Doves are amazing animals. Their capacity to find their way home over hundreds, even thousands of kilometres is unrivalled in the animal kingdom. This uncanny ability has seen them used for centuries to deliver messages for royalty, military leaders and other notable figures.
Training of these magnificent birds dates back to as much as 3000 years ago. Today pigeons are no longer used to deliver important messages, however their use is still valued through services such as those found here at Doves to Love and Bouquet of Doves.
Competitive pigeon racing is time-honoured sport that is often raced between distances from 100-1000km. Despite these incredible distances races can be won by mere seconds.
There is a lot of confusion amoung many people between Doves and Pigeons. To many people they are one in the same, and although they are all part of the same family, there are in fact some differences between the two. Keep reading to find out more interesting facts about Doves and Pigeons.
Pigeon or Dove?
- The names Pigeon and Dove are often used interchangeably.
- In fact, in many languages, these terms are translated exactly the same.
- Doves are often referred to as “A Pigeon with a good PR agent”.
- Pigeons and Doves belong to the same family, Columbidae, and have many similar features.
- Doves are generally slightly smaller than Pigeons but have longer tails.
- Pigeons are the only birds in the world that do not need to lift their head to swallow water.
- Ceremonial White Dove releases generally use White Homing Pigeons.
- The pigeon beats its wings up to ten times per second, while maintaining a heart rate of 600 beats per minute and goes up to 16 hours without rest.
- When “eating” they are in fact collecting food into their oesophagus. They will then digest this food at a later time.
- Doves and Pigeons have no gall bladder. Although the reason behind this anomaly in unknown, interestingly, these birds still produce bile (it’s simply secreted directly into the gut).
- Both the male and the female of Columbidae species produce milk for their young.
- Their milk is called crop milk. It contains a higher level of protein and fat than the milk produced by mammals.
- Doves have an excellent knack for adapting themselves to almost any environment. The only places they are not found are in places of extreme conditions such as deserts and the Antarctic.
- Doves mate for life.
- Females almost always lay two eggs at a time. Although possible, it is very rare to lay one egg, as is three or more eggs.
- Doves are prolific breeders. Females have been known to reach sexual maturity after 7 months.
- Eggs are typically laid 8-12 days after mating, which then hatch an additional 18 days later.
- Such a short gestation period means a pair of doves can have up to 9 broods in a year.
- In captivity, pigeons often live up to 30 years of age. However, in urban population they seldom live past 3 or 4.
- Doves have been used as messengers for thousands of years, particularly during war.
- The Battle of Waterloo, the Franco-Prussian War and Genghis Khan all used messenger Pigeons during battles.
- Pigeons played a vital role in World War One. Over 100,000 played a part and had an amazing 95% success rate in delivering their messages.
- Found all over the Western front, homing pigeons great strength was not only their homing instinct but their speed.
- This speed made it nearly impossible for enemy marksmen to shoot them down.
- Possibly the only effective countermeasure, birds of prey were used to hunt the pigeons down.
- The exact way homing pigeons find their way home has long been debated.
- Various studies have suggested techniques such as an internal compass, low-frequency sound wave environmental mapping, using the Earth’s magnetic field and even memorising the way home are all plausible possibilities.
- Regardless of how Pigeons find their way home, their ability to find their way home is nothing short of incredible.
- In the late 1800s, the most heroic recorded flight was from a pigeon released in Africa that took 55 days to get home to England. Travelling over a staggering 11,000 kilometres!
- Pigeons can fly at altitudes of 6000 feet at an average speed of 77.6 miles per hour.
- The fastest recorded speed for a pigeon is 92.5 miles per hour.
A Regal Distinction
- Queen Elizabeth II races pigeons from the Royal Lofts at Sandringham.
- At its highest level, Pigeon breeding has similar prestige and status as thoroughbred horse breeding.
- The highest amount of money ever paid for a homing pigeon is $225,000.
- Messenger Pigeons were stilled employed as recently as 2002 by remote police departments in East India as an emergency communication service.
“How come the dove gets to be the peace symbol? How about the pillow? It has more feathers than the dove, and it doesn’t have that dangerous beak.”Jack Handy – Saturday Night Live