The Answers – Peerless Pigeons

Dear Readers, let’s see how well you did on your pigeons. I featured all five of the species that can be seen in the UK, but I’ve only been fortunate enough to see four.

1. Feral Pigeon (or Rock Dove – (Columba livia)

These come in all colours, shapes and sizes, but the red eye is diagnostic (unless it’s surrounded by a big halo of red skin, in which case see (5). The ones in the photo are pretty close to the wild type, which has two dark wing bars and a white rump.

2.Stock Dove (Columba oenas)

This rather attractive dove is more common than you might think: you can tell it from the woodpigeon by its soft, dark eyes, and the lack of a white patch on the neck. It’s also smaller, but not so much as you would normally notice. It’s a bird of woodland, and nests in hollow trees: I’ve found it regularly in Coldfall Wood, around the corner from me.

3. Woodpigeon (Calumba palumbus).

The biggest of the pigeons, this bird has a white, slightly manic-looking eye, a white patch on its neck and a very visible white band on its wings in flight. It also has a splendid display flight where it soars into the sky, claps its wings and then zooms down again, as if on an invisible roller coaster.

4.Collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

Delicately-coloured in shades of taupe and grey, this slender dove has a single line of black edged with white on its neck. The photo shows the splendid tail, which is black at the base but with a fringe of white around two grey feathers in the centre. This bird has increased greatly in numbers over the past twenty years, probably moving into the vacated sites of the fast-disappearing turtle dove (see below)

By Yuvalr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

5.Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)

A bird that is gradually being lost: it was a summer visitor who fed at the woodland edge and in hedgerows, and is dependent on weed seeds, particularly those of fumitory, black medick, red and white clover, common vetch and birds foot trefoil. All these plants are being squeezed out of most farmland, and as we know, hedgerows are often replaced with barbed wire fences, which are easier to maintain. Plus, the turtle dove passes over Malta (where migrating birds are still shot). The bird of ‘the Twelve Days of Christmas’ may soon no longer be present in the country where the song originated. The charity ‘Operation Turtle Dove’ is doing its best to conserve the species, and jolly good luck to them too.

And now to the songs. Always tricky, but I have added in a few mnemonics to help.

6. This is a woodpigeon. In my Crossley Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, it’s suggested that the call sounds like ‘my TOE BLEEDS Betty’, and it’s certainly a five-syllable call, with lots of emphasis on the second and third syllables. I have one local bird who repeats this pattern three times and then sticks an extra ‘word’ on at the end. The call is particularly fine when heard down a chimney.

7. This is a bunch of feral pigeons. The actual call is, I’m sure, a male doing his little ‘whirligig’ dance to impress a female. I particularly like the wing claps as they all take off.

8. This is a turtle dove. The call is supposed to sound like ‘turrr-turrr’, and the bird is named for its call, rather than any resemblance to a marine reptile. The call reminds me of an old-fashioned ‘ringing’ tone on a telephone, but I bet most of you are Far Too Young to remember such things.

9. This is a stock dove, which has the most unassuming call of all the pigeons, to go along with its generally placid and gentle nature. The call is basically a series of ‘ooo’ sounds, but, as the Crossley guide puts it, it’s ‘a soft sound from the treetops very easily missed in bird chorus’.

10. And this is a collared dove. The first sound is the ‘landing call’, which sounds to me a bit like a kazoo. The normal call is a quite fast three-note cooing: Crossley says that it’s in the rhythm of ‘U-NIII-ted’ and I think that’s just about right. See what you think.

So, that’s pigeons done. Next week I’m going to have a look at the crow family. All those black birds! Let’s see how we get on.

11 thoughts on “The Answers – Peerless Pigeons

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Looks like I got my Woodpigeon and Stock Dove calls mixed up. That’s the sound we tried to make as kids by cupping your hands together and blowing into your 2 thumbs and moving your forefinger, so that the sound changed as it came out near the knuckle of your thumb. I dare say you used to do that too? Oh to be young and innocent again!

    1. Anne

      Oh! We used to do that too! I have had to polish up my skills to show my grandchildren – who are amazed at what Granny can do!

      1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

        Well done to you! I tried the other day, while out on a walk and only managed a vague ‘hoot’ (owl type) sound. I shall have to practice more (though my wife will think I’ve gone a little mad!)

  2. Sarah

    Really interesting, thank you! I realise I have been ignoring the existence of stock doves all my life, mixing them up with wood pigeons. I’m keen now to see if there are any round here. I’ve always thought wood pigeons are singing a pop hit of my youth, “I want you to want me”.

    A good place to hear turtle doves – once we can travel again – is Knepp in Sussex. They are generous enough to purr in the hedges round the campsite itself.

    1. Bug Woman

      I am desperate to go and see Knepp. There are white storks currently nesting there! What an object lesson on what can be achieved if you work with nature rather than against it. And if you have an estate to work with of course 🙂

  3. roseaob

      How goes you? I am missing your dulcet counterpoint encouragement critical analysis and at least an occasional visitation..but don’t know when or if there will ever be simply a happy coincidence…so in order to improve the odds it seems better to to change tack and plan..for a chat in a chair with some tea? In 10 minutes 12.35 or any time you might like to propose? .

    Meantime..Probably the last word (no hardly! Maybe on identifying varieties) on anything pigeon..and for now wood pigeons are said to have 3 lots of eggs starting each year and generally two each time..perhaps the crow (unnoticed by me) had already had the other one…but rather than speculate ive turned back to my copy of the very brilliant and encyclopaedic “The Birds of London” for the science and the glorious, and rather uplifting, truth (to complement the observed and imagined re birds, and other ways to get over being an anachronism etcfor better or worse…) xx

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. gertloveday

    Here Down Under I also see a crested pigeon which has a little spike on its head and whose wings make a whirring sound when it flies. Do you know if people still keep racing pigeons in England? The sport is alive and well here.

    1. Bug Woman

      Yes, people still have pigeon lofts, mainly up north but interestingly the Turkish community are also often really into pigeon racing, which has revived interest in the sport. Your crested pigeon sounds adorable! We saw some lovely green pigeons in Borneo (which feels about 100 years ago).


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