Birds of Georgetown: Doves and Pigeons

This week for Birds of Georgetown, GM is exploring the Columbidae family of birds, which are better known as doves and pigeons.

In Georgetown, that almost entirely boils down to two species: the mourning dove and the rock pigeon.

The mourning dove, seen above, is a lovely bird. It can be recognized by its cloudy golden/gray plumage. But you often hear it before you see it. They have a call that is easily recognizable; you’ve probably heard it thousands of times before. Here’s a sample:

Mourning doves also make a lovely whistling sound when they take flight:

Mourning doves live in DC all year round. Although GM did once find a dead mourning dove in his garden during a particularly cold winter week. (Lifting a bird is an odd sensation. They are remarkably light.)

All in all, mourning doves are a lovely bird to have around, which is a lot more than we can say about their cousins, the rock pigeon.

Rock pigeons are what most people simply call pigeons. Or flying rats, as they are sometimes called.

Rock pigeons are some of the most common birds on earth. Originally from the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the rock pigeon has spread to all corners of Europe and the United States, with smaller populations located across the globe.

Not surprisingly they thrive in urban environments, with so much food (i.e. trash) available.

Their huge numbers leads some to wonder “wait, how come I never see any dead pigeons?”. Citylab answered that in 2012:

A pigeon that leads a pampered life might make it to age 15 before croaking. But most rarely live that long – five years in the wild is typical. America’s cities are patrolled by an invisible battalion of predators, all of whom seem to enjoy a meal of fat pigeon breast with a side of filoplumes. “Even with a huge level development like in Washington, D.C. or Chicago, these cities still have plenty of trees,” says Seerveld.

The article goes on to mention a variety of hawks, falcon’s and owls that feast on pigeons.

GM always wondered why, despite the fact DC has a lot of pigeons, it seems to have nowhere near the density of pigeons you’ll find in cities like New York. GM asked the City Paper for an explanation, but didn’t get much of an answer. Others have suggested that since rock pigeons are naturally cliff-dwelling birds, they do especially well in cities with tall buildings with lots of nooks and crannies. That describes New York, but not DC as much. Either way, it’s nice that they are not quite as prevalent here.

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