial acrobatics, I attended a pigeon show to expand my collection. I purchased a pair of runt pigeons. These ironically named pigeons can weigh up to 3.5 pounds! They are mostly raised for show or squab meat. The seller said I could let them free-range in the yard like chickens. After a week of keeping them in the coop to get their bearings, I let them out to explore the lawn. As soon as the door opened, the birds took off straight toward the horizon. That was a sad day. Lesson learned. Not all pigeons should be expected to return if they are released from their coop.

In ancient Mesopotamia, sailors would release pigeons, and ravens, from their ships. They would track the birds to orient themselves toward land. A thousand years later, you have the story of Noah in the Old Testament. Around this time you also start seeing pigeons featured in sculptures, jewelry and hair needles.

The Phoenicians distributed white pigeons throughout the Mediterranean around 1000 B.C. The Greeks gave pigeons to children as toys, used the squabs as a food source, and used their manure to fertilize crops.

Some pigeon lofts, situated next to Roman houses, could maintain 5,000 birds. The Romans created tube feeding and watering systems for their birds and started selectively breeding for desirable traits. They bred birds that flew strange patterns, could find their way home, were large enough to eat, and had ornamental plumage.

Today, schools raise pigeons to connect kids with history, nature and to empower them with life skills. “These projects are developing increased interest in science, math, computer technologies, health, and nutrition,” says Roberts. “When children have pigeons, they connect with nature. They are outside and away from computers, iPads, and the television.”

Keeping pigeons is an ageless hobby. Photo by Gary Weir

Roberts reminds us that raising pigeons is not just a youth activity. “Likewise, the hobby provides enjoyment for retirees in their golden years.”

“Our members come from a variety of backgrounds with regard to education, income, and ethnicity. It is not unusual for individuals to combine two hobbies that include more animals, such as a hobby farmer, that may also have poultry.”

“What we have is an organization of members that gives to the community and gives to their own. Combine that with the love of a bird. There’s not much better than that,” says Roberts.

After knowing more pigeon facts, do you think you’ll be adding them to your backyard?

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