The four species of British pigeon have similar characteristics being roughly the same size, shape and colour. They average 33cm (13 inches) in size, they are usually small and plump with little heads and beaks, and are generally grey in colour. Pigeons can be found all over the UK.
Pigeons can be quite comical things to watch. When they walk, their heads bob back and forth with each step. When you throw food into a crowd of them, they will squabble over morsels and send bits flying everywhere. Young children take great pleasure in running through a crowd of them, making them fly into some poor old man's face.
Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Despite the name 'dove', this bird is still a type of pigeon. It arrived in Britain in 1955, and since it had no competition it spread all over the Isles. It can be found all year round from Land's End in Cornwall to the Shetland Isles off Scotland. These birds tend to nest in farms, mills and docks, as there is plenty of food to be found. In some areas there are so many they are treated as pests.
The collared dove's call is a monotonous cooo-cooooooo-coo with the emphasis on the second syllable. The bird is able to repeat this over and over again, with only brief pauses. The breeding season will last from March to September, depending on the individual birds. Two eggs are laid, as many as five times a year. The young spend three weeks in the nest and the nest will be a thin, flat platform of twigs and roots, placed wherever it can best be balanced.
Distinguishing features: - A black collar on the back of the neck, less apparent in young birds.
Stock Dove (Columba oenas)
Yet another 'dove'. Stock Doves are widespread, but not found in the Highlands of Scotland, nor in the south-east of Northern Ireland. They can be found nesting in holes in trees, cliff faces, and occasionally rabbit burrows. As a result, the nest will require little lining, apart from on the cliffs.
Two eggs will be laid from late March to July, though it has been known for pairs to lay eggs any time up to October. Both adults will share incubation from 16 - 18 days, and then the young (called 'squabs') will hatch. Feeding the young is an odd process. The parents will secrete milk from their throats, and the squabs will thrust their bills into the fur to get at it. It looks a little vicious.
Rock Dove (Columba livia)
A sub-species of the Stock Dove, the Rock Dove has longer wings which are white underneath, and one long black bar across the top of the wings. It is found on the coast of Ireland and on the north and west of Scotland. It is the rarest British pigeon.
Distinguishing features: Two black lines on the top of each wing, which can be clearly seen when the bird is in flight.
Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)
The turtle dove has the most individual look about it. It is the smallest breed of pigeon, has black, brown and grey wings, black and white patches on the side of the neck, and most noticeably, a pink breast. You can't miss it. Youngsters are duller in colour, but still prominent. It is found in the south, the Midlands and the east coast of England, and a small range in south east of Scotland, from April to September. Migrating turtle doves can be found passing though Cornwall, West Devon, Wales, the east and west coasts of northern England and in south west Scotland.
Its sound is a purring pooooorrr-pooooorrr-pooooorr. It nests in flat twiggy platforms, similar to the collared dove. Keeping consistent with other pigeon species, it lays two eggs and feeds its young with 'pigeons milk' from the neck.
Distinguishing features: - Again, you just can't miss it, especially with its distinguished pink breast.
Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)
The woodpigeon has the second largest range, almost exactly the same as the collared dove's. It is just a migrant in the Shetlands and Outer Hebrides. It is the largest pigeon, at 40cm (16 inches).
Because of its size, it has an appetite, and it thrives on farms in the country. As well as berries it can find in bushes, woodpigeons will eat anything, including turnips in the winter. They are considered 'pests' and can be killed by farmers. As is normal for pigeons, it lays two eggs in a flat nest. Chicks will spend just over a month in the nest before they disappear into the big wide world.
Distinguishing features: - Long, thin black and white stripes at the end of the wings, a white patch of the back of the neck, and a fairly faint red breast.