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Pigeons of the world. Bird Orders. Columbiformes part 1

Updated on August 1, 2015

Columba livea in Japan



In this series we are looking at species in specific bird orders. Here in part one of the Columbiformes we look at pigeons from around the world. Many see pigeons as dull coloured birds that are a nuisance in towns and cities ,and it is true that some of them are. However, this is not the case in general. These birds attain beautifully coloured plumages in other parts of the world as we shall discover.

The Pigeon family Columbidae is one of the most numerous and most widely distributed,and in some respects one of the most interesting families of the feathered race. They are all {or nearly so} vegetarian feeders and all tribes and species are voracious feeders.many of them congregate in large flocks. The flesh of these birds have long been utilized at the dinner table.

With the exception of the Polar regions,Pigeons are found all over the world even on remote sea islands. They occur ,with the exception of a very few,in countries which hardly see any of winters cold weather.The whole family are very powerful on the wing,capable of remaining long in the air at a time,and thus continuing their flight over long distances.

Partington, in his work 'British Cyclopedia of Natural History', 1875-1837, states " In such countries as Europe,where the soil is in pretty general cultivation and the winter comparitively severe,they are very numerous. IN North America they are much more so in individuals if not absolutely species,and yet latitude for latitude,the winters of North America are more severe than those in Europe,however, in North America,they migrate with the seasons and far more than they do in Europe. In Europe too,the larger seeds of faded plants,and the small fruits on which they feed are much less abundant than they are in America. In the former part of the world the greater part of the harvest of the year is gathered in by man,or by animals in which he takes an interest. While in America,so comparatively small an extent of the surface is peopled and cultivated,that the far greater part of nature's harvest of the year is left to be gathered by the children of wild nature"

Columbina sqaammata

Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons via snowmanradio
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons via snowmanradio | Source

Distribution of Columbidae

In South America,and its immediate islands,there are many species,and the same is the case for Africa. The pigeons of the north,though many, indeed most of them feed upon the ground,are all birds of powerful flight and capable of moving from one region to another in order to find food. Pigeons of this character are also found in southern parts of America and in Africa but in these places there are others much less formed for flight and therefore much more habitually upon the ground.

In Australia and the isles of the Pacific,among those New Guinea and the Sunda Islands,and a portion of a least some of south east Asia,might be considered the ground headquarters of the pigeons and in those regions the pigeons are far more colourful in plumage. They are elegant in form and splendid in all their characters,than in almost any other part of the world, although everywhere they are a handsome race of birds.

Young pigeons stay in the nest for some time. Even at this stage they are not capable of flying or even walking properly


Feet of a feral pigeon


Classification and general characteristics of Columbidae

Pigeons under Cuvier's classification where placed in the order Galliformes, {already reviewed in this series}, but little or resemblance between the Pigeon family and the Poultry family. For example the breeding habits of the respective species..Those birds of the poultry family show no or lack of affection between the males and females and they males take no part in the incubation and rearing of their young,which leave the nest almost immediately on hatching.

Pigeons on the other hand show a great deal of affection towards their mates.The male will assist the female in the incubation of the eggs . The brood of the pigeons are usually a single pair and the chicks ,known as squabs, remain in the nest for some time. There are also other significant factors which had the pigeons removed from the Galliformes order of birds and placed in their current order of Columbiformes.

The general characteristics of this order are as follows. The bill is arched,the nostrils pierced in a large membranous space and each covered with a cartilaginous scale. The membrane is often enlarged to a considerable size at the base of the bill. The sternum consists of firm bone,but is deeply and doubly notched in the posterior part,though different in different species.

The craw or crop is very large and capable of dilation .The larynx at the bronchial ,or lower extremity of the windpipe,has only a single muscle,so they have little or no voice except a sort of murmuring coo,which,however, is usually soft and pleasant, though melancholy.

The feet have three toes in front,but have no membrane at the base any more produced than it is at the sides of the toes,and the hind toe is articulated at the same level as the front toes.This arrangement means that they cannot run fast but they do walk very well. Their wings and style of flight vary considerably according to their mode of life for which they are adapted. However, whether the flight is short or long,high or low,they all may be said to be good flyers.

They are on the whole prolific breeders,some species having young throughout the year in all but the coldest of months.The nests are not constructed with the greatest care,indeed,it is possible to see the eggs or young through the twigs of the nest when viewed from below. The locality of the nests again depends on the species.Some may be placed in rocks, on ledges of buildings or under railway bridges,however, the majority are placed in trees or the taller shrubs.

Here in part 1 we review the remarkable birds that are collectively called the Green pigeons.

Nest and Eggs of the European Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus

originally appeared on Flickr-uploaded to commons via Fae
originally appeared on Flickr-uploaded to commons via Fae | Source

The Green Pigeons.Commencing with the Little Green pigeon

Little Green Pigeon are placed in the genus Treron. This bird is encountered in Brunei, Indonesia,Malaysia,Singapore and Thailand, where its natural haunts are moist lowland forests.

This small greenish pigeon has an extremely large range and is regarded as being secure. However,some localised populations are at risk from loss of habitat.

Little green Pigeon Treron olax


Pompadour pigeons

This group of pigeons {Green Pigeon complex} are all stocky medium sized pigeons 9-11 inches long generally, however,some are bigger than others. The head of these birds are green to greenish and the underparts are green. Males of the subspecies phayrei, have a pale orange patch on the chest. The crown including the forehead are usually grey with the exception of the Sri Lanka Green Pigeons where the forehead is greenish yellow.

The under tail coverts are mainly whitish or pale yellow,though they are a deep crimson in the males of affinis and phayeri. The wings are blackish with a distinct yellow edging to the wing coverts and tertial feathers. The mantle is dark green in the female and deep purplish chestnuut in the male. The legs are reddish in most birds but grey in the 'axillaris' species.

All species of the green 'Complex group' usually occur in small groups or alone. The flight is fast and direct. They eat seeds and fruits of a variety of plants. They produce two white eggs per brood.

The species are far to numerous to mention but below are some typical species of this group with images.

This group is placed in the genus Treron and are wide spread in the forests of southern and south east Asia. Most authorities have split them into multiple species.

Sri Lanka Green pigeon

Taken in Sri Lanka
Taken in Sri Lanka | Source

The Sri Lanka green pigeon

The Sri Lanka green pigeon Treron pompadora usually occurs singly or in small groups. The flight is fast and direct. Its diet consists of the seeds and fruits of a wide variety of plants. Like most members of the Columbidae they construct a flimsy nest in which the female deposits two white eggs.

Illustration of Osmoterion axillaris a pigeon of the axillaris group.

Indian Pigeons and Doves ,1913
Indian Pigeons and Doves ,1913 | Source

Grey fronted green pigeon.Ashy headed green pigeon and the Philippine green pigeon

The Grey fronted green pigeon Treron pomadora affinis has the habits and nesting activity as the last species.

The Ashy headed Green pigeon Treron phayrei occurs in Nepal,and northern India to south west China,Thailand,Laos and Vietnam.

The Philippine green pigeon Treron pomadora axillaris is found in the forests of the Philippines.

Treron phayrei. Illustration


Thick billed green pigeon Male.


Thick billed Green pigeon

The thick billed green pigeon Treron curvirostra,has a range across the eastern regions of the Indian sub-continent and south east Asia. Its natural habitat includes sub-tropical moist lowland forests including Mangrove forests.

Compared with other pigeons it is relatively smaller. A thick greenish bill with a red base,broad bluish green eye ring, The mantle is maroon. The wings have black primary and secondary feathers with a yellow outer edge. The underside is green in both sexes. The thigh is dark green with whitish scales. The female has greenish under tail coverts with whitish scales. males have a maroon dorsum and dull chest under tail coverts.

Grey cheeked green pigeon


The grey cheeked green pigeon, Yellow footed green pigeon and Bruces's green pigeon.

The grey cheeked green pigeon Treron griseicauda,is endemic to Indonesia.

Yellow footed Green pigeon, Treron phoenicopterus, is a common species of green pigeon found on the Indian sub-continent. This species forage in flocks and are often encountered on various fig trees. They tend to sit in couples on tree branches.

Bruce's green pigeon Treron walia, is an African species and is another species that is associated with fig trees

Yellow footed green pigeon. Treron phoenicopterus.


Bruce's green pigeon

Taken at Cincinatti Zoo
Taken at Cincinatti Zoo | Source

African green pigeon

The African green pigeon Treron calvus is one of five green pigeons that occur in Africa.The nest of this species is typical of the family in general being a flimsy affair of sticks and twigs collected by the male and arranged by the female. The nest may be encountered at any time of the year,summer being the prime period of breeding for these birds.

African green pigeon Treron calvus


Green pigeons under threat

Many of the species of green pigeons are now classed as vulnerable or near threatened. These include -

The Pemba green pigeon endemic to Tanzania due to habitat loss.

The Sao Tome Green pigeon,Treron sanctithomeae, vulnerable due to habitat loss.

Whistling green pigeon, Treron formosae Near threatened due to habitat loss

The Cinnamon headed green pigeon Treron fulvicollis, near threatened due to habitat loss.

Buru gren pigeon Treron aromaticus, near threatened Due to habitat loss

Sumba green pigeion Treron teysmannii endemic to Sunda islands of Indonesia near threatened due to habitat loss.

Flores green pigeon Treron floris, endemic to lesser Sunda islands of Indonesia Vulnerable to habitat loss.

Timor green pigeon Treron psittaceus, Endangered due to habitat loss.

Large Green pigeon Treron capellei, Vulnerable due to habitat loss.

Comorus green pigeon Treron giveavdi, Endangered due to habitat loss.

Foot note.** The Common European Wood Pigeon has been covered in detail in my hub Portly Pigeon.

Sumba green pigeon Treron teysmannia, one of the species classed as near threatened.



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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Deb, I believe you are right they are very confiding and lovable birds, Pigeons seem to split opinion you either love them or dislike them I am with you as being one of the former.Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are all beautiful birds. While doing rehab work in Delaware, I encountered young pigeons, who wanted to be cuddled and caressed. They enjoyed going between my fingers, which simulated affection to them, I believe.