Evolution of Pigeons

photo of two pigeons
Photo by Ashithosh U on Pexels.com

The domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica) is a pigeon subspecies that was derived from the rock dove (also called the rock pigeon). The rock pigeon is the world’s oldest domesticated bird. Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets mention the domestication of pigeons more than 5,000 years ago, as do Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Research suggests that domestication of pigeons occurred as early as 10,000 years ago.

Pigeons have made contributions of considerable importance to humanity, especially in times of war. In war the homing ability of pigeons has been put to use by making them messengers. So-called war pigeons have carried many vital messages and some have been decorated for their services. Medals such as the Croix de guerre, awarded to Cher Ami, and the Dickin Medal awarded to the pigeons G.I. Joe and Paddy, amongst 32 others, have been awarded to pigeons for their services in saving human lives.

Pigeons have served key roles as food, pets, holy animals, post carriers, and more for thousands of years. The earliest record mention of pigeons comes from Mesopotamia some 5,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians kept vast quantities of them, and would sacrifice tens of thousands at a time for ritual purposes. Akbar travelled with a coterie of thousands of pigeons. They were introduced to the Americas about 400 years ago, as they were not native to the New World. Around the 18th century, interest in fancy pigeons began, and breeders greatly expanded the variety of pigeons

Pigeon Evolution

By the time they appear in the fossil record, the Columbiformes are already so well differentiated that their phylogenetic relations cannot be determined with certainty. The sandgrouse and pigeons resemble each other anatomically, but this may have resulted from convergence toward a similar mode of life. The earliest known pigeon is Gerandia calcaria from the early Miocene of France (about 23 million years ago), although the suborder probably arose in the Australasian region, where the greatest variety of modern columbiforms is found.

The dodoes and solitaires were highly specialized island forms that doubtless arose in the Mascarene Islands and were peculiar to those islands. Three species are known: the dodo (Raphus cucullatus) on Mauritius, the Réunion solitaire (R. solitarius), and the Rodrigues solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria). The dodoes and solitaires became extinct in about 1681, 1746, and 1791 respectively, as they fell easy prey to marauding sailors and could not compete with pigs and other introduced livestock. They were pigeonlike birds that had lost the power of flight in the safety of their predator-free island existence and had become large (as big as a turkey), heavily built birds with strong bills and feet. The wings had become rudimentary, and the sternum possessed only a small keel.

Was it worth reading? Let us know.