Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Doves and Pigeons
Nature Bulletin No. 183-A   March 13, 1965
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis,Supt. of Conservation

There are several hundred kinds of doves and pigeons distributed around the earth, including approximately 150 varieties of domestic pigeons. They vary from the giant crowned pigeon of New Guinea to the little Eastern Ground Dove which is about the size of a bluebird and native to our South Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The terms "dove" and "pigeon" are used interchangeably in the common names given them. They have two peculiarities. One is that, in drinking, they do not sip and raise their heads as other birds do, but take long draughts. The other is that their naked helpless young are fed with a secretion, known as "pigeon milk", from the parents' crops; later with regurgitated half-digested food. A naturalist, attempting to raise a young dove by hand, was unable to get it to eat until he discovered and pressed a little swelling at each corner of its mouth. Then the mouth flew open and the throat muscles began to work spasmodically. Apparently, when the old bird and the young bird interlock bills, these swellings are pressed and the squab is enabled to swallow. The dove has become an emblem of peace and love, probably because of the devotion of a mated pair to each other and to their young, the familiar strutting, billing and cooing of the male during courtship, and their gentle timid nature. Doves and pigeons have been used as messengers and food since earliest time. In the Bible we are told that Noah sent forth a dove and, when she returned with an olive leaf in her mouth, he knew that the water had receded from the earth. The early Hebrews were commanded to offer turtle doves and young pigeons as sacrifices in atonement for sin. In 3000 BC the Egyptians were raising them for food. They were employed by the early Greeks and Romans, and in the first Crusade, to carry messages -- just as carrier or "homing" pigeons were used in our two world wars. All of our domestic pigeons have been developed, by selective breeding, from the Blue Rock Pigeon -- the Rock Dove which nests in rocky cliffs along the coasts of Europe. Millions of domestic pigeons are virtually wild. In many cities they have become a nuisance but efforts to eliminate them, by city and park administrations, are defeated by the public which persists in feeding them. In suburban and rural districts, flocks commonly fly to and fro in close formation, apparently just for the fun of it, wheeling in unison like soldiers at drill. In a previous bulletin we told of the slaughter and extinction of the Passenger Pigeon which formerly inhabited the forested regions of this country in billions. Today, except for the Band-tailed Pigeon of Canada and western U. S., the Ground Dove, and a few kinds found only in southern Florida or southern Texas, the only native pigeon is the Mourning Dove or Turtle Dove. It is a slim brownish bird, smaller than most domestic pigeons, with long pointed tail and wings, conspicuous white tips on the tail feathers, and a small black spot behind the eye. A bird of the open country, it is valuable because, in addition to waste grain and insects, it feeds chiefly on weed seeds. Two glossy white eggs are laid in a nest which is merely a crude thin platform of sticks, usually in a small tree or tall bush. The turtle dove is one of our early spring arrivals, and then we hear the low mournful mating call of the male: "Ooah-cooo-cooo-coo". A few remain during winter. They rise swiftly from the ground with a twittering whistle of wings and are swift fliers that travel long distances to drink and bathe. Migrating in flocks in autumn, they are now in danger of extermination by excessive hunting. "The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land." Turtle? Solomon was not that dumb.

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