A-z - Animals

Pigeons vs Doves: 2 Key Differences Explained

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key point:
  • Despite their different appearance and the way humans treat them very differently, pigeons and doves are actually the same bird.
  • Whatever you call them, they are among the most enthusiastic and adaptable birds on the planet.
  • Besides the color of their plumage, there are other key differences in the identity and behavior of birds that set them apart.
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Even though they are genetically identical to doves, doves have become a widespread symbol of love.

© petritzaa/Shutterstock.com

When we think of doves and doves, we probably think of completely different birds. In fact, the word "dove" has become synonymous with world peace, and we often picture them as these majestic, pure-white birds. However, both pigeons and doves are members of the pigeon family. Not only that, but they are technically the same bird as there is no scientific difference between the two. So why do we use two different names if they are the same bird, and how do we tell the difference between what people call a "dove" and a "dove"? Join us as we learn about the real major differences between doves and doves.

Comparing Doves and Pigeons

There are more than 300 species of pigeons . They are everywhere except in Antarctica, the high Arctic and the driest parts of the Sahara Desert. They have adapted to nearly every habitat and live in areas such as grasslands, savannahs, deserts, woodlands, forests, and urban areas. Pigeons and doves usually have small, round heads and short beaks. They also have compact bodies and short legs, tapered wings and soft feathers. They both feed on similar fruits and seeds, and they both build relatively fragile nests.

Pigeon Pigeon
name origin Old English/Old Norse France
size up to 0.5 lbs up to 9 lbs
Tail large and fanned out smaller and straighter

Two main differences between pigeons and doves

Although pigeons and doves are from the same bird family, generally doves are smaller while doves are the larger species. Another major difference is that doves have a straighter tail, while doves have a more fanned tail.

There is absolutely no scientific difference between pigeons and doves. Instead, which bird is called a dove and which bird is called a dove usually comes down to a few things. The most confusing factor is actually language – different countries tend to use different terminology. However, pigeons in the broad sense are often described as smaller members of the pigeon family, while doves are often referred to as larger birds.

Doves vs. Pigeons: Size

Most Expensive Birds - Racing Pigeons
Pigeons are often described as larger members of the pigeon family, reaching up to 9 lbs

©Ruth Swan/Shutterstock.com

Sizes vary widely within the Columbidae family. The smallest member of the family is the New World ground dove, weighing just 0.06 pounds and measuring just 5 inches in length. The largest, however, is the crested pigeon, often described as being as large as a turkey. Crown pigeons are about 30 inches long and weigh up to 9 pounds.

Given this size range, pigeons are widely described as the smallest members of the family, weighing up to 0.5 pounds. Pigeons, on the other hand, are usually the largest species, weighing between 0.5 and 9 pounds. However, it needs to be emphasized that this is just a very broad difference and not a set rule for the whole family. Also, some birds are called both names, which is totally against the trend. An example of this is the common pigeon (Columba livia ), also known as the rock pigeon. These birds generally weigh between 0.5 and 0.8 pounds.

Doves vs. Doves: Tails

Pigeons usually have more exuberant, fanned tails than doves

© Dennis Jacobson/Shutterstock.com

Another difference between pigeons and doves – though again just a general guideline – is their tails. Although there are exceptions to the rule on both sides, it is generally accepted that pigeons have larger and more expressive tails than doves. A dove's tail is often described as being longer and fanned out than a dove's tail, especially during flight. Pigeon tails are usually not that long or fanned out.

FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are pigeons always white?

No, although the common image that comes to mind when we think of pigeons is a beautiful white bird with a fan-shaped tail, pigeons are not always white. In fact, their color can vary greatly between grey, brown, white or mixed markings – just like pigeons vary in appearance.

Why are pigeons often called pests?

Just as doves are labeled "Peace", pigeons are often labeled "Peace". Pigeons, however, were not so favorably tagged. Pigeons are often described as pests because they often nest and breed in urban areas. Besides, who at some point in their life hasn't been accosted by a few pigeons in desperate need of food scraps? In fact, pigeons are often labeled a pest because of the abundance of pigeons that can be seen foraging in urban areas.

What does it mean when pigeons and doves are described as cereal or fruit eaters?

The main food for pigeons and doves is seeds and fruit. Granivorous birds are those birds that feed primarily on seeds, while frugivorous birds are those birds that feed on fruits and insects or worms. In fact, the pigeon family can also be divided according to this. Herbivorous animals belong to the pigeon subfamily , and the other four subfamily are all fruit-eating animals. Interestingly, both "dove" and "dove", as we roughly defined above, appear in both groups.

What is a carrier pigeon?

Carrier pigeons are domesticated common pigeons or turtledoves. They have an innate homing ability, which means they can find their nest and return home even if they are thousands of miles away. These days they are more often used for racing pigeons. However, during wartime—especially World War I and World War II—they were used to convey important messages. This is because they are less likely to be intercepted by the enemy than radios. This is often referred to as the "pigeon post" or "war post".

How long do pigeons live?

In the wild, pigeons have an average life expectancy of 3-6 years, which decreases to closer to 2 years in highly industrialized areas. However, if pigeons are kept by experienced owners, their lifespan can be extended significantly, with most captive pigeons living 15 years or more. Some statistics report that pigeons in captivity live longer, with an average lifespan of about 12-20 years.

Pigeon survival rates are minimal if left unattended in an urban environment.

© Alice Art Bar/Shutterstock.com


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For many years, I have been writing professionally, with an emphasis on animals and wildlife. I love spending time outdoors, and when I'm not writing I'll be found on a farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep and pigs.

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