Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior

Living Edition
| Editors: Jennifer Vonk, Todd Shackelford

Pigeon (Columbidae)

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-47829-6_1202-1



The pigeon is a member of the order Columbidae, which includes both pigeons and doves. The most common member of the order is known as the common pigeon, rock dove, or feral pigeon (Columba livia). It is a small- to medium-sized bird with a stocky body, small head, short beak, and short legs. They have excellent color vision, hearing, and olfactory perception. They are strong capable fliers with the ability to return home from long distances. They are monogamous breeders with pair bonds that can last from year-to-year. Within the order, there are 42 genera with 308 wild species. In addition, there are over 700 different breeds of domestic pigeons including fancy and racing pigeons. Pigeon racing is popular sport worldwide with racing groups on six continents, excluding Antarctica. Pigeons are popular subject in both field research and laboratory investigations of behavior.

Natural History

Breeds, Morphology, and Lifespan

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Angal’t, V. (1989). Ekologiya sizogo golubya v usloviyahk goroda Permi. In Gnezdovaya zhizn’ ptits (pp. 48–51). English edition: Angal’t, V. (1989). Ecology of a gray dove in the conditions of the city of Perm. In Nesting life of birds (pp. 48–51)Google Scholar
  2. Bingman, V., & Jones, T. J. (1994). Sun compass-based learning impaired in homing pigeons with hippocampal lesions. The Journal of Neuroscience, 12, 6687–6694. Retrieved from https://www.jneurosci.org/content/jneuro/14/11/6687.full.pdf
  3. Blaisdell, A. P., & Cook, R. G. (2005). Integration of spatial maps in pigeons. Animal Cognition, 8, 7–16. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/content/qt0ns003xd/qt0ns003xd.pdf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blough, P. M. (1984). Visual search in pigeons: Effects of memory set size and display variables, Perception & Psychophysics, 35, 344–352. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.3758/BF03206338.pdf
  5. Blough, P. M. (2001). Cognitive strategies and foraging in pigeons. In R. G. Cook (Ed.), Avian visual cognition. Comparative Cognition Press – online. Retrieved from http://www.pigeon.psy.tufts.edu/avc/pblough/default.htm
  6. Cavoto, K. K. & Cook, R.G. (2001). Cognitive precedence for local information in hierarchical stimulus processing by pigeons. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 27, 3–16.Google Scholar
  7. Cook, R. G., Cavoto, K. K., & Cavoto, B. R. (1996). Mechanisms of multidimensional grouping, fusion, and search. Animal Learning & Behavior, 24, 150–167.Google Scholar
  8. Cook, R. G. (2001). Heirarchical stimulus processing in pigeons. In R. G. Cook (Ed.), Avian visual cognition. Comparative Cognition Press- online. Retrieved from http://pigeon.psy.tufts.edu/avc/cook/default.htm
  9. Cook, R. G. & Tauro, T. (1999). Object-goal positioning influences spatial representation in rats. Animal Cognition, 2, 55–62.Google Scholar
  10. de Souza Barba, L. (2012). Operant variability: A conceptual analysis. Behavior Analyst, 35, 213–227. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3501424/.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Domjan, M. (2015). The principles of learning and behavior. Stamford: Cengage.Google Scholar
  12. Giraldeau, L. A., & Lefebvre, L. (1987). Scrounging prevents cultural transmission of food-finding behavior in pigeons. Animal Behaviour, 35, 387–394. Retrieved from https://cwu-illiad-oclc-org.ezp.lib.cwu.edu/illiad/illiad.dll?Action=10&Form=75&Value=214491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Haag-Wackernagel, D. (1993). Street pigeons in Basel. Nature, 361, 200. Retrieved from https://cwu-illiad-oclc-org.ezp.lib.cwu.edu/illiad/illiad.dll?Action=10&Form=75&Value=214493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hayes, S. (1989). Nonhumans have not yet shown stimulus equivalence. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 51, 385–392. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1338931/pdf/jeabehav00028-0098.pdf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Herrnstein, R. J., Loveland, D. H., & Cable, C. (1976). Natural concepts in pigeons. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 2, 285–302. Retrieved from https://about.illinoisstate.edu/vfdouga/Documents/462/PDF/herrnsteing%20loveland%20cable%201976%20categorization%20in%20the%20pigeon.pdf.Google Scholar
  16. Huber, L. (2001). Visual categorization in pigeons. In R. G. Cook (Ed.), Avian visual cognition Retreived from https://pigeon.psy.tufts.edu/avc/huber/
  17. Johnston, R. F., & Janiga, M. (1995). Feral pigeons. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kakish, R. (2012). Evidence for dove breeding in the Iron Age: A newly discovered dovecote at ‘Ain al-Baida/’Amman. Jordan Journal for History and Archeology, 6, 175–193. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Randa_Kakish/publication/271822940_Evidence_for_Dove_Breeding_in_the_Iron_Age_A_Newly_Discovered_Dovecote_at_'Ain_al-Baida'Amman/links/54d1eb840cf28370d0e16b07.pdf.Google Scholar
  19. Keeton, W. T. (1971). Magnets interfere with pigeon homing, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 68, 102–106. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC391171/pdf/pnas00076-0109.pdfCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lack, P. (2003). Pigeons and doves. In C. M. Perrins (Ed.), The new encyclopedia of birds (pp. 290–295). Oxford Press: London. Retrieved from https://cwu-illiad-oclc-org.ezp.lib.cwu.edu/illiad/illiad.dll?Action=10&Form=75&Value=214495
  21. Lipp, H. P. (1996). Columba militaris Helvetica: Biologie und Verhaltensleistungen der Schweizer Armeebrieftauben. In: Rehkämper G, Greven H (Eds) Beiträge zur Biologie der Haus- und Nutztiere. Acta Biol Benrodis (Suppl 3):85–103.Google Scholar
  22. Mehlhorn, J., & Rehkämper, G. (2009). Neurobiology of the homing pigeon. Naturweissenchaften, 96, 1011–1025. Retrieved from https://link-springer-com.ezp.lib.cwu.edu/article/10.1007/s00114-009-0560-7
  23. Navon, D. (1977). Forest before trees: The precedence of global features in visual perception. Cognitive Psychology, 9, 353–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Olson, S. L. (ed.) (1985). The fossil record of birds. Academic Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. Page, S., & Neuringer, A. (1985). Variability as an operant. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 11, 429–452. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Allen_Neuringer/publication/232488201_Variability_Is_an_Operant/links/558b4e6708ae31beb1004aa8/Variability-Is-an-Operant.pdf
  26. Pereira, S. L., Johnson, K. P., Clayton, D., & Baker, A. J. (2007). Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences support a cretaceous origin of columbiformes and a dispersal-driven radiation in the paleogene. Systematic Biology, 56, 656–672. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/sysbio/article/56/4/656/1684333
  27. Phillips, J. B., & Waldvogel, J. A. (1988). Celestial polarized light patterns as a calibration reference for sun compass of homing pigeons. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 131, 55–67. Retrieved from. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/John_Phillips2/publication/223278109_Celestial_polarized_light_patterns_as_a_calibration_reference_for_sun_compass_of_homing_pigeons/links/5bd8775ea6fdcc3a8db14cba/Celestial-polarized-light-patterns-as-a-calibration-reference-for-sun-compass-of-homing-pigeons.pdf
  28. Sidman, M., & Tailby, W. (1982). Conditional discrimination vs. matching to sample: An expansion of the testing paradigm. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 37, 5-22. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1333115/pdf/jeabehav00072-0007.pdf
  29. Skinner, B. F. (1941). Superstition in the pigeon, Journal of Experimetnal Psychology, 38, 168-172. https://www.all-about-psychology.com/support-files/superstition-in-the-pigeon.pdf
  30. Skinner, B. F. (1981). Selection by consequences. Science, 213(4507), 501–504. Retreived from. Retreived from http://www.direncsakarya.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/selection-by-consequences.pdfCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sol, D., & Senar, J. C. (1995) Urban pigeon populations: Stability, home range, and the effect of removing individuals. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 73, 1154–1160. Retrieved from https://cwu-illiad-oclc-org.ezp.lib.cwu.edu/illiad/illiad.dll?Action=10&Form=75&Value=214498
  32. Treisman, A. M. & Gelade, G. (1980). A feature-integration theory of attention, Cognitive Psychology, 12, 97–136. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=
  33. Treisman, A. M. & Gormican, S. (1988). Feature analysis in early vision: Evidence from search asymmetries, Psychological Review, 95, 15–48.Google Scholar
  34. Vaughan, W., Jr. (1988). Formation of equivalence sets in pigeons. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Animal Behavior Processes, 14, 36–42. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/William_Vaughan4/publication/232492809_Formation_of_Equivalence_Sets_in_Pigeons/links/56977aae08aea2d743757f22/Formation-of-Equivalence-Sets-in-Pigeons.pdf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Vaughan, W., Jr. (1989). Reply to Hayes. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 51, 397. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1338933/pdf/jeabehav00028-0110.pdf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Visalberghi, E. & Alleva, E. (1979). Magnetic Influences on pigeon homing, The Biological Bulletin, 156, 246–256.Google Scholar
  37. Vreven, D., & Blough, P. M. (1998). Searching for one or many targets: Effects of extended experience on the runs advantage. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 24, 98–105. Retrieved from https://cwu-illiad-oclc-org.ezp.lib.cwu.edu/illiad/illiad.dll?Action=10&Form=75&Value=214627
  38. Walcott, C. (1996). Pigeon homing: Observations, experiments and confusions. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 199, 21–27. https://jeb.biologists.org/content/jexbio/199/1/21.full.pdf
  39. Walcott, C. (2005). Multi-modal orientation cues in homing pigeons. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 45, 574–581. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/icb/article/45/3/574/609660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wallraff, H. G. (1996). Seven these on pigeon homing deduced from empirical findings. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 199, 105–111. Retrieved from https://jeb.biologists.org/content/jexbio/199/1/105.full.pdf
  41. Wells, J. V., & Wells, A. C. (2001). Pigeons and doves. In C. Elphick, J. Dunning, & D. Sibley (Eds.), The sibley guide to bird life and behavior. New York: Knopf. Retrieved from https://cwu-illiad-oclc-org.ezp.lib.cwu.edu/illiad/illiad.dll?Action=10&Form=75&Value=214497
  42. Wiltschko, R., Schiffner, I., Furhman, P., & Wiltschko, W. (2010). The role of the magnetite-based receptors in the beak of the homing pigeon. Current Biology, 20, 1534–1538. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982210008626
  43. Wiltschko, R., Walker, M., & Wiltschko, W. (2000). Sun-compass orientation in homing pigeons: Compensation for different rates of change in azimuth. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 203, 889–894. Retrieved from https://jeb.biologists.org/content/jexbio/203/5/889.full.pdf
  44. Wiltschko, R., & Wiltschko W. (1994). Avian orientation: Multiple sensory cues and the advantage of redundancy. In M. N. O. Davies & P. R. Green (Eds.), Perception and motor control in birds. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer. Retrieved from https://cwu-illiad-oclc-org.ezp.lib.cwu.edu/illiad/illiad.dll?Action=10&Form=75&Value=214625

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCentral Washington UniversityEllensburgUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Suzanne MacDonald
    • 1
  1. 1.York UniversityTorontoCanada