Animals

Why Are There So Many Pigeons?

Where do pigeons even come from? Why are they everywhere?

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As far as birds go, pigeons are one of the most successful species ever. Taxonomy-wise, there are over 3,000 species of pigeons in the family Columbidae. The first recorded mention of them goes back to ancient Mesopotamia; Ancient man domesticated them and raised them for food. Europeans brought the rock pigeon to New World where they interbred with the native North American Passenger pigeon (which has since become extinct). The pigeons that dominate the modern urban landscape are distant relatives of the original European Rock pigeon. Adept at flying and evading predators, they are well-suited for city living Although they can be a nuisance and at times can seem, well, dirty, in this episode of DNews, Trace finds a number of reasons why this oft-maligned "rat with wings" actually has a number of things that make it a truly remarkable animal.

Pigeon navigation still isn't fully understood, but a study published in the 2013 Journal of Experimental Biology hypothesizes that it's actually quite sophisticated: they use naturally occurring infrasound, or extreme low-frequency sound waves to make a mental map of their surroundings, which is why they're so good at finding their way home. A study published in this month's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that pigeons are some of the best flying birds in the world. Footage of their flight taken with high speed cameras found that they could maneuver through small spaces and even could barrel through holes and protect their body in case of a mid-flight miscalculation.

So, how do you feel about pigeons after watching this episode? Do you still think they're winged rats, or do you look at these skilled fliers at nature's own Top Gun? Let us know in the comments!

Learn More:
Where Are All The Baby Pigeons? (Mental Floss)
"To city dwellers, it might seem that pigeons multiply magically: All the birds swooping down at us, or scurrying out of the way when we walk, are fully grown. How come we never see baby pigeons anywhere?"

Study shows one reason why pigeons so rarely crash (Phys.org)
"A pair of researchers with Harvard University has uncovered one of the secrets behind pigeons' impressive flight abilities."