While you have surely witnessed birds like flamingos, gulls, and cranes, migrating to warmer parts of the world during the winter, you have probably never seen pigeons do so. These birds have adapted incredibly well to urban locations, but do they ever leave? Do pigeons migrate?
Interestingly, most pigeons do not migrate. They simply do not have the urge that compels other birds to do so. Instead, domesticated pigeons have extraordinary homing instincts that allow them to locate their nests from over a thousand miles away. In fact, once a pigeon spends certain months in a location, it starts to recognize the place as its home.
Related Read: What do homing pigeons eat?
Keep reading to learn more information related to pigeons and migration.
Why Do Pigeons Not Migrate?
Pigeons are not a native species of bird to the United States. While humanity has been domesticating pigeons since at least the 4000s BCE, they were not brought to America until the 1600s. By this time, pigeons had already evolved to settle permanently on cliffs. They lack any migratory genes. As such, pigeons now treat city skyscrapers and other tall structures like cliffs.
These clever birds are not muddled at all by the complex landscapes of urban areas, either. Pigeons are able to return to their nests from more than a thousand miles away, even when they have been isolated in transport with no sensory clues.
Due to these inexplicably sharp navigational skills, pigeons made for excellent messengers.
While we may not know the exact reasons why pigeons do not migrate, here are a few possible reasons.
- Breeding Habits – Most of the birds migrate to warmer places during winters to breed. However, pigeons do not have a fixed breeding season. They can mate and breed in all seasons, so they do not have the necessity to migrate.
- Fear of Predators – Birds face a constant threat of predators during migration. Flying birds such as owls, eagles and hawks, on the ground predators such as cats, dogs, and other animals etc. prey on these birds. Pigeons prefer to avoid this threat by staying at their home ground.
- Ability to Deal With Cold – Pigeons have developed the ability to deal with cold and harsh conditions, over the years. They can survive temperatures up to -40 degrees centigrade. They build nests in warm places such as attics, roof ventilators, etc. and pad them with leaves, vegetation and other materials to keep the nest warm. Pigeons also roost together to maintain warmth when the temperature outside is freezing.
- The Abundance of Food – Some birds migrate during winters in search of food sources. However, pigeons are accustomed to living alongside humans in cities. The abundance of food sources in cities is another reason, they do not migrate. Pigeons eat almost anything that is available to them, which includes grains, insects, bird food, human food, etc.
What Do Pigeons Do in the Winter?
Most pigeons are able to withstand fairly cold temperatures, but you will not see them out and about very often in the winter. Instead, if pigeons have to move their nests, they settle in warm locations like attics or near vents that constantly produce hot air.
If you do see a pigeon out of their nest in the winter, they are probably scavenging for food. Some pigeons are so comfortable with people that they will either beg or attempt to swoop in and grab bits of food from them.
What Types of Pigeons Migrate?
Some pigeons do migrate to warmer climates in the south during the winter. Most of the time, they are wild pigeons as their ancestors were species of pigeons that never became domesticated and evolved to settle in a single location.
However, even pigeons that are a mix between the feral and domesticated species tend to have the homing instincts triumph over any migratory ones, and mixed species of pigeons typically do not migrate, either.
Most pigeons do not migrate, as these birds evolved to settle in one location and are highly territorial. Factors such as their breeding habits, availability of food sources, ability to bear cold, and fear of predators make these birds stay put in their home ground even when the mercury dips.
Pigeons have adapted from living on top of cliffs to settling on high structures in urban locations, and they rarely leave, although they may relocate their nest to a warmer spot in the winter. They cover their nest with materials that give warmth during the winters.
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Completely feral pigeons that have descended from ones that were never domesticated do have migratory genes instead of homing instincts. These pigeons are in the minority in America, however.